For Blizzard’s Overwatch, Season 4 of competitive play began today, bringing changes to the game’s ranking system as well as gameplay tweaks. Most contentious among these changes is the addition to the game’s skill rating decay system, which has been ramped up considerably from its previous level of intensity.
Skill rating decay was first introduced to Overwatch in Season 2. In that season as well as in Season 3, players in the top 3 ranks (skill rating > 3000) had to play at least one competitive match every seven days to stay active; if they failed to do so, they would incur a penalty every 24 hours until they played another match. Their rating would never drop below 3000 this way, though, letting them stay in the top 3 ranks, albeit at the very bottom of them.
For Season 4, Blizzard has cranked up the dials on this system sevenfold, with players in the top 3 ranks now being required to play 7 competitive matches a week in order to avoid losing rank points.
The system will work on a bank-type system. For every match completed, players push back their decay timer by 24 hours, and these can be banked up to a max of seven days. So, players can play one game a day and always stay just ahead of the curve, or play seven games in a single day and be safe for a whole week.
While not explicitly stated by Blizzard, the changes likely come as a means to combat “smurfing”, when high-skilled players maintain separate accounts ranked at lower skill levels so that they can play on them and easily stomp through players in lower-skilled games. With the new changes, it will require much more time invested to maintain an account at a specific ranked level, hopefully making it harder for players to smurf.
Some Overwatch players have pushed back against the change, though, citing that it’s not always possible for a busy individual to find time to play seven games every week. With many players balancing the game alongside work, school, or other obligations, some have said it feels like Blizzard is “punishing them for having a life”.
Overwatch Season 4 is live now, playable on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.