Competition can make matches that much more thrilling and rewarding. Ranked games in Overwatch scratch this particular itch, allowing the best players across the world to compare their skills to one another and rise to the top of the global leaderboards.

So how does competitive play in Overwatch work exactly?

Competitive Points

One of the first questions players might have is what the incentive to play competitive games is. This is multifaceted, actually, however the simplest and most easily quantifiable reward you get for engaging in this higher level of play is so-called Competitive Points, which are a form of in-game currency in addition to regular credits.

Competitive Points are earned at a rather slow pace, you receive 10 for every victory and 3 for tied matches (zero for a loss). Additionally, upon the conclusion of a season, players are awarded additional Competitive Points based on the highest skill rating they achieved during the course of said season, regardless of what skill rating they finish on (don’t worry, we’ll cover skill ratings later on).

  • Bronze: 100 CP
  • Silver: 200 CP
  • Gold: 400 CP
  • Platinum: 800 CP
  • Diamond: 1,200 CP
  • Master: 2,000 CP
  • Grandmaster: 3,000 CP

There is a limit to Competitive Point acquisition excluding end-of-season rewards. When a player acquires 6,000 Competitive Points, they can no longer earn more until some is spent, regardless of future victories. If they go over with their last acquisition then the full amount of that acquisition will be granted, but no more, meaning that if they have 5,993 CP and win a match for 10 CP, they will then have 6,003 CP.

Currently, there is only one kind of item to spend Competitive Points on: golden weapon skins. Each golden weapon skin costs 3,000 CP and is available for every hero. These weapon skins can only be acquired with CP and there is no other way to get them, making them a true sign of skill and dedication.

If one golden weapon skin costs 3,000 CP, then it would require 300 victories. Assuming someone wins all of their matches, which is statistically improbable, and that matches take about 15 minutes to complete, 4,500 minutes are required. That means farming for 75 hours.

Now, add to that all the matches a player is bound to lose or tie, most people toting golden guns will have sunk over a hundred hours into Competitive Play. Of course, maybe they’re just so good that they hit Grandmaster and won all the required CP at the end of a season.

Getting into Competitive Play: Placement Matches

In Competitive Play, matchmaking is much more crucial than in casual matches, so the algorithms are more complex. There is a basic entry requirement of having achieved level 25 through non-competitive matches, but before you can get into proper Competitive games, you’ll also need to play 10 placement matches.

These placement matches are identical to actual Competitive matches, meaning you’ll be getting your Competitive Points for them as well as XP, however instead of each affecting your real skill rating, the placement matches are designed to gauge your starting skill rating so that when all 10 placement matches are done, you’ll be grouped with players of a similar skill rating.

Once you’ve completed the placement matches, you’ll be rewarded with a special player icon and spray, and will be allowed to join true Competitive matches.

Skill Rating

Skill rating is what Competitive Play is all about, this is the main attraction, the main goal for Competitive players. Your skill rating determines the tier you’re placed in and what kinds of players you’ll be matched with. Obviously, the goal here is to get higher and higher skill ratings as matches progress and you work your way towards the coveted Grandmaster and Top 500 placements.

Skill rating is awarded based on a series of stats tracked during a match. This includes medals and eliminations, but winning or losing is the main factor. Additionally, the overall skill rating of the enemy team is also taken into consideration, meaning that winning against a team with much higher ratings will get you a tidy bonus.

While in non-competitive matches, losing doesn’t mean you’ll receive a penalty, it just means you get fewer rewards, in Competitive losing a match means losing some of your rating, which makes performance far more important.

That said, losing rating won’t completely destroy your progress up to that point. Dropping below the skill rating threshold of a tier you’ve already achieved won’t boot you back down, provided you’re Diamond or lower. This means that if you’ve hit a rating of 2,500, for example, at some point, but dropped below, you’ll still be in the Platinum tier.

The rating tiers fall into 7 categories:

  1. Bronze – skill rating: 1-1,499
  2. Silver – skill rating: 1,500-1,999
  3. Gold – skill rating: 2,000-2,499
  4. Platinum – skill rating: 2,500-2,999
  5. Diamond – skill rating: 3,000-3,499
  6. Master – skill rating: 3,500-4,000
  7. Grandmaster – skill rating: 4,000-5,000

Players in Diamond, Master and Grandmaster tiers cannot be matched with players who are completing their placement matches, and their skill rating will begin to decay after a week without playing. Master and Grandmaster tiers, as the two highest tiers, are the only tiers players from which players can drop out of if their rating drops below the threshold.

The skill rating based matchmaking works in such a way that players within the 1-3,499 range will only ever be matched with other players in a 1,000 rating point difference. If the difference between your skill rating and that of another player is greater, you won’t be playing together. In the 3,500-5,000 range, that threshold is halved to a maximum rating difference of 500.

The Skill Rating Controversy

The Competitive system of Overwatch has been often criticized by fans and professional players alike for promoting a style of play not ideal for the game’s teamwork based objectives. With skill rating often being determined based on individual performance, players will often prioritize things like earning medals, gaining more kills or hunting down high-rated enemies over helping the team achieve victory.

Instead of picking healers or support characters which are crucial to the team dynamic in accordance with the current meta, they pick heroes who are best suited for getting kills and the like.

Additionally, Blizzard has admitted to purposefully lowering the initial skill ratings calculated by placement matches. Winning streaks and exemplary performance can often be rewarded with the mere rating of low-mid silver. If this happens to you, don’t fret, it’s just how the system works.

Hitting the Top 500

Beyond Grandmaster is an even more difficult status for players to achieve, though this technically stands apart from the regular tier hierarchy.

Getting into the top 500 players is a rare and extraordinary feat, though not as unique as the name would have you believe – this doesn’t require you to be among the 500 best Competitive players in the world, only in your region. Still a tall order, of course.

One can hit Top 500 status regardless of their skill rating and tier provided they fall into the 500 players with the highest rating, however as the season progresses and skilled players climb higher and higher, this generally means you need to be a Grandmaster.

Top 500 status is also subject to rating decay, and it can be only awarded after the player has completed at least 50 Competitive matches.

Beware Of Rating Decay

Rating Decay is a system affecting the highest tiers of the Competitive system that truly solidifies the mode’s status as being a hardcore affair, with no room for casual players. Players who are Diamond, Master, Grandmaster or Top 500 are affected.

Upon hitting any of these tiers, a requirement to play at least 7 matches in the span of 7 days is activated. Every time you play a match, the timer is buffed by an additional day, with the limit being 7 days.

If the timer runs out and no matches have been played, the player in question will be hit with a 50 point skill rating penalty, which will be re-applied each day until a match is played. At this point, playing a match will add another day to the timer. Alternatively, decay will cease once the rating penalties push the player to drop out of Diamond.

Differences In Leaver Penalties

Since Competitive Play is serious business, leavers are punished more severely. While the penalty for repeated offences in non-ranked matches is pretty minor, Competitive leavers can face a firmer fist.

The first time a player leaves a Competitive match, they will be hit by a larger skill rating decrease, a loss will be counted, and they won’t be allowed to join another match for 10 minutes. Additionally, the same leaver penalty that applies to quick play is in action here, but fewer left matches are required to activate it.

Repeat offenders will be temporarily banned from playing Competitive matches entirely, and if they continue their misconduct after being granted access again, the bans will increase in duration until they culminate in a final ban from the current season, deleting all progress made up to that point.

Playing without leaving (after being penalized) will allow players to regain their spotless record, so long as they keep up their good behavior.
While the punishments are more harsh, the differences in the matchmaking system also mean that leavers are bad news for their left teammates.

In Competitive Play, there is no backfill. Instead, if someone leaves within the first two minutes of a match, or does not actively “leave” but instead becomes inactive resulting in a kick, the match is automatically called off and reset.

If the match has progressed past the first two minutes and someone quits, the team is left to continue playing for another two minutes. This is intended to give the leaver time to return in case the quitting was accidental or caused by some kind of malfunction or internet disconnect.

If those two minutes pass and the leaver does not return, the players are given the chance to also leave without being hit by the penalty, though a loss will be recorded. Otherwise they can choose to fight on without that player (of course being at a disadvantage).

So basically if someone leaves your team after two minutes have passed they’ve really screwed you.

Rules of Competitive Matches

In Competitive Play, the same game modes are available as in quick play, however different rules and structures apply, with more focus on balance. The rules for each mode are more complex than they are in non-ranked matches.

Control

In Competitive Play, Control matches are based on a best of five system. Three games will be played going through all three sub-areas of any map, and if the match goes on for a fourth and fifth game, these will be located in the second and first areas, respectively (1-2-3-2-1). A game ends immediately after a control point is captured.

Assault

Assault maps follow a rotary structure in Competitive Play, with both teams playing both roles once. One point is awarded to the assaulting team for every point captured, and they have 4 minutes to capture their first point, an additional 4 minutes to capture the second, and 30 seconds per capture from then onwards. Additionally, the assault team also gains a percentage bonus for the control points it captures.

If the first assault team runs out of time before capturing their first point, and after the rotation the opposing team beats their percentage score, the second team wins. On the flipside, if the second team fails where the first succeeded, and thus the first has a greater percentage score, the first team wins.

This mode as an extra rotation system. If the second game ends with both teams having identical scores and no time remaining, it’s a draw, otherwise the extra rotation begins with the team that has less time left starting as assault. The remaining time of both teams is buffed out to 60 seconds if lower, however if one team has no time left, they will be the defending team and the assault team will instantly win if they capture just one Point.

Escort

Like in Assault, Escort maps have the same rotation system. The attacking team can score points by getting the payload over their checkpoints, and every time this happens, their distance stat is reset. Four minutes are provided to reach the first checkpoint, and all subsequent checkpoints add extra time but only in the first rotation.

If the first team doesn’t reach the finish line, their then-current distance will be marked. If the second team get further, they win, if they come up short, they lose, and if they hit the exact same distance, the match is tied. An extra rotation begins only when both teams get their payload to the finish line.

Whichever team has less time remaining will be the attackers in the extra rotation, and both teams will be given 60 seconds.

Hybrid

The rotation rule is present here too. Attacking teams score by capturing control points or hitting checkpoints with the payload, and in the former case, the distance stat will be reset. Once again, the four minute rule makes a return, and gaining points will provide bonus time once again only in the first rotation.

If the first team fails to capture any control points but the second succeeds, the second wins, and vice versa. If both fail, the match is a tie. The same distance-based scoring as in Escort maps in present here as well. Also returning from Escort is the extra rotation condition of both payloads reaching the finish line.

The time distribution is similarly familiar here. Both teams are buffed to 60 seconds unless one is at zero, in which case said team begins as the attacking team.

GL;HF

Armed with this knowledge, it’s time you delve into the high-stakes world of Competitive Play in Overwatch, and begin your journey to the top of the skill rating tiers.

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