Overwatch 2’s new hero, the dual-minigun-wielding Samoan tank Mauga, officially launched earlier this week with the game’s eighth season. Before that, Blizzard Entertainment added Mauga to the roster for an early preview weekend, which coincided with this year’s BlizzCon.
Mauga’s early access weekend was more than just a fun surprise for Overwatch fans; it was also a test for Blizzard. The tank hero was buffed, debugged, and tweaked in response to that hero preview, resulting in a more powerful (and hopefully balanced) addition to the game’s hero lineup.
Lead hero designer Alec Dawson said in an interview with Polygon ahead of Mauga’s release that the Overwatch development team hopes to do similar player tests with future heroes. Dawson also talked about some of the lessons learned during Mauga’s preview weekend, and how the Overwatch team is evolving its approach to adding new heroes to the game.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Polygon: For Mauga, you did a kind of unprecedented test of a new hero nearly a month in advance of their launch. Can you tell me about what led to the decision to do that?
Alec Dawson: If you look at the team overall, and how we’ve been trying to treat development over the course of the last [couple] years, it’s really been to open up a lot more of it, engage more with the community, and try to make sure that relationship is as transparent as possible. With Mauga in particular, we had an opportunity: BlizzCon was coming back. We wanted to do something big, especially for all the folks at home, and we thought it’d be a great time to show them Mauga early, and also collect feedback on Mauga before he actually gets launched as well.
We think it’s something that worked out really well, and we’re looking forward to do it in the future again with future heroes.
How did it go?
I think overall we were really happy with the weekend, and there were some things we wanted to tune up, especially around Mauga’s survivability. We saw when he gets in there, gets in close and is in the right situation, he can be incredibly lethal. We saw players utilizing his ult very well early on, too. But there were some things on the survivability front, in terms of his frontline presence — being a tank. So we upped that [survivability] before launch. There were even small bugs that we were able to catch, especially with how quickly he was setting enemies on fire. So we’re able to fix that and get that sorted. We also got to see that first-time user experience across millions of players [and] how they’re playing with Mauga, what were some of the shortcomings there.
One of the biggest things was Overrun, and players not feeling as capable with this ability where he runs at you and then he jumps up and does the big, big stomp.
When we look at it all, Mauga’s performance over the weekend, obviously it was in a very different structure than we’re used to. But we want to make sure that those [new hero] releases launch on the side of strong and making sure those launches can be as exciting as possible. Make sure they’re making up for some of the time that you may have on heroes that you’ve been playing for hundreds or thousands of hours, that your first-time experience isn’t gonna be something that’s detrimental to the rest of your team, something that you can pick up pretty quick.
Thinking about the addition of Lifeweaver in season 4 and how a lot of changes were rolled out, in terms of his healing and and damage output over the following weeks, it seems you’ve also really buffed Mauga quickly. When you put in a new hero like this, what’s your comfort level with where they are? You really don’t know millions of people are thrown at it, right?
I think in the past we’ve been conservative about certain things. And there are still things we’ll be conservative about, specifically gameplay mechanics. With the preview we were a little conservative on how much sustain we were giving Mauga, because too much sustain can just feel like, Hey, this character is never going to die. I think we’ll also be conservative in the future, if you know we’re making a second Widowmaker, for example — some sort of sniper, or one-shot mechanic. Things like that we’ll be a little softer on.
With Lifeweaver in particular, we knew there was a lot of healing in the kit, and we knew there were also things you’re taking away some player agency from your teammates [with Life Grip and Petal Platform]. Those are some of the things we’re a bit more conservative on at launch because we knew those are going to be some of the pain points. But overall we saw we could have gone a little bit more aggressive for Lifeweaver’s launch. Since then, we’ve learned a number of things about how we want to launch heroes and how we want to release them. Doing these previews is just another step in that learning.
Previously, the hero balance cadence was seasonal and midseason adjustments, and obviously you would patch things if there was something outstandingly broken. How how have you and the team adjusted your reaction window to balancing heroes?
I think with a hero launch, or even a hero rework, we want to be very active into that first week to two weeks. With Roadhog, it was by the end of the week we had buffs ready for Roadhog to go [out]. So we wanna be very responsive, and if there’s anything else that’s, like, outstanding, we’re gonna come in and make any adjustments that need to be made.
Speaking of BlizzCon, I know it’s early to talk about the next Overwatch hero, Venture, but I wanted to see what kind of feedback you got to that hero’s reveal and how you’ve been ingesting that in terms of continuing work.
A lot of work has happened since that video clip was recorded, so it’s really interesting to look back; that was a while ago when we did that playtest. But it’s just been exciting for the team. We saw fan art go up everywhere, and a lot of excitement around Venture, and just people talking about them as the next damage hero for 2024. That was really invigorating for the whole team.
What we showed of gameplay was so short, so there’s not necessarily a ton to take away from what people saw. At the same time we saw excitement, and that for us was really great to see, and makes us feel a lot better about how early we can show some of these things. Because I think it’s gonna be something that we continue to do as well.
Mauga obviously came with BlizzCon, but say you do a hero test for Venture. Do you have a sense of when you would roll that out?
We’re still figuring out the exact timeline for it. I think you can expect somewhere in that month beforehand, where it gives us enough time to make adjustments before the launch and is close enough where [it aligns with] other teams working on a hero. Those are still some conversations we’re having on the team [in] exactly how we want to execute on that. But we know we want to do it.