The catch is that without any pressure, something equally important is lost, and so Blizzard's 6v6 format is a very specific choice. "We explored really big teams early on: the 8v8, the 10v10," Kaplan says. "When we hit those team sizes, though, everyone got lost. The game was just chaos – a deathmatch, rather than a team objective game. As we tried teams of 4v4 and 3v3, that sense of hostility that I mentioned started appearing."
Not being locked into specific characters for the whole match is intended to help too, though specific abilities will have their ideal counters. But there will be flexibility: a turret could be taken out with a rocket from outside its range, you can use ricochet shots to hit it from safety, or you could blink in and place a bomb and then get out again.
Map traversal is a huge part of this, with Overwatch harking back to the freedom of early Quake mods full of jetpacks. "Now, when you're approaching part of a map, you're looking at every part of it and looking at combinations. We wanted to give players a lot of agency and choice, and a lot of really fun decisions. Plus, it's cool!"
All of that said, Kaplan points out that six on a team is no magic bullet. "It's not [a number] I think you could just plug into Heroes Of The Storm or StarCraft or another game, but it was right for Overwatch. The way we've got it is that if you are a real disaster for your team, or having a real off day, or the doorbell rings, or the cat walks in front of the screen, your team isn't going to lose because of you. If you are a really great player, though, you can still excel and maybe even swing a mediocre team to greatness."
This is planet Earth
Along with being Blizzard's first step into the FPS, Overwatch is also its first game set on a recognisable Earth – even Rock N'Roll Racing, from when Blizzard was Silicon & Synapse, was set on other planets.
"The choice to be on Earth in the near future was one that didn't come easily to the team," Kaplan admits, adding that there was brief discussion of doing something else, like a StarCraft shooter, or perhaps even bringing existing characters together for an FPS, as Heroes Of The Storm is doing for Blizzard's in-house take on Dota.
"We started to explore the options with our existing franchises, but we didn't want to get into those spaces again. Add to that, we thought we could do something different with Earth – that instead of just doing the usual post-apocalyptic stuff, we could apply our own aesthetic, tone and vibe. We'd ask ourselves, what would Blizzard do with London, with Egypt, with Japan? We've explored fantasy worlds, and we're now excited to explore our own."
Blizzard hasn't yet announced which business model Overwatch will use, though given that it's in a genre in which F2P has been proven to work, and both Hearthstone and Heroes Of The Storm have embraced the model, Overwatch might follow.
So far, 12 heroes have been announced, but more are coming, along with expansions to the universe both in and out of the game. Movies such as the reveal trailer are designed to build the world without putting narrative restrictions on play. For that, Blizzard's approach – in the words of Chris Metzen – is a shrug of "What the hell?" If players want to field two mortal enemies on a team or have multiple Tesla- wielding apes, that freedom takes priority.
Certainly, early impressions are positive, especially with the results already being playable and a beta due next year, as opposed to several down the line. It's likely to be a long beta, however, with Blizzard well aware of the challenges ahead. "We know how important it is to our fans that we do it right, and how high the expectations are," Kaplan says.
"We really want to make this game with the community and hear what they have to say."