How Overwatch’s 5v5 is Mathematically Inferior to the Old 6v6

How Overwatch’s 5v5 is Mathematically Inferior to the Old 6v6

Among the computers games I play is Overwatch, or “Overwatch 2” as it is now known, a marketing gimmick for a recent major game overhaul which retained the core game functions. I played Overwatch both on Xbox and my PC (and now on Steam), and am now on the latter PC platform exclusively.

I have never been great at the game, but boy it is fun, a testament to its longevity via popularity. Ranking-wise, though, I rarely escape the Bronze tier. In Overwatch “1” I would occasionally poke into Silver. But with the renamed Overwatch 2 and some significant game changes, I realized I cannot climb out of the dungeon of the lowest Bronze levels. Why is this?

To “rank” you need to be either really good, as in carry-my-whole-team good, or have dedicated friends/team members that you can advance with. Otherwise, you are left to the fate of random matchmaking. You don’t need to be familiar with computer games to fathom how awful an experience being partnered with random Internet people can be. Most (as in like 51%, I will wager) are genuinely trying to play the game, but others are not competent in the game at all, deliberately sabotaging games for their own selfish reasons, or are players of far higher skill level messing with the lower ranks, again for their selfish reasons like petty laughs.

If random matchmaking is so bad, why do I keep playing? I take on and off breaks, but Overwatch is such a fun game, and can be really fun when you get a good random team, that playing offsets the many negatives.

The Key Team Change in Overwatch 2

In Overwatch “1” team composition was six versus six – two tanks (protectors), two damage (dps), and two support (healers). These roles have their roots in Blizzard’s MMORPG World of Warcraft where party composition always has has some distribution of these three roles.

In OW1, the biggest challenge to “queuing” for games was getting players to choose a tank role. It was so bad that queue times for damage roles in particular could be 20 minutes or longer at times. The “fun” role is damage dealing so of course most players gravitate towards it. Few want to play tanks, generally considered the least fun role, and the least appreciated. Tanks must bear the brunt of the enemy’s damage while keeping game objectives progressing. On random teams, tanks get all the blame but rarely the praise for victories. Or so it was in Overwatch 1.

Two tanks translating to long queue times for the other roles is, I assume, the key reason why Blizzard fundamentally changed the team composition in Overwatch “2” from 5v5 to six versus six, removing one of the tanks. In OW2 there is now only one tank, and still two damage and two support players.

Concerning queue wait times, the change has been a success. I rarely see damage queue times over 8 minutes, usually only later at night. With a 50% reduction to the roll few want to play, more players are getting into matches quicker.

But queue times, from my lowly Bronze perspective, is where the benefits end.

Percentages at the Margins

The issues I see in Overwatch now with 5v5 can be traced to the simple percentages that are vividly pronounced when things go wrong. On a team with six players, each member represents 17% of the team. On a 5v5 team, that percentage increases 3% to 20%. While that may seem like a small number, it is very relevant at the margins. For example, in Overwatch 1, when a random team member left, you still had 83% of your team. In Overwatch 2, when one team member leaves, your capacity is now only 80%.

I recall a number of even matches where one person left in Overwatch 1. Though the odds obviously favored the team still with six players versus the other one short at five, there were a few epic battles where the remaining five could find a way to win. For example, in OW1 if you lost a tank, you still had a tank remaining. Through the correct counters (and assuming mistakes by the team still with six), it was highly plausible to manage the remaining team to make up for not having the “off tank.”

In Overwatch 2, outside of a few anomalies on teams with “smurfs” (players in Bronze far above the Bronze skill level), I have yet to see an evenly-competitive game won 4v5 once one player leaves the match. The 3% difference in available team is too much for any average, random team to overcome, and this is before considering the specific impacts to different roles.

New Tank Problems

If we look deeper into the specific roles and the impact to gameplay, both skill and absent players can have an even larger impact on the team’s performance. This is most prominent in the tank role, ironically.

With only one tank now, the team is highly dependent on that one tank’s ability to execute correctly. If your random tank has no idea how to play a tank, or the hero character he is playing, the match is going to be very unpleasant. No damage or support role can “step up” to be a replacement tank. And for better or worse, in my personal observations, the tank is always the default scapegoat for a losing team. The tank is the de facto leader, the leader of a random Internet “team” that will never be assembled again. It is far easier to look at a tank, again whether justly or not, and say the problem is with the team’s “leader,” and absolve yourself of culpability in defeat. Never mind the Widow with one elimination, or the Moira with both low damage and healing stats, or any of the other players unwilling to switch heroes to counter the enemy team. It is easier to scapegoat and absolve than to look at your team’s poor performance objectively.

Mathematically, the poor or absent tank is stark in Overwatch 2, as a non-playing tank represents 100% of your team’s tank role! That means your team’s tank viability, and team prospects, can go from 100% to effectively 0% on a (mentally or technically) disconnected tank player. And as shown before, there no way for the damage and support players to make up for such a loss of the tank. The least-fun role in Overwatch 2 leaves a large wake that the rest of the team are bound to no matter what.

Non-Support Considerations

Assuming your two support players are the team’s primary “healers,” responsible for keeping the team as close to full health as possible, then it is the tank and damage roles’ responsibility to move the game’s objectives forward. Yes I know the support roles, especially the newer heroes, can assist in other ways than healing, but on average the tank is expected to make the necessary space for the damage players to kill the other team.

In the old 6v6 scheme, the loss of one tank or damage role was only 25% of the non-support block. It was possible, for example, for the off tank to try to focus more on damage if a damage player was lost. In 6v6, the loss of just one non-support role represents a full third, 33%, of that aggregate group, an over 8% difference between Overwatch 1 and 2. As is a recurring theme, the loss or poor performance of just one team member translates into a much more difficult compensation scenario to figure out, and a more unpleasant challenge for a random team, where levels of motivation to address the shortcoming always vary widely.

The Tank/Support Symbiotic Relationship, Exaggerated

Tanks and the healers always have a special relationship, regardless of the game. Healers/support have a primary duty to keep the tank alive, and the tank needs to do what he can to protect the most vulnerable role on the team. But in Overwatch, this symbiotic tie is far stronger in 5v5 than it was in the old 6v6, and subsequently there is an ever-present blame game between the one tank and the two supports over whose fault the team’s poor performance lies with. I have noticed on many occasions, while playing the damage role, that the tank and support members frequently bicker and scapegoat each other, to the point like the two damage players do not even exist. Further, as a damage role, if I merely keep my damage stats up and get a decent number of eliminations, the blame gaze almost never falls to the damage/dps players.

It is in large part for this reason in the current season of Overwatch that I have gravitated towards the damage role. I used to be primarily a tank in the 6v6 days, but in 5v5 I have found tank too stressful. The support role can be a bit of a wild card, but more often than not I find myself helpless with team DVAs that do not know how to dive or damage players that do not understand the concept of countering (or in true random team member fashion, mock countering).


Six versus six, despite its obvious problems with queue times for non-tanks, was the ideal team makeup for Overwatch. To this day, it still feels like five-player teams are missing one in Overwatch 2. There is too much emphasis on the singular tank player, and that sucks the fun out of the game for everyone.

I do not have a solution beyond acknowledging that 6v6 offered more durable gameplay. It will always be a conundrum of online competitive game that some facet will be problematic, whether it be unproductive tanks or overpowered heroes or the now-inferior ranking system of OW2. The only true individual solution is to gauge all variables for your own personal situation, and choose whether or not to play.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article.



I write frequently about astrophotography, technology advice, and my other interests like science fiction. I have over 30 years of experience in computer programming, information technology, and project management.

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