This is part of an ongoing series on the history of Overwatch. If you want to read the rest of the series in order, head this way.
In 2014 at Blizzcon, Blizzard finally felt Overwatch was ready to be shown off to the public. At this point the game had a fair few heroes and was in a perfectly playable state – with the universe and setting nailed down too. The game was announced in a way only Blizzard could pull off; through a brilliantly made and beautiful cinematic, showing Tracer, Reaper, Widowmaker and Winston for the first time fighting in their full glory. The hype train had officially begun rolling.
Much of the development period following the announcement consisted mainly of adding heroes and maps, and small tweaks and changes. In an interview, Overwatch’s Assistant Game Director Aaron Keller said that after the games core mechanics were settled, Overwatch underwent little in the way of changes. The first four heroes served to create the formula, and it was simply a case of adding heroes and maps tailored to suit this formula. By the time 18 heroes were in the game, Blizzard entered the next phase of development – closed beta.
The closed beta started on October 27, 2015, only half a year before the game’s official release. This first beta phase ran until December, during which time the final three heroes, Genji, Mei, and D.va, were added in one patch. Adding three heroes at once is always a huge risk to the meta of the game, and it’s something Blizzard will never do again; at least not in the near future (they seem reluctant to bring in new heroes anyway – looking at you, Sombra ARG).
Beta servers re-opened in February 2016, bringing in levelling, the control gamemode, and suitable maps. The February beta also brought in the accursed loot box system, and several balance changes. The closed beta was an interesting time to play because of the capabilities of heroes, despite still being a very similar experience to the final release. Bastion, for example, used to have a front-facing shield in turret form, making him ridiculously powerful defensively when set up in a corner to defend objectives (although, according to some, Bastion is still OP – pls nerf Blizz).
The closed beta finally shuttered permanently on April 25, 2016. Overwatch itself was incredibly close to being in the same state it was in at release, though, and players could get their hands on the game one last time in an open Beta slated to last from May 5-10, just before release on May 24. Barely a thing changed between open beta and release, but it spread the word and message of Overwatch across the world, being one of the most popular open betas ever – drawing in 9.7 million players across platforms.
That’s everything this time, but keep an eye out for the next instalment in this series – covering what happened with Overwatch post-release – it’s a doozy.