Overwatch is a phenomenon. There's no denying it. More than 30 million accounts have been registered for the colourful, explosive shooter, it's a mainstay on twitch alongside other juggernauts like League of Legends and Dota and the esports scene for it is just starting to kick off. The hero shooter type of game has been around for a while in some form or another, but Blizzard's might has laid groundwork for what is essentially the genre.
Blizzard has long since mastered the art of teaching players how to enjoy their games. Typically, they've done it by taking something established and distilling it into something simple to learn (but difficult to master). Hearthstone did this for Magic The Gathering and its ilk, and we're now seeing the many fruits of Blizzard's labour with Gwent, The Elder Scrolls Legends and others. Heroes of the Storm boils the MOBA formula mastered in Dota and League down to something immediately gettable.
In many cases, players will graduate from the Blizzard version into the more complex games as they search for more challenge. HOTS players may shift to LoL. I myself have moved from Hearthstone to Magic The Gathering.
Games like Lawbreakers are counting on this shift.
Lawbreakers is a game where mobility is king. It's a nod to the arena shooters of old, where skill differentiation by way of aim reached a degree of diminishing returns, and players quickly sought to stand-out by moving around the level more and more efficiently. The benefit Lawbreakers has is decades of players having accepted superior movement as a basic degree of play — the drawback, however, is that the new game from Boss Key Productions is taking it to the next level.
"The floor is lava in [Lawbreakers]," Cliff Bleszinski told us in a recent interview. "The elephant in the room is Overwatch. Kotaku had an article the other day where they showed Genji and Pharah in this mid-air, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fight. Take that fight and build an entire game around it and that's what we're going for."
Lawbreakers exists in a world where Overwatch has released and dominated the genre, and Boss Key is aware of this situation. But they're not fretting it. Instead, it's an opportunity to grow in different ways — there's room enough for the many games of the genre.
The other benefit for Lawbreakers is that it provides an opportunity for players who want to push themselves to the next level in terms of skill. The pace of Lawbreakers is very high for a shooter, and higher still when directly compared to Overwatch. With 3D movement playing such a large role in the game, traversal becomes the key skill differentiator — and a better understanding of traversal is like aim; it's a skill which transfers from game to game.
Essentially players will be able to learn the basics of the genre in Overwatch, shift to Lawbreakers to skill up and then switch between the two (and into other games, like Quake Champions) with an advantage they can take with them.
That's not to say that Lawbreakers is difficult to play, of course. But the skill floor compared to Overwatch is higher — and the skill ceiling is higher as well.
"We'll have a lot of tutorials built into the game, videos built in to show you how to play and what to do," Dan Nanni, Senior Game Designer at BossKey told us. "But at the same time we don't want to handhold players too much, and we know many players don't want that. So we just want to give players the right tools and the space to use them."
Lawbreakers is courting a different segment of the market compared to Overwatch. Overwatch wants everyone to play it — and while there's no doubt in mind that Lawbreakers wouldn't turn that down, it will be better for Boss Key's game if they attract the dedicated players first. Think of it like a MOBA — there's a degree of commitment required to simply start with the genre, let alone attain a level of competency.
Those looking to step-up their Overwatch game will do well to keep an eye out for Lawbreakers once it launches on August 8. Watching games of high level players, even at this early point, demonstrates an understanding of the watchability required for sports these days. Still, if you ask Boss Key about the game's future they'll play it coy.
"We want it to be an esport," Cliff said. "But we don't want to put the cart before the horse, because people who do that tend to faceplant on the horse."