Overwatch 2’s hero unlock system is a predatory pipeline to funnel players into its battle pass

With the launch of a new season trailer on Sep. 15, fresh details of Overwatch 2’s system of unlocking new heroes has been revealed. While initially leaked that this would be the case, it’s now confirmed that new heroes are tied to a battle pass. Each new hero will be unlocked via levelling the battle pass, and the first hero unlock isn’t until level 55 of 80.

That hero will be Kiriko, Overwatch 2’s support fox ninja. However, if you’re already an Overwatch owner, you’ll receive a Season 1 premium battle pass and Kiriko right away. That premium battle pass reportedly gives you a 20% boost for battle pass xp and a boost almost to the end of the Season 1 pass.

Bad news for free players, this battle pass only lasts for nine weeks. So that’s a lot of grinding to get the new heroes if you’re not willing to fork up the fee. What’s more, the free players will find themselves grinding past dozens of levels where they just simply don’t get anything. However, they’ll still be tantalizingly taunting with the cosmetics they COULD be earning, if only they’d slosh out the dosh.

Isn’t unlocking characters a return to the good old days?

Kiriko is unlockable! After 55 Overwatch 2 battle pass levels... (Image via Blizzard)
Kiriko is unlockable! After 55 Overwatch 2 battle pass levels… (Image via Blizzard)

One defense of Blizzard’s new method of hero unlocking in Overwatch 2 is to point to the past. Back to the likes of old fighting games, Tony Hawk: Pro Skater, etc. In those games, you had to unlock characters with skill and by completing challenges. Isn’t this just the same?

But there’s no skill in unlocking these heroes. Just play enough games, win or lose, and you’ll get there. Eventually. Maybe. Don’t worry that other players can just turn out their wallet and get them instantly. What’s more, even back then there were ways to bypass the unlock system. Cheats existed. You could borrow a memory card from a friend. And if you were heading to a tournament, memory cards with everything unlocked were expected.

What’s more, in an online, multiplayer environment with ranked play and a competitive scene, the concept is antiquated. But Blizzard knows this, and they just simply don’t care. The intention is as clear as day if you’ve paid attention to their recent releases. Get players on the premium path, and convert those whales.

It’s from the same playbook as Diablo Immortal, whose multitude of systems, gems, slots, and currencies help obscure the true level of cash grabbing. Luckily, the stalwart and retro-minded Diablo players, for the most part, rejected this notion. Although the game still does have its playerbase.

P2W in Overwatch 2 with a Battle Pass

(Image via Blizzard)

In an interview with PC Gamer, Blizzard’s vice president Jon Spector explained that the reasoning behind the battle pass lock for heroes was because they are “the single most engaging content.” Perhaps a far too transparent response. The only thing of real substance in Overwatch 2 is the new heroes, and potentially the single player co-op. 

Spector attempted to downplay the competitive impact of the new heroes not being available to all. New heroes, he explained, wouldn’t be accessible in ranked for the first two weeks of the nine week season. He also assured players that “regular players” can get at least Kiriko “well before the season ends.”

That will be of no comfort to the many who will see these new heroes, with new abilities, in the games they play. How many times will you be able see a Kiriko on the opposing team before your hand starts to twitch? And you begin to justify to yourself, “it’s just $10, right?” 

The new normal

(Image via Blizzard)

Except this is what will happen every season now. There are two seasons minimum in 2022. Potentially five seasons a year after that. Overwatch 2 earned a lot of credit when it revealed it was going free-to-play. But after a year of seasons paying for the premium pass, you’ll have forked out as much if they’d just slapped a $50 price tag on it.

But if you don’t like it, you can just go play Overwatch 1, right? Well no, as in typical Blizzard fashion, that’ll be gone completely once Overwatch 2, with its battle pass, launches on October 4th. So much for preserving game history, although entirely to expected. Also to be expected are bootleg Overwatch 1 private servers. Keep your eyes out for those, for a true free-to-play Overwatch experience.

Michael Hassall -

Michael Hassall

| Twitter: @hoffasaurusx

Michael is a UK-based content creator who caught the esports bug in 2010, but took eight years to figure out he should write about it. Throwing away a promising career in marketing and PR, he now specialises in MOBAs, covering League of Legends, Dota 2, and esports in general since 2019. When not glued to tournaments taking place on the other side of the globe, he spends time nurturing an unhealthy addiction to MMOs and gacha games.