This post has been ruminating around in my brain for a few months now as the Overwatch dev team has been trying out some fairly significant changes to Competitive matches (also known as Ranked) in an attempt to shore up some criticisms about the overall state of the game. I'll try to break these down one at a time and then give my opinion on whether the changes have been successful.
Hero Pools: For years, players have been requesting the ability to ban certain heroes from ranked matches due to the perception that their kit is too overpowered and therefore significantly throws off the balance of the game. Brigitte, when first launched as a new hero, is probably the best well known, where her kit was so strong she could functionally operate as a support, a tank and a damage hero and do exceptionally well in all three of those roles. Even after her rework which was intended to make her more like a support, her kits is still exceptionally strong, but that's a whole separate discussion entirely.
Blizzard's approach to this Hero Ban request was to implement their own unique system, which they named the Hero Pool system. Each week, four heroes are removed from the roster of selectable heroes in ranked matches, both in Competitive and also in Overwatch League matches. The execution of this system has been inconsistent from week to week.
Initially, Overwatch League had a separate Hero Pool roster, and it was different from the roster available to regular players in ranked mode. In each roster, the heroes eliminated from the pool were chosen somewhat at random, but with a tendency for heroes who were the most popular being removed. Usually two damage heroes, one tank and one support hero were eliminated from the roster, and no hero could be eliminated from the pool two weeks in a row. The professional Overwatch players complained that this separate roster made it impossible for them to train for their upcoming matches during the week, and eventually the same hero pool roster was applied to both ranked and Overwatch League games.
With the introduction of the latest hero to join the roster, Echo, it appears that the Hero Pool system has been manually selected for three weeks in a row. In the week of Echo's launch, two heroes that would likely be her biggest counters were eliminated, namely McCree and Widowmaker. The following week, Echo was eliminated from the Hero Pool entirely, seemingly due to her popularity following launch. However this also eliminated her from the games in Overwatch League, leading me to believe that this was quite possibly intentional. This current week, Echo is back in the game but Widowmaker and McCree have been eliminated again, exactly two weeks after the last time they were removed from the pool during Echo's launch. The only difference is that Mercy has also been eliminated, therefore Echo's power is not quite as good as it was during her first week after launch.
The biggest problem I have with hero pools is that it is done without player autonomy. Each week players have literally no input into which heroes are going to be removed from selection, except possibly to complain on the forums where they will almost certainly be ignored. In addition, most players only know how to play a handful of heroes effectively enough to be competitive, and removing their main hero or one of their secondary heroes from the roster limits their ability to be flexible or competitive (or both), diminishing the quality of their games. I personally found it extremely distressing to have Tracer eliminated from last week's hero roster, and I have a feeling that she will be eliminated again, if not next week then possibly the week after.
The second largest problem I have with hero pools is that they ruin the quality of games at the rank where I tend to play (mostly Silver). At the start of each week, players have to learn to adapt to the new meta which has not yet fully made itself obvious. Historically it took weeks for a meta to appear after significant balance changes were made by Blizzard, so forcing a situation where the meta changes once a week is frustrating, to say the least.
One upside is that the hero pool system destroys the meta on a weekly basis, therefore when a teammate demands that people choose certain specific heroes that they believe are required to win, those players can be quite easily ignored because they are almost certainly wrong. This has somewhat reduced that form of teammate toxicity, unfortunately this is a small gain compared with the toxicity of players who cannot choose their preferred hero and the players who are frustrated that nobody knows how to take advantage of the current hero pool in order to ensure a win.
The other possible upside is that hero pools keep Overwatch League games fresh and exciting. However, since Overwatch League moved to YouTube I no longer pay attention to those games, and unless League returns to Twitch it is unlikely I will ever watch them again, so I find absolutely no value there.
At the end of the day, I would prefer the Hero Pool system be eliminated from Overwatch Competitive matches, because the negatives outweigh the benefits.
Role Queue Competitive vs Open Queue Competitive: For a long time, the argument was that classic Competitive mode was an exercise in futility, because the majority of games were very one-sided due to the fact that few players willingly chose the role of tank or support. When they did, it was because their desire to win was greater than their desire to play their preferred hero, which was typically from the damage role category. This led to supports being played incorrectly, tanks unable to make space and blaming their damage players for losing because they were unable to kill anything. Blizzard came up with the role queue system to try to address these problems.
In current Competitive matches, you choose one, two or three roles before you queue for a match. You can choose from the three categories of tank, support and damage. Each category typically has a different wait time for a game to become available, and players who choose tank number among the fewest, therefore their wait time tends to be the shortest. Damage players are among the greatest number, therefore their wait time tends to be the longest between matches.
Role queue is a nice system for players who want to be guaranteed that their team will have exactly two supports, two tanks and two damage heroes every game. It is also a great system for players who want to figure out whether they are better at playing support, tanking or damage. Role queue is not a nice system for players who want to try out new and unusual strategies, or who want to be able to switch to a different role in the middle of a match, because it makes those things functionally impossible.
Worse, role queue does not prevent players from playing their chosen role incorrectly. There are a significant number of damage players who want to play a Competitive match, do not want to wait at least ten minutes to find a match, and therefore choose Roadhog in the tank role or Moira in the support role, and then play those heroes like a damage hero. In the past, when these things happened in a classic Competitive match, you could encourage your teammate to swap roles with you, and you could then play the support or tank role correctly to ensure the team won that game. In Role Queue Competitive, this option is unavailable, and the best you can do is try to overcome the fact that your teammate is not doing their job.
What I find is that Role Queue does a good job at pretending to correct a problem in Overwatch Competitive matches, when in fact what it does is hide the source of the problem, so that the problem is less obvious to the players. The problem is that at the end of the day, teammates who do not perform the job they chose correctly will lose games.
Part of the reason I can say this with certainty is that Blizzard launched a new Arcade mode called Open Queue Competitive, which is a combination of the classic version of Competitive matches with the hero pool roster. Even though I dislike hero pools, what I have found is that Open Queue Competitive games are far better than Role Queue Competitive games, even while there are currently a larger number of leavers and throwers in this mode (presumably because they perceive Arcade mode as a safe place to throw matches). The ability to start on a support hero, and switch to damage to shake up the enemy team's strategy cannot be understated. Furthermore (until Mercy was removed from the hero pool) I found that I could enjoy being the only support on the team, as long as all of my teammates did their job correctly.
I truly hope that Open Queue Competitive gets moved out of the Arcade and becomes a permanent part of the game. What would even better is if they removed the hero pool system from this game mode in the process.