Overwatch puts players into two teams of six, with each player selecting one of several pre-defined hero character with unique movement, attributes, and skills; these heroes are divided into four classes: Attack, Defense, Tank, and Support. Players on a team work together to secure and defend control points on a map and/or escort a payload across the map in a limited amount of time. Players gain cosmetic rewards that do not affect gameplay, such as characters skins and victory poses, as they continue to play in matches. The game was launched with casual play, while Blizzard plans to add competitive match seasons in June 2016. Blizzard states that all Overwatch updates will remain free, with the only additional cost to players is through microtransactions to earn additional cosmetic rewards.
Overwatch features squad-based combat with two opposing teams of
six players each. Players choose one of several hero characters,
each with their own unique abilities and role classes. The four
character roles include: offense characters with high speed and
attack but low defense, defense characters meant to form choke
points for enemies, support characters that provide buffs and
debuffs for their allies and enemies respectively (such as healing
or speed alterations), and tank characters that have a large amount
of armor and hit points to withstand enemy attacks and draw fire
away from teammates. During the pre-match setup, players on a team
will be given advice from the game if their team is unbalanced,
such as if they are lacking defensive heroes, encouraging players
to switch to other heroes pre-match and balance the starting team.
Within a match, players can switch between characters in-game
following deaths or by returning to their home base, which is
encouraged by the game's overall design.
Each hero has a primary attack or skill and at least two additional skills that can be evoked at any time, some requiring a brief cooldown period before they can be used again. Furthermore, each player slowly builds up a meter towards the one-time use of the character's "ultimate" skill; this meter builds up over time but can build up faster for defeating opponents or performing other beneficial tasks for their team. Once ready, the player can use this skill at any time, but then must wait for the meter to fill up again. A second meter tracks how many in-round points a player has scored, which are rewarded for killing or assisting in killing, providing team defense or healing, and scoring objective points. When a certain threshold is reached, the player character's icon will be "on fire", representing that that character is a threat, but otherwise does not directly affect gameplay.
At the conclusion of each match, the game server determines and replays for all players a short period of time from a specific player as the "Play of the Game" based on a number of factors that highlight a high-scoring play, such as a rapid number of kills or an effective use of team healing. Up to four individual achievements for players on both teams are then highlighted and players are given the option to select one to promote. Obtaining the "Play of the Game" or the most votes during this post-game are rewarded as experience points for the player's meta-game.
Following the match, all players gain experience towards a metagame experience level based on several factors such as whether they won or lost, how effective they used their character's main powers, and beating past personal records in a number of categories. On gaining an experience level, the player can earn a loot crate, which contains a number of cosmetic items for certain heroes, including victory poses, paint sprays, alternate color schemes and voice lines. They may also earn in-game currency which can be used to purchase specific cosmetic items directly. Duplicate items can be sold for in-game currency. Players also have the option to purchase loot boxes with real-world currency through microtransactions.
The game's maps are inspired by real-world locations; the first three maps unveiled ("King's Row", "Hanamura", "Temple of Anubis") are inspired by London, Japan, and the ruins of Ancient Egypt, respectively.