When Overwatch received crossplay last year, Blizzard made a few uncommon decisions (opens in new tab) about how PC and console players would play together. First, it’s not an automatic process: unlike most other crossplay shooters, the only way for PC and console players to meet is when console players join a PC player’s group. Second: when console players do make it into a PC player lobby, aim assist on controllers is switched off.
With a new surge of Overwatch 2 players entering the mix, some console players are just now discovering the absence of aim assist when playing with PC friends (as spotted by Kotaku (opens in new tab)), and they’re not happy about it.
“For some, it’s just an obstacle, but others just find less enjoyment out of the game being disadvantaged this way,” wrote Reddit user KellySweetHeart (opens in new tab). “It’s a total bummer because PC players already perform better on average, so it hits like a double whammy.”
A year ago, I would’ve agreed that disabling aim assist for console players makes no sense. The accepted truth is that controller players are at a massive disadvantage even with aim assist on. Today, I’m convinced it’s less cut-and-dry. The power of aim assist has become a point of tension in some of the most popular FPSes in the world. In Apex Legends, some PC players and influencers argue that controller players actually have the upper hand when it comes to close-range firefights. It’s true that Apex and Warzone’s aim assists can be tuned to produce tracking so good (opens in new tab) that it resembles Soldier: 76’s actual aimbot ultimate ability.
If I saw aiming like that from a mouse player, I’d strongly consider they’re cheating. It’s also true that in both games, PC players have key advantages themselves—a much higher average framerate, more settings, and better camera control, to name a few. And while aggressive aim assist can be dominant at close range, mouse players have a clear advantage in long-range engagements where precision crosshair placement is crucial and controller assists are weaker.
But not every assist is created equal. Overwatch 2’s aim tracking is, in my experience, less dramatic than Apex or CoD, but still consequential. Most gunfights happen from 20-30 meters away and maps generally aren’t big enough for long range sniper battles. Overwatch 2 also has a roster of 30+ heroes who play completely differently from each other—some don’t need to aim at all. The benefits of aim assist depend on what hero you’re playing.
Ask a dedicated Overwatch console player which settings are most important and aim assist will probably top the list. Overwatch’s controller settings have six sliders and buttons dedicated to fine-tuning aim assist, including options to increase the size of the invisible “bubble” around a character in which your crosshair will stick to them. This stickiness is hard to miss if you’re jumping and wallriding around as Lúcio while trying to shoot his dubstep gun accurately. Tracking sporadic enemy movements while also accounting for your own acrobatics is the basis of Lúcio’s skill ceiling—PC players practice for hundreds of hours to get really good at it.
On an aim-assisted controller, it’s a different experience. It’s still difficult to stay accurate with Lucio, but aim assist eases the significant burden of tracking enemies through the air. Meanwhile, it’s clear to me that sniper roles like Widowmaker and Ashe have it much better on mouse.
Earlier this year, my PC decided to stop working. I was without a desktop for the first time in years and desperate to play games with friends, I booted up console Overwatch. I became the controller player in a sea of PC tryhards and it was surprisingly fine. I couldn’t really tell aim assist wasn’t there and I did about as well as I usually do on controller. That’s not a high bar, but I managed to score medals on heroes I thought would be disastrous like Soldier: 76.
Obviously I don’t speak for everyone—KellySweetHeart says their controller peeps have experienced a “significant dip in their aim consistency.” We do agree that if Overwatch 2 flipped on aim assist in console/PC lobbies tomorrow, probably not much would change. It’s important to remember that controller/mouse players meeting in the first place is already an edge case. You have to opt into it by grouping up with a PC friend. PC/console crossplay is also disabled in Competitive mode. So does it really matter if the occasional enemy Lúcio has an easier time tracking players than I would? I’d still rather be the mouse player in that scenario.
Platform fairness is a bigger problem than a single game can solve. Some studios have decided to design around the problem while others are turning into the skid. Apex and Warzone have full controller aim assist and don’t seem to be budging. Overwatch thinks aim assist doesn’t belong in PC lobbies and turns it off. Rainbow Six Siege has zero aim assist but, recognizing the skill disparity between console and PC, leaves PC players out of crossplay entirely.
It’s fascinating to see Blizzard take a stance on platform fairness that challenges the norm. To implement crossplay is to invite some amount of imbalance—controller play will always feel different than a mouse, just as an apple will always taste different from an orange. In the official ranked mode or not, Overwatch 2 is a competitive FPS, and settings that even partially automate a core skill for some players and not others isn’t strictly balanced.
We’ve been inching toward this problem since crossplay started showing up in every game in 2018. Players are increasingly skeptical that aim assist is the ‘great equalizer’ that makes it all work. It’s not, but ironically, I think it does work pretty well in Overwatch 2.