Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan leaves Blizzard

In one of the most shocking departures for the company yet, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan has left Blizzard Entertainment.

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Over the past few years, anyone who has followed Blizzard Entertainment has gotten used to staff departures. However, Tuesday's news is a massive stunner, nonetheless. Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan has announced that he will be leaving the company after working with Blizzard for 19 years.

Here's the full letter from Kaplan, which was posted on the Blizzard website:

i am leaving Blizzard Entertainment after 19 amazing years.

it was truly the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to create worlds and heroes for such a passionate audience. i want to express my deep appreciation to everyone at blizzard who supported our games, our game teams and our players. but i want to say a special thanks to the wonderful game developers that shared in the journey of creation with me.

never accept the world as it appears to be. always dare to see it for what it could be. i hope you do the same.

gg,

jeffrey kaplan

Kaplan will be succeeded by Aaron Keller, who has been with the Overwatch team since its inception. Here's his letter to the Overwatch community, also on the same website post:

Greetings, Overwatch Community,

Jeff's been a great leader, mentor, and friend, and he knows how much we’re going to miss him. I've been lucky to work alongside him and the rest of the Overwatch team for many years in building something that continues to inspire people all around the world, and I'm honored to carry the torch forward.

I love Overwatch. From our first pieces of concept art, to the first maps we built, to the first time I was able to run around as Tracer (who at that early point shot laser beams out of her eyes), this game has just clicked with me. I love its inspiring, hopeful, beautiful world worth fighting for. I love its characters—larger than life, colorful, powerful, and global. And most of all, I love the fast, fluid gameplay requiring teamwork, situational awareness, and quick decision making.

I also recognize that making games at Blizzard has always been a group effort and never about just one point of view. Together with the rest of the team I feel fortunate that we have a deep bench of development and creative leaders, numerous veteran Blizzard artists and designers, and some extremely talented new blood as well—along with tons of support throughout the company for the live game and for Overwatch 2.

Speaking of Overwatch 2, development is continuing at a good pace. We have an exceptional vision we’re executing on, the reaction from many of you to the updates we shared at BlizzConline thrilled us, and we have exciting reveals planned for this year and beyond as we ramp to launch. We'll be sharing more frequent updates about Overwatch 2 progress and new features in the live game with you all very soon.

While I have no pretenses about filling Jeff's shoes, I'm excited to step into the game director role and continue to be part of a team that's putting all of its heart, talent, and focus into the next iteration of Overwatch, and I'm honored to continue serving this incredible community.

-Aaron

Kaplan's sudden departure is a shocker, arguably the most surprising exit since CEO Mike Morhaime left the company in 2018. It's stunning mainly because Overwatch 2 is such a high-profile project on Blizzard's upcoming release list. Overwatch 2's development has already been slowed significantly due to outside factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and is not expected to release in 2021. However, as Keller noted in his letter, there will apparently be news on the Overwatch 2 front in the months ahead.

It also can't be overstated how much of a central community figure Kaplan was. He was the face of Overwatch, personally appearing in various patch videos, frequently speaking to the Overwatch player base, and even showing up in special yule log streams. He was long-recognized as the unmoving figure on the chair in front of the Christmas fire, which proved to be so popular that Blizzard would keep the tradition going for years.

The ramifications of Kaplan's exit will be felt throughout Overwatch for a long time, especially as Blizzard kicks off a new season of the Overwatch League and prepares for the game's eventual sequel. Shacknews will monitor this story closely as it unfolds.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 20, 2021 11:02 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan leaves Blizzard

    • reply
      April 20, 2021 10:47 AM

      Jeff Kaplan leaving Blizzard

      https://playoverwatch.com/en-us/news/23665015/

      • reply
        April 20, 2021 10:50 AM

        Aaron Keller taking over OW lead

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        April 20, 2021 10:51 AM

        oof, they are bleeding their top tier talent a dangerous pace.

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      April 20, 2021 11:03 AM

      blizz = ded

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      April 20, 2021 11:05 AM

      Maybe Microsoft is buying Activision. :p

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      April 20, 2021 11:06 AM

      That doesn't seem good for OW2's development? I always liked his dev updates.

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        April 20, 2021 11:13 AM

        Can't be good for the future. Then again I don't even know what OW2 really is. Its super confusing to me for some reason.

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      April 20, 2021 11:10 AM

      Ouch, big loss. I am sure he was quite sick of Overwatch though. 10 years of developing the same game has to be draining.

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        April 20, 2021 11:17 AM

        I swear, if I have to sit through one more meeting about asses I'm gonna scream

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        April 20, 2021 1:53 PM

        Chris Roberts: *single, solitary teardrop falls*

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      April 20, 2021 11:20 AM

      I wonder how much of his continual "fighting" with Activision influenced this (mostly in the sense of avoiding the usual monetization processes that Activision would want (including how he wanted OW2 to carry over as much OW1 stuff), or if he was worn out on dev.

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        April 20, 2021 12:50 PM

        Yeah, if I had to guess it was him being the firewall between the OW team and Activision is what did him in. He was a VP at the company so he was reporting to leadership. The game itself has actual game designers, combat directors, balance designers, etc, so that's already sorted

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      April 20, 2021 11:21 AM

      This is bad.

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      April 20, 2021 11:24 AM

      I'm not sure Jeff had great ideas for Overwatch. While things might be better now, a lot of bad gameplay happened under his leadership. For example, tanks and shields existing or 2-2-2. A new direction is better. I liked how open he was and willingness to try new things though.

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        April 20, 2021 11:26 AM

        He has lasted for much longer than I expected him to. Most game directors at Blizz have moved on after launch + couple years. Hearthstone is on its 4th game director I think.

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        April 20, 2021 12:47 PM

        "a lot of bad gameplay happened under his leadership. For example, tanks and shields existing or 2-2-2"

        lmao wtf dude

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          April 20, 2021 12:53 PM

          definitely nothing wrong with 2-2-2, back when it was the original roster of heroes. It is just that as they added more heroes, some broke the 2-2-2 (Brigette and GOATS) and teams needed flex to get off 2-2-2. That's part of the growing pains of any game that you continually add new content like heroes to - you get combos that you as the dev can't predict. (eg can't blame Kaplan for that). They found a good way to resolve it after a lot of tuning.

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            April 20, 2021 1:02 PM

            it's almost like a fixed roster is actually better for long-term sports-like viability

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            April 20, 2021 1:18 PM

            You're way WAY off base dude.

            2-2-2 was implemented partly to break Brig/GOATS. GOATS was a 3-3 comp with a hypercharged Brig and Lucio (and skilled/decisive players at the wheel) at the center of it.

            2-2-2 forced people off of the "optimal" comp of three tanks and three supports. As a result Blizzard was able to actually patch tanks and supports in more interesting directions. It opened up their space because players couldn't just abuse having a team made up entirely of characters with insane utility.

            The patch direction over the last year further improved things by heavily nerfing shields and healing, making the game much brawlier and faster as a result since people can't expect to win simply by turtling around shields with insane sustain once a fight breaks out.

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              April 20, 2021 1:22 PM

              +1 for this; I only play QP, but I play a decent amount and the game feels like it's in a better place than it has ever been right now.

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                April 20, 2021 1:32 PM

                No question. They spend over half of last year making big balance changes every 1-3 weeks and it came out the other side in a terrific place.

                For a while it felt like Dota 2 after a major patch dropped, where there are patches dropping constantly but its slowly nudging towards a new and better equilibrium

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                  April 20, 2021 1:57 PM

                  The only real issue I have is that a lot of the balance changes were dictated by the upper rings of competitive play. Back in gold GOATS was nothing but. A distant rumor!

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                    April 20, 2021 2:08 PM

                    GOATS requires insane skill and coordination. That said, I feel last year's rebalancing made the game significantly better across the board and no matter what your skill level.

                    There are no longer "must have" tanks or supports. You select characters based on utility and strategy, not "who has the most shields" and "who has the highest healing output".

                    Lucio used to be a dumpster tier pick and it was impossible to run a comp with Roadhog and Zarya. Now you can run comps with no shields and where your tactics revolve around mobility or damage boosting rather than being tied to supports that only excel at healing. The game has never had so many viable options, which is great not just for high level play but also at lower tiers where people kind of play whatever.

                    The biggest change is honestly the fact that natural cover got a massive buff because shields (except for Winston's bubble which is necessary since its how he survives when he dives) got turned into paper. This is totally fine because Overwatch is a shooter, after all :)

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                      April 20, 2021 2:41 PM

                      I agree with you when you put it this way. Unfortunately it’s kind of unbelievablehow so many players will throw a fit if there’s no Rein, even when it’s clearly not working that great like when the shield breaks down almost instantly/healers can’t provide rein with enough support, nobody actually uses the shield etc. On the other hand Hog’s self-sustain ability and damage output can free up healers and get more picks than the shitty 5% accuracy Ashe that needed the shield to begin with. People are still clinging to dumb definitions of “tank” and “off tank” even though the game doesn’t really work like that anymore.

                      I am really happy to hear that for OW2 they’ll turn all tanks into “brawlers” (kind of like more aggressive but more squishy tanks from Heroes of the Storm). Like rein will have two fire strikes and more mobility during his charge etc.

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                        April 20, 2021 4:20 PM

                        It was definitely bad the first couple months when people were still conditioned to shoot behind tanks and a mile from cover. People slowly caught on but you still have some people who don’t get it every now and then.

                        The worst is when you have Rein who don’t recognize that the HAMMER is the most important part of their kit, not their shield, but tanks are also the hardest role to play well and that only comes from experience

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                        April 20, 2021 7:13 PM

                        I regularly watch a dude who plays Rein main. It works fine as far as I can see - as long as the rest of the team joins in.

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                          April 20, 2021 7:31 PM

                          Yeah exactly! Rein can be great as long as the team joins in. Like Serpico said - the hammer is more important than the shield... an aggressive rein can steamroll a round and chain ultimates easily... I was amazed when I realized my DPS main friend (plat) didn’t even know that damage is the main thing that charges Rein’s ulti.

                          Also who is that dude?

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                            April 20, 2021 8:16 PM

                            To use fighting game concepts, tanks convert neutral space into safe space. They are not shield bots.

                            Tanks take up space to make it safe for their team or to deny it from the enemy. Their mobility and effective range determines what sort of neutral space they are effective at taking and converting. More than any other role they were the tempo for movement and engagements

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                              April 20, 2021 8:39 PM

                              were control

                              No idea what autocorrect was doing lol

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              April 20, 2021 2:25 PM

              Oh that's right about team comp and GOATS, I got my timing wrong.

              Just that my point is that the game was well balanced at retail release but as they added characters (and perhaps a bit too fast) they couldn't keep up with the balance mismatch. As others later point out, the last year has helped to better balance the game as without any new chars since Echo, the balance team has room to breathe and make decisions. I wouldn't put any of that at Jeff's feet being a problem, that's just the nature of a hero-style game that gets expansions

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                April 20, 2021 2:29 PM

                I don't even think it comes down to balancing around individual characters. They reframed what tanks and supports even are. There's a massive difference between the new mental framework they shifted to and numbers tweaking around individual characters.

                I honestly feel that Wrecking Ball is part of what allowed them to rethink tanks in the first place, once "space creation" became a core tenet for the designers rather than "main tank shield the team and off-tanks peel at close range" being the only mental model.

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        April 20, 2021 1:34 PM

        It is insanely difficult to balance a game like Overwatch.

        Like...insanely, insanely difficult. I think he's done pretty well as the Game Director, TBH.

      • Zek legacy 10 years
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        April 20, 2021 2:22 PM

        I don't agree at all, the game has never been better IMO. I'm still not too freaked out about a change in leadership though, the new lead has been on the team just as long as Jeff. I feel like Overwatch is in pretty good hands. The main thing I don't agree with them on is the fact that they paused all new content for OW1 so they could hold it back for OW2 - that feels like something that was forced on them for business reasons. But if that's the worst they're being made to do then I'm not too concerned.

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          April 20, 2021 10:45 PM

          Overwatch is like 100x more bang for buck compared to Call of Duty and other shooters. And didn't they recently add some new Japan maps?

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        April 20, 2021 3:18 PM

        wait sorry, are you saying 2-2-2 was, overall, a bad idea? a mistakr?

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          April 20, 2021 3:20 PM

          A very bad idea. It restricted team comps to a bad setup (too much tank and healing) plus made queue times so long that Overwatch was unplayable.

          • Zek legacy 10 years
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            April 20, 2021 3:50 PM

            To me 2-2-2 was the best change they ever made. It made the average pub game playable with a respectable team comp instead of 6 DPS. Then they added priority passes which fixed the queue times.

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            April 20, 2021 4:18 PM

            The optimal setup before 2-2-2 was tank and support only. What are you talking about?

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              April 20, 2021 4:42 PM

              Don't be obtuse. Going to 2-2-2 and its ramifications wasn't the only way to address that.

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                April 20, 2021 4:48 PM

                Limiting the number of utility characters was the way to counterbalance them having priority over high damage characters who are balanced by lacking utility.

                2-2-2 not only addressed this, it also created space to make characters overall more powerful and exciting. When you are limited to two tanks/DPS/supports, individual characters can be more powerful and interesting. Balance and design massively improved after 2-2-2 was made standard.

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      April 20, 2021 2:36 PM

      Jeff’s personal crusade was making the transition from Overwatch 1 to the sequel as consumer-friendly as possible, with any skins and currencies rolling over. That’s wildly divergent from Activision’s usual business practices (e.g. yearly Call of Duty games), so it’s my guess that Jeff set an ultimatum. Guess the corporate bigwigs made their choice.

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        April 20, 2021 3:08 PM

        I’m not really sure of what the best solution is. I think they should have just made it an expansion within the Overwatch client instead because calling it OW2 basically looks like it would be a completely new sequel when it’s really not.

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        April 20, 2021 3:13 PM

        i think at this point it's set in stone, at least for OW2. if activision changes plans now, after the OW team very thoroughly described how the transition will work and how the games will interact, there will be a public shit show

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      April 20, 2021 3:01 PM

      Is he the one for refusing to allow ultrawide resolution's in OW? If so, good riddance.

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        April 20, 2021 3:02 PM

        and i mean real ultrawide resolutions, not cropped 16:9 resolutions.

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        April 20, 2021 3:21 PM

        I would honestly kill for native 32:9 support in OW.

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        April 20, 2021 3:46 PM

        nah you cant give an edge to people who have it. how would high noon work?

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          April 20, 2021 3:55 PM

          Oh god.

          People have a myriad of hardware edges already. Better pings. Higher frame rates.

          It’s asinine.

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          April 20, 2021 5:39 PM

          Just limit the fov to for his ult to 16:9? I mean, I kinda get the argument for super competitive play - but for QP..?

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          April 21, 2021 3:03 AM

          Are you saying that high noon has a vert+ effect on 4:3 aspect ratio displays right now? Poor Pharahs. :(

          No, it is of course decoupled from display aspect ratio.

    • reply
      April 20, 2021 3:50 PM

      Man that place has just had an exodus of talent (and overall employees) the last few years.

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        April 20, 2021 4:15 PM

        In the last three years all high level folks are gone besides Jay Allen Brack and Ian over in Wow land.

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          April 20, 2021 4:23 PM

          The leads on D4 and OW2 are 20 year veterans. The bench there is super super deep

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            April 20, 2021 4:27 PM

            You can have a great bench but it doesn’t mean much when corporate exerts more control. Trust me, I’ve been through exactly that as the bench person as others at a corporate level take control. You can be the expert with decades on the product, too bad let’s make the product make more money this way even if it’s going to piss people off, etc.

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              April 20, 2021 4:45 PM

              Certainly. Kaplan was clearly the firewall between the OW2 team and Activision. I have to assume that's why he left.

              Sure, compensation for being a VP is nice but you don't actually get to spend time making games. My point is that design and balance will be fine without him, those were already roles beneath him from the jump. Hopefully the game isn't compromised with him out of the picture.

              It does suck not having him as the face of the game though, he's terrific

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        April 20, 2021 6:00 PM

        They pay their developers shit so it's expected.

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      April 20, 2021 5:34 PM

      Damn...that dude is the face of Overwatch. Sad to see him go, but can't blame him for wanting a change. That was a lot of time on what I'm sure is a high-pressure job.

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      April 20, 2021 7:20 PM

      Might also be related to Activision hiring more Trump era folks. https://www.pcgamer.com/activision-blizzard-appoints-former-trump-official-as-its-chief-administrative-officer/

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        April 20, 2021 7:38 PM

        Bulatao's hiring comes mere weeks after Activision appointed Frances F. Townsend, a Bush-era counterterrorism advisor who notoriously defended the CIA's use of torture, as its chief compliance officer.

        this hiring should trigger a compliance investigation lol

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        April 20, 2021 10:41 PM

        That really can’t be good.

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        April 20, 2021 11:42 PM

        lmao wow

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      April 20, 2021 7:57 PM

      I would have expected a transition video. This probably wasn't a clean exit.

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        April 20, 2021 8:38 PM

        Oh yeah, there’s no way. Jeff has been the face of Overwatch vis a vis the community from day one. No video and a brief, weirdly toned farewell means that this whole thing started with someone saying “Fuck this”.

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        April 20, 2021 8:43 PM

        his statement is in lowercase, kind of sus unless this is how he usually writes text

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      April 20, 2021 11:02 PM

      I love how he capitalized Blizzard Entertainment and does not thank or even acknowledge Activision. Activision is fucking cancer and I'm kind of glad a lot of the Blizzard staff is leaving them.

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      April 20, 2021 11:36 PM

      rip tigole bitties

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