What Jeff Kaplan’s Departure Means for Overwatch

Overwatch Enters a New Era

Overwatch has been one of the most popular team-based shooters since its release in 2016. For many in the gaming community, game director Jeff Kaplan has been the face of the franchise, and for good reason!

Anytime there’s been a major announcement about the game, we’ve watched intently as Jeff shared the good word. He’s explained new heroes, maps, game modes, the inevitable Overwatch 2, and engaged heavily with fans.

Last week, Jeff stunned the Overwatch world by announcing his departure from Blizzard, and the resulting gaping hole in the creative direction of the game. Associate Director Aaron Keller is taking over the reins, but he’s got some big shoes to fill.

Why has Jeff Left Overwatch?

Blizzard announced the change in leadership in a post last week, with words from both Jeff and Aaron. While Aaron was fairly wordy in his gratitude toward Jeff and the future of the game, Jeff’s portion was relatively short. He thanked everyone for the support over the last 19 years and was on his way. 

Without any indications as to why he left, the gaming community is of course putting together their own hypotheses, myself included. In no particular order, here’s my best guess as to why Jeff is hanging up his helmet and fading off into the sunset.

It’s just time to retire

Jeff has been at Blizzard for longer than many of the player base has been alive – close to two decades of service at one company. In the era of job hopping, this is unheard. It’s possible, and likely, that Mr. Kaplan was just ready to not have a full-time commitment after putting in tons of blood, sweat, and tears.

On the financial side, Jeff was probably pulling in a minimum of a quarter million dollars a year as the Director of Overwatch (based on Glassdoor info). Add this to a healthy stock grant, past reports of a $12 million net worth, and crazy future money-making opportunities and you’ve got a comfy nest egg to live out your life.

Lastly, Jeff will be 50 next November. I’ve got aspirations of retiring around that age too so game recognize game!

Jeff Kaplan Overwatch

Overwatch doesn’t need him anymore

Probably an unpopular hypothesis here, but there’s a chance that the machine that is Overwatch can continue to operate without Jeff at the helm. 

Overwatch 2 has been in the works for several years, and many people believe development started as soon as the original’s release. Given Jeff’s close involvement over the years, he has presumably contributed not only to the first version of Overwatch 2, but also added his genius to subsequent updates of the game.

Additionally, the team is stacked with some of the most talented folks in the gaming industry and can pull from the team that built the wildly popular World of Warcraft franchise. Jeff has certainly earned his stripes and I question what more can be asked of him at this point!

Overwatch is on the decline

Another unwelcome theory is that Overwatch is dying. Very few titles can continue to grow over several years, let alone staying relevant 5 years after launch.

Between scandals, delays, and frustrating metas, the game has faced headwinds over the last few years. Many of the top pros and content creators have expressed their concerns with how things have played out.

While there is still a dedicated core of gamers enjoying Overwatch today, the numbers suggest that the game is less relevant now than it was a few weeks before release.

Overwatch google trends results since launch (Rocket League for comparison)

Overwatch Google trends since launch (Rocket League for comparison)

The Future of Overwatch

Blizzard has been promising more Overwatch 2 news for a while now. BlizzCon 2k21 was a nice view under the hood, but the community is anxious for a playable demo to match the hype.

We haven’t seen a new hero in over a year, and some folks are rooting for Jeff to be the next character based on this tweet:

Overwatch Tweet about Jeff as next hero

I don’t think he necessarily needs to be an in-game hero, but it would be nice to see some kind of tribute to Jeff in the game!

Ideally, the developers figure out a way to make Overwatch more accessible to casual gamers. With the multitude of things going on in any match, it’s definitely an overwhelming experience to dive into for the first several hours of gameplay.

Ultimately, there’s still a place for Overwatch in the universe of team-based shooters and players will continue to enjoy – or struggle through – 2CP for the foreseeable future. I’m staying optimistic about the future of the franchise and am excited to see what innovations Aaron can bring to the table!

Let me know what you think about the future of Overwatch and what the sequel needs to do to stay relevant in the gaming world!

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