Overwatch lost one of its most influential developers. Jeff Kaplan, director of Overwatch and the in-development Overwatch 2, announced his departure from Activision-Blizzard in a letter to fans on Tuesday. Taking over for Kaplan will be long time developer for Blizzard and a “founding member” of Overwatch, Aaron Keller. Both Keller and Kaplan wrote a letter to fans following Kaplan’s announcement.
“It was truly the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to create worlds and heroes for such a passionate audience,” Kaplan wrote. “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.
“Jeff’s been a great leader, mentor, and friend, and he knows how much we’re going to miss him,” Keller said. “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.”
To say that this is shocking would be an understatement. Kaplan has been the face of Overwatch since the game was originally announced back in 2014. He’s the person who would announce major changes to the game and was the one who announced Overwatch 2 entering development back in 2019.
Since then, details about Overwatch 2 have been sparse and Kaplan himself has been fairly quiet. Without many new details about the game, it’s been hard to gauge how development is going, but the assumption has always been that Kaplan was at the head of it. Games changing directors mid-development like this is rarely a good thing for the game itself — it’s a new voice leading the charge and it’s going to impact how development proceeds moving forward. This doesn’t mean that Keller can’t handle it, but it’s hard to feel confidence about Overwatch 2 when something like this happens.
This also raises questions about Activision-Blizzard’s eSports project, Overwatch League. Kaplan was always a huge supporter of Overwatch League and appeared to take a role in pushing Overwatch to become an eSport. However, Overwatch League has had a lot of upheaval over the last year with layoffs in Activision-Blizzard’s eSports departments back in March and former commissioner Pete Vlastelica stepping down in October 2020.
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what kind of impact this is going to have on the franchise as a whole, because a name like Kaplan doesn’t step down without having waves.