Blizzard’s team-based first-person shooter Overwatch has quickly become one of the most popular multiplayer games on the planet. There are a lot of reasons for this: fantastic character design, tight balancing, excellent gameplay variety. But one of the nicer perks of the game is that Blizzard periodically updates the game with new content for free, including brand new playable characters (known as “Heroes” in the Overwatch lexicon). If you want to try them out before everyone else, you can do so on what’s known at the PTR server.
PTR stands for “Public Test Region,” and that’s exactly what it is: a periodically activated fourth major play server for Overwatch, in addition to the always-on servers for the Americas, Europe, and Asia. At the moment, the PTR is limited to PC players and unavailable on consoles, and that seems unlikely to change…so Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners need not apply.
Installing the PTR Region
On your Windows PC, Click the Start button, then type “Battle.net” and click the first link to open Blizzard’s Battle.net game manager application.
If you’ve already installed Overwatch, it’s hanging out in the game list on the left-hand column of the window. Normally you’d just click “Play” to start the game in your default region—Americas, in my case. Instead, click the “Region/Account” drop-down menu just above the Play button, then select “Public Test Region.”
The “Play” button has now shifted to “Install,” because you’ll have to download a second copy of the game—the beta version Blizzard has recently updated—in order to play it. Click “Install,” then “Start Install” on the next screen. You’ll need enough space on your storage drive to hold a second copy of the game, about 10.5 gigabytes at the time of writing. You can change the installation location if you need to manage the specific files.
The game will begin the download and installation process. How long it takes depends on your Internet connection speed. It’s technically possible to start playing before the download is completely finished, but the difference between “playable” and “completed” tends to be so small that you might as well wait for it to finish up.
When the download is done, just click “Play” to start up the PTR version of Overwatch. You may need to log in with your Blizzard account.
NOTE: unlike switching between the regional servers, switching to the PTR means your experience points, loot items, and player settings won’t transfer over in either direction. Don’t get too attached to anything you earn in Loot Boxes, and remember to adjust control bindings back on your regular server if you’ve become accustomed to them on the PTR.
Tips for Trying Out New Characters
The PTR server isn’t always available, but it’s the first place to play with a new Overwatch hero when they’re introduced, along with tweaks to existing heroes, gameplay balances, bug fixes, and other additions. Because everyone wants to check out the new stuff, the PTR tends to get swamped whenever a new hero is announced—you might have to wait in a digital queue for a few minutes to an hour before even entering the game, as players all over the world hop on.
Complicating things is the structure of Overwatch’s game modes themselves: in a standard team battle, only one player on each side can pick each hero. That means that roughly only one in six players can play as a new character like Doomfist during each game. The new heroes tend to be picked instantly by impatient players.
However, there are still a few ways to make sure you can get some practice in. To wit:
- Make sure to take advantage of the Practice Arena. This special map with robot dummies can be accessed by a solo player at any time, and it’s an ideal place to try out a new hero’s abilities and techniques. Be sure to use the various platforms and levels to test out movement skills, both vertically and horizontally.
- Try the Arcade game modes. The PTR doesn’t always support the full hodgepodge of game types in the Overwatch Arcade, but when a new hero comes along, Blizzard will usually enable one or two of them that allow unrestricted access to the new character for all players, like No Limits. Ditto for the Game Browser: player-customized games won’t have the same restrictions as Quick Play.
- Just because you’re not fast enough to play as the new character in a public game doesn’t mean that that game is a wash. New players will make mistakes with an unfamiliar hero, and it’s a great time to develop offensive and defensive strategies when playing as your “main” heroes as the game shifts to accommodate its new addition.
- If you have a regular group of friends who play Overwatch on the PC, ask them to install the PTR region as well. With six players in a team, you can take equal turns at the new hero, and it’s a great way to see how (or if) you can manage to use the new hero in a coordinated team.
As long as you’re willing to try a few things and be patient, you should get a chance to play with that new exciting hero.
Switching Back to the Standard Server
The PTR server isn’t always available, so it’s not a good idea to use it as your primary Overwatch destination. And remember that unlike the three standard servers, your accumulated experience points, loot items, and player settings on the PTR don’t travel back to the release version of the game.
When you’re ready to head back to the deep end of Overwatch, just open the Region/Account drop-down menu in Battle.net and set it back to your usual region. Click “Play” and you’re back in the release version of the game, complete with your usual Hero Gallery items, player level, and access to all game modes.
If you’d like to remove the PTR version of the game to get some space back on your PC’s storage drive, here’s how: select the Player Test Region from the drop-down menu, click “Options” just underneath the Overwatch logo, then click “Uninstall Game.”