For quite some time, the entire competitive community of Rainbow Six Siege has been asking for a fix to what's known as the "20 second meta."
In a nutshell, professionals state that defensive utility is out of control in terms of sheer volume, the attackers often don't have enough utility to create any kind of significant advantage, outside of a major defensive misstep. It's easy to see their point, Jager and Wamai alone can eat most whole attacking lineups' entire stockpile of throwables with just their primary gadgets, good luck taking out Maestro's Evil Eyes when you have no frag grenades left.
Part of this problem comes with a Thatcher ban, as Thatcher's EMP grenades take out electronic devices and traps in an area of effect that persists through hard walls. His gadget isn't crucial to attacking strategies, but it does make them more streamlined and efficient. Simply put, he makes the difficult job of clearing gobs of utility easier.
So, when Thatcher is banned, and sometimes even when he's not, it's hard for the attack to get themselves in an advantageous position, no matter how efficiently they use their utility.
"I've been saying for a while now that we need to look at taking away special gadgets from defenders," said United States Division analyst Loviel "Velly" Cardwell. "Echo, Mira and Maestro should have one of their special gadgets and I think that it's important to look at limiting others to two, like for example, Valkyrie and Ela."
We're starting to see the meta slow down way too much and that's because we're more focused on destroying gadgets than anything else."
The issue doesn't come necessarily from attackers playing their attacks slowly, or having to use their utility wisely. Indeed, that's one of the reasons why Rainbow Six Siege is so popular, the utility combined with the destructions system is unique among first person shooters. The issue is that currently, it's very easy on defenders, if they lose one of their primary gadgets, they have one or two more, whereas attackers are forced to be more precise. The result is a heavily defender sided meta, according to eUnited's Seth "Callout" Mik.
"I think defenders have way too much utility, making it very hard to attack in the current meta," said Callout. "That's why we see so many heavy defense sided matches being played."
Enter Echo, a part of this utility bloat problem, even more so because his Yokai drones have a stun gun that can deny late-round plants, as seen during Reciprocity and BDS's bout during the 2020 Siege Invitational.
On some maps, an Echo is a must-ban. With his ACOG primary weapon, incredibly useful and round changing utility, and bulky three-armor frame, he's a nightmare to deal with. Here comes the good news: due to a bug where Echo's Yokai drones became invincible, he is currently banned in competitive play, and it's genuinely making a dent in the forcibly slow-paced meta.
According to both Velly and Callout, having Echo forcibly taken off the board is inserting some variety into what's widely reviled as a stagnant meta.
"Usually you'd see almost the same bans before every map kicks off with the usual Echo or Maestro ban," said Velly. "...We've seen a different look with the ban phase. In (one of our most recent) professional games, look at SSG vs eUnited as an example. We saw Jager get banned vs SSG (by eUnited) along with Valkyrie. By not having to deal with two annoying Evil Eyes around the map, eUnited used that to their advantage to attack SSG and their 20 second meta by banning Jager which is something we don't really see."
Callout agrees with the sentiment, saying, "With Echo banned it allows you to be more flexible in the Operator Ban phase."
The Echo ban has certainly led to a more interesting ban phase, with not normally banned operators like Vigil, Jager, Kaid, and Bandit all seeing some action during the ban phase. The current most-banned operator through two weeks of USD play is Valkyrie with a 63% ban rate, slightly higher than Mira at 58%. During Pro League Season 11, Valkyrie's ban rate was nearly 50% less, coming in at 34%. For comparison, Echo's ban rate during Pro League Season 11 was 54%, and Mira's was at 57%. In summation, Echo's ban has given more variety in the ban phase, but strong defensive operators like Mira remain at about the same ban rate.
In terms of pick rate, Mira remains more or less the same from Pro League Season 11 to two weeks of the USD. In Pro League she enjoyed a 14% pick rate, in the USD it's slightly up at 16%. Maestro, another operator that's considered to have too much utility, boasts some similar pick/ban statistics. In both Pro League Season 11 and in two weeks of the USD, Maestro has a 21% ban rate. In terms of pick rate, Maestro varies a tad, in Season 11 he was picked 45% of the time as compared to 43% of the time in the USD.
From these statistics, it certainly seems like having more ban slots would be good for the overall meta, but wouldn't fix inherent issues professionals and viewers alike have with how strong defensive utility currently is.
While the Echo ban feels significant to professionals and viewers alike, Callout says it hasn't catapulted one team or the other to the bottom or the top of the rankings.
"I don’t necessarily think any teams are stronger or weaker because of it (the Echo ban)", said Callout. "There really wasn't a team that heavily relied on Echo last season."
So far, the Echo competitive ban seems to have only improved the game for everyone involved. How this plays out long term remains to be seen, as Echo will be reinserted into the defenders' roster in professional play when the bugs are fixed. For now, Velly is positive about the effect that the ban is having, and thinks if the ban continues far into the future that teams will get even more creative.
"If this becomes a long term thing, I'll start to wonder if we'll see more bans like Jager and Valkyrie or if we'll see different bans on ops that specialize in intel like Pulse or Lesion to make the defenders as blind as possible," said Velly. "It'll definitely be something I'll keep my eyes on."
As the US Division continues to play out, it will certainly be fascinating to see how the meta flows, but one thing is certain -- the lack of Echo has really spiced it up.