Blizzard came up with an ingenious idea how to add more map variation for Overwatch 2 while avoiding the larger file size that would inevitably come with brand new maps.
Environment states is a new feature Blizzard is testing for Overwatch 2 and it will allow them to do some amazing things with the existing maps. As you can see on the image above, Numbani alone can have four different states that will offer a refreshed look at the map between the games. Better yet, these environment states might not always require a new match to change.
In a rather lengthy post on the official Overwatch website, three devs came together to talk about various aspects of environment states in Overwatch 2. Marco Alamia, Bruce Wilkie and Fabien Christin explained how the process is done, when the changes might occur and the effects this system will have on the file size.
Essentially, there will be multiple layers of maps that can be switched between, based on a previously set queue. The devs compared this to a Photoshop image consisting of several layers to make up the final picture.
For the players, the two most important parts will probably be that this system will introduce a little bit more file size but it will be lower than introducing completely new maps. That said, Blizzard did not say they wouldn't be introducing new maps, only that they would add variation to the existing ones. In fact, there is already a pile of new maps they presented to the players.
The other part that will be interesting to the players is that these layers can be interchanged during a match and they might not always be just eye candy. Some environmental states might introduce new things that will affect map visibility and possibly change the way a match is played. If there is a lot of dust on the map, it will probably be harder to keep precision up with Widowmaker than swing a huge rocket-powered hammer in close quarters.
However, it remains to be seen if this change will happen in PvP matches as the only example was made for a PvE mission.