For those who don’t know (where have you been hiding), Overwatch is a shooter that is oriented around team play. Two teams of six on-line players choose from a roster of 27 characters spread across four roles: attack, defense, tank, and support. The team must work together to accomplish group goals in one of several game modes: Payload (move the item to points on the map), Point Capture (capture the flag), Point Capture and Payload Hybrid, or Control (king of the hill). The game modes ensure that the only way to win is to function as a unit. Lone wolf play results in a loss nearly every time.
Like most team sports, there are plenty of occasions for individual glory. The game highlights those moments with “Play of the Game” recaps, individual performance medals, and an MVP vote at the end of every match. In Call of Duty, Doom, or Halo a single talented player can rack up enough kills in a team death-match round to virtually win by themselves. In Overwatch, you can’t win without the support of your teammates, period. Sure you can get oodles of eliminations, but you can’t make progress on the match’s goal. This group effort introduces all sorts of complex strategies and forces relationships between the players that are more akin to American Football than they are to most on-line shooters.
For example, several of the Battlefield games feature support roles in which the player can toss out health packs to heal injured team members. Call of Duty sometimes features a perk in which you can heal an injured player and these roles make a difference in the game’s outcome, but in Overwatch the support or “healer” class is critical. The match goals ensure that all of the characters, or heroes as they are called in-game, focus their firepower in a small area. Without a support person constantly bolstering everyone’s health points, players are zapped out faster than they can make it back into the battle. It is possible to win without a support member, but it’s a rare occurrence. When a group thinks they can go without a support player, it is fairly amusing to be on the opposing team in an overpowered, “bow before my might” sort of way. Guess what happens when the better armed players don’t protect the support players? When a character is killed in the game it is often quite a long trek to make it back to the goal. Loosing a healer can mean an entire team gets wiped.
As you can tell from the paragraph above, a team’s hero composition matters almost as much as the skill of human pilots. Some pairs of heroes can form an almost unstoppable combination, a good Reinhardt and Diva with a decent Lucio backing them up can move a payload almost on their own; leaving the attack and defense players free to do damage behind the line of scrimmage. The high value placed on proper team selection can cause some interesting interactions due to human nature.
Many gamers like to master a single character or weapon system in any given game. I know people who started Call of Duty with the first assault rifle and have literally never tried anything else. Veterans of Overwatch know this mentality results in team weakness. You need to be flexible; if your team is getting wiped (all members killed) too fast to be effective, an attack player may need to switch to a healer to bolster the tanks for a while. Inflexibility in character choice can often lead to a loss. To make matters even more obvious, the game itself tells the group where it is week before a match begins. It prompts with messages like “No Healer, Only One Tank. and Low Team damage” in an attempt to help, but if the players don’t adapt a team can be doomed before the game even starts.
Each hero has a unique set of abilities, weapons, modes of locomotion, and a special power called an ultimate. Many of the weapons and special abilities operate on timers and the ultimate is charged by doing damage or healing team members. Team strategy and player success revolves around knowing when and where to activate these functions. For example, Diva’s ultimate makes her mech explode taking out any one in the vicinity. Everyone knows this which makes her a prime target; holding on to a charged ultimate is a waste if the player is eliminated, but so is deploying it to little or no effect. It’s also important to consider strategy; should the ultimate be deployed offensively or to clear an area? Characters with shields can set up pick plays with attack class players.
Each hero has a natural counter but that doesn’t mean the opposing team will select them at the start. That human nature I mentioned, to want to play your favorite (main) character gets in the way. Phara can fly which makes her a hard target to hit. Soldier 76’s automatic rifle is ideal for shooting her down but if your team doesn’t have one you’re not out of luck. Part of the game is the ability to change to a different character each time you are fragged. It’s actually a critical part of play and if players are not willing to swap to a more effective character, their team and therefore their rank, will suffer.
In addition to play aimed at teams, Overwatch has a tiered play path that lines up with real-world sports more than traditional video-games. New players start out in the training levels where teams of humans are pitted against teams of AI controlled heroes. There are 3 levels of difficulty in the AI modes and it is suggested that newbies remain in training until they can best the hardest most of the time.
Once a player has mastered playing against AI, the next step is Quickplay. Their team will be matched against another group of human controlled characters to battle for the win. Quickplay is largely for fun and players occasionally get put on teams where the composition makes no sence (6 Hanzo’s). In this mode nothing is supposed to be on the line everyone is supposed to be here to have a good time; like recreational softball teams.
After cutting their teeth playing against humans in quickplay and the need to step up the challenge arises; many will jump in to competitive mode. In competitive mode, it’s play to win, stats are tracked and skill is ranked. The mode starts with 10 placement matches which will determine the starting skill rank: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Masters, Grandmasters, and top 500 are the levels to be placed into. The rank received is based both individual play and the number of matches won or lost. After ranking, the system will attempt to make teams of evenly matched players for future competative matches. When it can’t, an underdog bonus kicks in if the weaker team pulls off a win. In competative mode players are expected to communicate with each other and be willing to choose heroes that fit the team rather than just personal favorites.
To place Gold in competitive mode I spent 35 hours in AI and Quickplay and reached a level of 41 before I attempted the placement matches. I mastered a character from each class (Soldier 76 , Bastion, Diva, and Lucieo) and was familiar with at least one extra hero in each category (Phara, Widomaker, Reinhardt, and Anna) so that I could fill a spot on any given team with confidence. I also set my audio options to automatically join teamchat and enabled push to talk which I mapped to a button on my mouse. This setup works much like a walkie-talkie ensuring my teammates don’t have to listen to my frustration and only useful call-outs like enemy locations, weapons status, strategic plays, and requests for backup.
Gold isn’t what it used to be LOL but I’m pretty happy with my first attempt. To place above bronze you will need to be a “team player”. If you choose a support character, you need to fulfill that role. Playing Zenyatta and running on side paths to ambush, while satisfying, is not helping your raise team’s health points and will therefore result in a lower skill rank. Likewise, choosing an attack hero such as Soldier 76 and then hiding out behind your tank’s shield for most of the match will not meet the expectations of “Attack”. If your team’s support players are being taken out too fast your rank will suffer; you should be protecting them. Again, play your role.
Players coming from traditional shooters where the K/D ratio is rewarded above all else often struggle with the team dynamics at first (I did). If you prefer Free-for-all and Team-Death-Match play, those modes are available under the arcade menu as are several others, some arcade types support competitive ranking and some do not. Competitive Free-For-All is interesting to say the least. Tanks like Diva with shields, missiles, dual shotguns and 600 health points are facing off against snipers with 150 health points and grappling hooks.
Besides the competitive game modes, Overwatch also offers a full E-Sports league in which city based teams of professional players, each of which earns a minimum of $50,000.00 per year, battle it out all they way to grand finals championship. The games take place in physical venues (you can purchase tickets), are televised and broadcasted on Twitch and in the Blizzard and Overwatch apps, have full announcer support and more. Visit https://overwatchleague.com/en-us/ for more information.
Each year there’s also a World Cup championship in which teams from around the world compete for fame and glory in the BlizCon stadium. There are also various other tournaments at conventions like PAX that are exciting to watch or participate in. To go with all the pro game-play is swag out the wazoo. Shirts, hoodies, art-work, cups, mugs, hats, pins, purses, jackets, and everything else you can think of are available both on-line and in many stores.
Wether you want to be a player or a fan or both, there’s a lot more going on in Overwatch than just shooting. If you’re a traditional sports fan wondering what all the hub-bub around e-sports is about, Overwatch is a great place to start. If you’re a gamer that’s played one too many deathmatches, this game might provide some new challenges. I’ve enjoyed playing and look forward to aiming for a platinum rank in the next season.