Are your Overwatch skills rusty? After playing the hero shooter for a few years, my gameplay approach could use a little boost. I spoke with numerous esports pros to get their thoughts on how you can play better, win more often, and have more fun. (Even if you don’t have much of a history with Overwatch, this list of expert strategies is designed to be accessible for players of varying abilities.)
Assistant coach for the Philly Fusion, Christopher “ChrisTFer” Graham, looked slightly horrified when I told him that sometimes I take my headphones off and just “vibe out” while playing Overwatch after a long day of work. “It takes a lot more effort. It’s sometimes not as fun to be the one that’s vocal,” he said.
Actively using your headset might be a frustrating experience at first, especially if your teammates don’t reciprocate a similar level of communication, but ChrisTFer is a firm believer that novice Overwatch players perform better when they have their microphones turned on. “It’s why a lot of people would like to play with friends as much as possible, because then you can guarantee that people are going to at least give you the most basic information.”
In February, the morning of my scheduled interview with Jake Lyon, coach and player for the Houston Outlaws, I woke up without electricity in my Kansas apartment. Unlike the Texans who were plunged for days into a deadly blackout, I was fortunate enough to have my power restored by early afternoon. Jake carved out time to share his expert perspective on Overwatch and provide strategies for novices despite the extenuating circumstances.
When it comes to communication between players at lower skill levels, Jake gave a tip in contrast to ChrisTFer’s advice. “Maybe this is controversial, but I don’t think that communication is actually that valuable up until a pretty high level,” he said. “I actually think you’ll probably have more impact just playing your own game.” The numerous heroes, abilities, and maps can be overwhelming for new players trying to understand the game’s balance. Adding voice chat on top of all that divides the player’s attention even further.
Jake said, “A lot of times you can waste more energy and focus communicating, and it’ll just make you not play as well. If your teammates aren’t very team-minded, you might just be shooting yourself in the foot. My mindset is to make critical calls if you need to call, but for the most part, I think it’s better to focus on your own game and try to play as well as you possibly can.”
Recently, Lee “Fearless” Eui-seok, who is Korean and plays for the Dallas Fuel, spoke out about experiencing pervasive anti-Asian racism while living in Texas. Translated on Twitter by Florida Mayhem manager Jade Kim, Fearless said, “Being Asian here is terrifying, seriously. People keep trying to pick fights with us.” After targeted incidents where he was coughed on, cursed at, and called Chinese, he mentioned wearing his jersey around as a form of protection. “If I have my jersey on, I think they realize we’re part of some kind of team, so they don’t bother us as much. But if I have my everyday clothes on, they run up to us, harass us, then run away.”
When reached for comment, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson made the following statement: “At Activision Blizzard, we condemn racism in the strongest possible terms. We stand with the Asian community, our employees, and our players and are working across our organization, including esports, to do our part to combat hate and ignorance.”
This toxic, racist behavior is just as unacceptable in the game as it is real life. While playing a competitive video game that features a multiplayer voice chat, issues like targeted harassment can run rampant. On an individual level, it is important for gamers not to perpetuate hateful messages. If you vent your anger toward another player, the impact is lasting and can reverberate.
New research suggests that when a gamer is exposed to toxic behavior like hate speech or sexual harassment, the initial action can snowball and the exposed gamer becomes more likely to repeat similar behaviors. Players who want to get the most enjoyment out of Overwatch and have long-term success need to recognize how their individual actions have a direct impact on the overall health of the community.
When asked about actual Overwatch strategies, Space suggested switching up your map positions. “There’s a lot of default positioning in Overwatch. A lot of positions that kind of have just been set on the map. Say you’re defending on Gibraltar, everyone stands on that high ground. They just always go there,” he said. “I think a lot of players are getting too used to going to one spot, even though that spot might not be the best.”
If you enjoy shooting games like Valorant, you could find yourself drawn to playing a sniper hero. “Any kind of player can play as Widowmaker if they’re good at aim tracking, but since Widowmaker had a little nerf, her HP is too low,” Park “Crusty” Dae-hee, head coach of the San Francisco Shock, said (with translation assistance provided by team manager Johnny Kim). “This means it becames really difficult to operate Widowmaker as a valuable character.”
He pointed out that good Overwatch players know how to win a match by playing within the larger framework that benefits their entire team. Also, Crusty brought up Tracer as another hero whose abilities might be too complex for novice players to optimize.
Known for his prowess when playing as Reinhardt, ChrisTFer shared a common pitfall to avoid with this hero. “The number one mistake I would say people at lower skill levels make is they don’t appreciate how little shield you actually have now.”
With the total hit points on Reinhardt’s shield lower than previous iterations of the hero, give yourself a moment to catch your breath and recharge before diving headfirst into battle. “If you’re pushing up the map a certain bit with your shield, if it gets low take one or two seconds to just hide behind the corner,” he said. “Let it regen before you then come back and push.”
“The number one thing that beginners can do to improve at Overwatch is to be more aware of the situation in the game. How many of your teammates are alive? How many of their teammates are alive?” Jake said. It’s easy to get tunnel vision during the heat of battle, but he emphasized keeping your eye on the entire field of play. “Knowing whether the fight is winnable. Whether you’re in a strong position or a weak position. Because, if you can correctly make that judgement, then it’s a lot easier to use the rest of your resources.”
Space listed Orisa and Roadhog as the Tank heroes he’s not currently playing with as much. “There’s been a lot less Roadhog, because I think people play more Ana and more Zarya and stuff that counters him super hard, just like a lot of cooldowns and stuns.” While it remains important to focus on mastering a specific hero’s abilities, with Overwatch’s ever-changing meta, being flexible and mastering a variety of characters pays off in the long run.
The meta of Overwatch is in constant flux, so you could find old heroes regaining popularity and back into regular rotation with a single balance patch. (Also, you could find a favorite hero significantly nerfed.) Diversifying your gameplay abilities and not getting too cozy with a single hero boosts your chance of sustained success.
Crusty admits that at higher levels of competition it might be difficult to play as Mercy, but for beginning players, she is a solid selection. Even though her healing abilities are fairly straightforward, Mercy can have an outsized impact on the overall dynamic of the match, if you use the right technique. “At this level, Mercy is really good for caring for the person who is the core of the team,” he said. “You need to know who is most valuable on your team, and you need to poke at that person.”
Since you are actively working to bolster your teammates as a support hero, it is a great opportunity to identify the more skilled players on your team and watch what they do. How does their positioning change during different situations? In what ways do they interact with the other members of your team? Keep this knowledge in mind when you branch out and experiment with new heroes.
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