It was a beta that seemingly no one felt a part of. Hype for Blizzard’s newest IP, the first-person shooter Overwatch, came not just from its graphics or gameplay but from how exclusive it was. You only knew a friend of a friend who was in the beta.. And then the floodgates opened in early May, as Overwatch went into an open beta that 9.7 million people participated in. Remaining skeptical after that was impossible, as the memes didn’t stop right on through its anticipated release. As an esport, it has attracted organizations such as Team SoloMid and Cloud 9 well before the game officially launched. What is the hype all about? Why won’t people stop talking about it?
The following is a comprehensive breakdown of Overwatch from Slingshot contributors Colin “CD-Mangaka” Nimer and Amanda “SageGnosis” Stevens. CD-Mangaka comes from a background in MOBAs and first-person shooters. A former Call of Duty player, he possesses hundreds of hours of FPS experience across CoD, Battlefield, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. He combines that with his experience in League of Legends to evaluate how Overwatch balances elements of FPS with unique heroes.
SageGnosis is an RPG gamer first, preferring immersive storylines and over the FPS experience. If not playing a solo player experience, she wants a sense of team-oriented gameplay where each player fits a certain role. Overwatch lends itself to a similar form of gameplay where players work together on a six-person team to complete goals. Different heroes fulfill different functions, and even the hero select screen informs your team if there is a role missing.
What is Overwatch?
On one hand, Overwatch’s controls are simple compared to other FPS. With the lack of bullet-drop and the need for spray control, shooting a weapon is as easy as getting in range and then point and click. The crouch mechanic can largely be ignored, and jumping is fairly standard, sans the few characters who can run along walls or climb them. Since aiming is straightforward, jumping while shooting is optimal to make yourself difficult to hit. What makes Overwatch a unique experience is the incorporation of heroes and their special abilities. There is no limit to the number of heroes a team can have, and one can switch heroes on death or in the spawnpoint, opening up thousands of permutations for a composition. Overwatch’s core strategic element comes down to how quickly a team can adapt its selection of heroes to answer the enemy.
Overwatch breaks its heroes into four categories; Tank, Support, Offense, and Defense. Tank heros are your front line meat shields. They have larger hitboxes and a large amount of health, shield, armor or a combination of two. Support heroes offer some sort of utility to their team, whether it’s a speed boost, shield, healing, or damage increase. Offense heroes are your team’s main attackers; some are tank busters while others specialize in flanking and taking out the backline. Defense heroes are the most diverse class. In Overwatch, defense is the home of snipers, a siege grenadier, a turret, and some builders. Defense Heroes spend most of their time in the back line.
SageGnosis’ and CD-Mangaka’s Hero’s Picks
Winston is a fairly unusual tank. Unlike most of the tanks of Overwatch, who stand in front of your team as meat shields, Winston’s job is disrupt the enemy back line. This is represented in his ability Jump Pack, which lets him jump into air to cover a great distance and stagger enemies when he lands. His default weapon, the Tesla Cannon, allows him to do steady DPS to one or multiple enemies. To help support his team, Winston has the Barrier Projector which creates a bubble shield that absorbs enemy damage. His ultimate, Primal Rage, buffs his health and melee damage and drastically shortens the cooldown of Jump Pack. All that turns Winston into a major threat to the enemy back line and can easily disrupt a team’s formation. Your goal as Winston isn’t to frontline, but be a nuisance to the opponent and disrupt its plans. While doing this, you set up your Barrier Projector as zone of protection for your allies.
The only character in the game that wields a melee weapon for a default basic attack, Reinhardt is deceptively simple. His Barrier Field is one of the most powerful moves in the game, allowing teams to stand behind their stalwart front-liner and approach objectives. It can even stop splash damage from hitting his back line, including D.Va’s Self Destruct. He can use his Fire Strike for ranged harass or a quick snipe to finish a carry off, but the difference between a good Reinhardt and a great Reinhardt is how one utilizes his Charge and Earthshatter. Charge allows him to close immense gaps quickly or pin an enemy to a wall. If that enemy is squishy, he’ll likely kill it. Earthshatter is one of the most powerful Ultimates in the game. With the ability to knock down the entire enemy team for a couple seconds, one Earthshatter can lead to a team kill. But the key with these last two spells is knowing when and from what angle to use them for maximum efficiency. In a master’s hands, Reinhardt can solo carry.
Lúcio differs from most of the other supports in Overwatch because his benefits are passive in nature. Lúcio’s heal and speed boost are part of his Crossfade ability, which affects allies around him who are in his line of sight. Amp it Up temporarily increases the effectiveness of his current Crossfade. Lúcio has a movement ability called Wall Ride, allowing him to skate alongside terrain. This allows Lúcio to transverse difficult terrain and pull of some really cool plays in tandem with his alt-fire, Soundwave, to knock enemies off terrain. Lúcio’s ultimate, Sound Barrier, gives his team a 500 overheal. The bonus health acts as a shield that degrades over a short period of time. Lúcio has proven to be a cornerstone of Overwatch team comps due to the massive utility he supplies. Often toted as “the support for people who don’t want to support,” Lúcio is also a great duelist because of Soundwave and his Crossfade. And Sound Barrier is a great tool for last pushes on objectives.
The queen of supports, Mercy’s identity is centered on a valkyrie flying across the battlefield to tend to the wounded. Using her Caduceus Staff, she can either heal or give a damage buff to a single hero. But with her Guardian Angel, she can fly between allies, either assisting them or repositioning herself to avoid assassination. If all else fails, her Caduceus Blaster can be used to defend herself, as it packs a surprising punch. Mercy’s defining ability is Resurrect: raising her nearby allies from the dead, she can give a team a second chance in a fight. This ability alone is enough to make her a competitive staple–with huge teamfights, it’s not uncommon to see Mercy secure Play of the Game with a five-man Resurrect. There are some spots on maps where she can hide, wait for a teamfight to finish, and then use Resurrect in safety. When paired with Lúcio, a team gets a wealth of extra sustain, mobility, and damage, while having two clutch ultimates to either endure an attack or transcend death.
SageGnosis: Soldier 76
Soldier: 76 is one of the more simplistic Heroes in Overwatch. He plays like a traditional FPS character. Soldier has a sprint as his movement ability, his weapon is a fully automatic Heavy Pulse Rifle, and he can shoot out three Helix Rockets for AOE damage as an alt-fire ability. Instead of having a shield grenade, Soldier has the ability to drop a Biotic Field to provide a minor heal for himself and his allies. His ultimate. Tactical Visor, gives you an aim assist allowing you to “lock-on” enemies closest to his crosshairs. While in Tactical Visor Soldier: 76’s reload speed is increased. Still, Soldier is a dangerous assault threat. His ability to get into the back line quickly and also flank makes him a massive threat. His Heavy Pulse Rifle has great range and damage output, and having Biotic Field allows to duck into cover to regain some health before being a pesky nuisance again.
There are two extremes with Genji: either a player accomplishes nothing with him or makes him look broken. The key to the latter is dividing his damage into two categories, inconsistent and consistent. Whittle an enemy down with Shuriken, your inconsistent damage, and then go for the kill with the consistent Swift Strike, Deflect, and Melee attack, and you’ll win almost any fight as an assassin targeting the back line. With Cyber-Agility, it’s easy to get caught up double jumping or wall climbing around while failing to hit targets with his small Shuriken. But after landing a few Shurikens, it’s a simple matter to hit with his Swift Strike and a Melee to execute targets, then either go for more kills or escape with a refreshed Swift Strike. If the enemy turns on him, he can use Deflect to return damage to the enemy–this particular skill makes him great against Bastion and in duels. Dragonblade, his ultimate, unsheathes the sword on his back and lets him deal massive damage with each swing. Since he lacks an ability like Tracer’s Recall to retreat and heal, one must execute with Genji in order for him to work.
One of the community’s most hated heroes, Bastion fulfills a unique role on teams. While not being very good in assault scenarios, Bastion excels at point control. While in his robot mode, Bastion is relatively unimpressive. He is slow and has low ammo. When he transforms into turret mode, however, he becomes dangerous. As a turret, Bastion becomes a tank busting, carry killing, mini-gun of death. In turret form, Bastion loses his mobility for increased DPS and a larger health pool. Bastion, in both forms, has a heal ability called Self-Repair that allows him to heal himself over time.This ability has a one-second cooldown if interrupted and zero cooldown if self-canceled. Bastion’s Ultimate, Configuration: Tank, turns Bastion into a tank for a brief period of time, allowing him to transverse the map and deal massive damage to the enemy team. Bastion is one of the most devastating heroes in Overwatch. A well-protected Bastion, usually aided by Mercy and Reinhardt, can easily defend a point from the enemy. And because of the amount of DPS he is capable of dealing out, Bastion is one of the few Heroes who can easily and quickly charge up his ultimate.
“Defense” is a bit of a mislabel. Although many of the heroes want to set up and control, some are also great at chipping away at a defensive setup. Perhaps the most iconic example of this is Widowmaker. A true sniper, Widowmaker does best when she can let her damage charge to 100 percent while scoping in with Widow’s Kiss and headshot the enemy. It can either be done from a tall vantage point accessed with Grappling Hook to stop attackers, or with clever angles to create picks and open opportunities to push. It’s not uncommon for Widowmakers on both teams to get locked in a sniper duel, fighting for control over the long lines of sight. Should she get harassed up close, she can spray with a machine gun and defend her position with Venom Mine. Her ultimate, Infra-Sight, allows her team to see the enemy through walls. With the information, clever flanks or peeking are safe. In the right hands, she can be the focal point of an offense, making her more versatile than the category she is in suggests.
A look at Overwatch game modes
Overwatch has 13 maps spread across four game modes. The four modes are Assault, Control, Escort, and a hybrid mode that is a mixture of Assault and Escort. In Assault, the two teams battle for control over a point on the map. One team is the attacker, trying to capture the point, while the other team defends, trying to protect the point. Control, or King of the Hill, involves the two teams fighting over control of a single point. When one team controls 100 percent of a point, a new round is started at a different location on the map. Control maps are best-of-three. On Escort maps, one team defends a point on the map from the attacking team. If the attacking team secures the point, their objective switches to escorting the payload from one end of the map to another while the defending team’s new job is to stop the payload in its tracks. The hybrid maps start like Assault, and if the attackers take the first point it transitions into Escort. Note that in competitive play, teams will time how long it took for the attackers to finish Escort or Assault, and then the opposing team has to beat that time after switching sides. Should a team fail to finish, then the second team to play offense only has to capture the objective the enemy team failed to within the time set.
Assault is a very linear game mode and shares similarities in competitive and casual play. Since the defense team only has to protect a single point, most competitive players will simply sit on the must defend chokeholds and defend the waves of pushes from the attackers. Sometimes an early Symmetra is used to create zones with her Sentry Turrets and secure Teleporter to allow her allies a quick route back to the point on defense. Pushing up to the enemy spawn isn’t seen, as this strains the defenses resources and offers little time to reinforce setups or heal. Depending on the map, characters that have vertical mobility, like Genji, are employed by either side to circumvent the opposition, or characters with splash damage, such as Junkrat, are used to break setups. All it takes is one good fight from the offense, and the point is as good as taken because the defense is left scrambling to get back into position.
Escort is similar to assault, except the defense is encouraged to engage the attackers. The attackers must sit on the payload in order to move it, and reaching checkpoints buys the attackers more time to complete the mission. Defense, then, must contest the payload at every possible opportunity, and can even push it back, though not as quickly as the offense pushes forward. Escort is easily the bread and butter of Overwatch, though some maps fuse Assault into it by making the attackers capture one point in order to start escorting the payload.
Comparatively, Control is the most disjointed between how it is played by the casual player base and how it is played in competitive. Exactly what does that mean? Taking a look at Gosu Gamers Overkill League, Cloud9 and REUNITED played on the Control map Lijang Tower. Two of the points on this map, the optimal team composition for both squads was two Lúcios, two Tracers, and two Winstons. This allows the squad to get to the point quickly and use the Winstons to control the point and keep the enemy off the point. It’s extremely grueling to watch. The difference in casual gameplay is you’re more likely to see the likes of a Mei or a Reaper or a Bastion. Neither is inherently wrong, but one lends itself to uninteresting gameplay while the casual player base wants their games to feel more dynamic. Control can be a fairly interesting and fun game mode to play, but teams tend to ban these maps because of how dynamic and divisive they can be.
Overwatch as an esport
What’s striking about Overwatch is how crucial adapting is. Changing approaches to an objective and what heroes it uses is the core of what separates the best teams from everyone else. It’s common to see the defense acquire the perfect setup and run the clock down as the offense repeatedly bangs its head. Then the moment comes: the offense changes out one, two, maybe the entire roster of heroes, and suddenly the defense falls to a renewed blitz and the game is reopened.
There isn’t a moment to breathe like as in Counter-Strike; once the spawns are open, it’s nonstop action. While some might point to that and say it restricts the strategic limits of the game, it discredits the diversity of the heroes. Additionally, the game is young, and we have yet to see the best minds truly understand it and introduce new twists. There’s lots of potential for unseen strategies.
One worry was how short matches could be. It’s possible for a team to end a map within five minutes — having a possible final end in 15 minutes is a hard sell to event organizers. This issue, however, is alleviated by expanding series to best of five, seven, or nine, giving plenty of maps and game modes for teams to clash on. Also, teams have been equal enough where at least one side can maintain a push or hold for some time, as the comparative skill of the two sides means the game can go into long periods of overtime, adding precious seconds to the game. With these two factors, events should feel comfortable hosting Overwatch tournaments, and fans can be sure that they will not spend exorbitant amounts of money and time spent traveling for a mere hour of competitive play.
Whether or not Overwatch will succeed as an esport is a pretty far-off prediction. Visually, Overwatch is a joy to watch due to its dynamic gameplay and unique Hero design. As a game for the casual market, Overwatch has already proven to be a success. The complaints of high queue times during the closed beta were non-existent during the open beta. And as long as there are casual players and interest in the game, the esport scene will have its chance to grow.
After a smooth launch with only a few minutes of delay, the game is currently the third most played title in South Korean PC Bangs. The casual interest is there–it’s on Blizzard to channel that into the next big esport.
(All images courtesy of Overwatch Central)