Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Eddie's Guide to Overwatch

For those of you who are reading this but aren't entirely clear on what Overwatch is, following is a brief synopsis. I'll expand this entry over time to include more details pertinent to my continuing journey to Git Gud. Bear in mind that this is a work in progress.

What is Overwatch?

Overwatch is a competitive multiplayer team-based shooter; specifically, it's a 6-on-6 game, either consisting of strangers across the internet (known as "solo queue") or with a group of your friends working together (known as "pre-mades"). In an average Overwatch match, each team is running around a large area, shooting each other while they either protect or defend an objective.

There are three kinds of maps. On some maps, the matches are broken into two rounds, where each team takes a turn attacking and then defending the objective; whichever team does better wins. On other maps, there is no defending; the objective is in neutral space, and whichever team can hold it the longest wins. On the third kind of maps, the objective is a vehicle that only moves when the attacking team is near it. The vehicular objective (called a payload) moves down a path on the map, and if the attacking team gets it all the way to the end, they've completed the attack round. There is also a fourth kind of map that is a hybrid of the first and third; the objective is an open space, but once the attacking team takes it and holds it for a few seconds, a payload is released that then needs to be escorted across the map.

My favorite maps are the payload ones, because they are, in my opinion, the easiest to focus on. It's easy to get caught up in firefights and other distractions on the other kinds of maps, but the payload maps are simple: stay on the heckin' payload!

How does competitive Overwatch work?

The competitive mode of the game works like this: Once you've played enough rounds in the exhibition modes, you play ten placement matches. These are regular Overwatch games, but your wins and losses, as well as your own personal performance, are recorded. At the end of the ten games, you are given a Skill Rating (SR). After your receive your SR, whenever you play a ranked competitive game, your SR will go up with a win and down with a loss. How much your SR goes up or down depends on many factors, but the two biggest ones are your own personal performance in the game, and the gap in average SR between your team and your opponents'.

In addition to SR, Overwatch divides its competitive players into leagues: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, and Grandmaster. Which league you're in depends on your SR. You only play competitive matches with people in your league; though if you're on the high or low end of the SR range for your league, you may see players of the next league in your matches.

The ten placement matches I listed earlier is the very first gatekeeper of competitive play. For an amateur solo queuer like myself, it is the equivalent of the playoffs. Many players only play the placement matches, because they're afraid of losing SR on losses and, once assigned, climbing can be a long, arduous path, especially if you're doing it alone and must rely on the competence of strangers to succeed.

When talking about SR and league placement, typically players only talk about their career best. For me, that's an SR of around 2100, putting me in Gold League. However, on average, I play more in the 1900 range, a lowly Silver League Scrub. Though there is no minimum required rating to be in Overwatch League, I doubt most scouts would even give the time of day to anyone less than Platinum, maybe even Diamond. So I've got some climbing to do.

How do you play Overwatch?

When a match begins, you choose a hero to play as, from a roster of over two dozen. The heroes are broken into four classes: Attackers, who specialize in killing on the move (OW uses the less-violent term "eliminate;" in chat, the more general pro-gamer lingo is "pick," as in "picking someone off"); Defenders, who specialize in killing in place, either from a distance like the sniper Widowmaker, or by locking down an area, like the grenade-shooting Junkrat; Tanks, tough, high-profile heroes meant to take a beating and draw enemy fire; and Supports, heroes whose specialty is helping other heroes, mostly through healing, but also with some firepower, as well. You can change heroes at any time during a match. Little helper tips like "not enough damage" will show up if a team looks like it might be missing something necessary for victory.

The heroes are hands-down the best part of Overwatch. Whole books could be written on each individual member of the roster. Some OW players "insta-lock" their favorite hero immediately and refuse to play anything else; others try to be a jack of all trades, being whatever the team needs. The general strategy favored by pros is to specialize in all the heroes of one class, and maybe have a secondary class, as well. In Overwatch League, players on a team are identified by the class they primarily play in-game, the same way basketball players are identified by their position.

I primarily play the support heroes, specifically Zenyatta, Lucio, and Symmetra, though I also play a lot of Mercy and Moira. I don't care much for Ana, because her ult requires too much teamwork for a solo queuer like myself.

An ult, short for "ultimate," is a hero's superpower, their most powerful ability. Each hero's ult is unique, and all of them have the power to tip a game from defeat to victory, when played at the right time. Each hero builds up towards their ult; once their ult-meter is at 100%, they're ready to go. Ult use is as much art as it is science; most of those books I mentioned two paragraphs ago would be devoted to the whens and ifs of ult usage for that hero.

The composition, or comp, of a team is the foundation of that team's strategy and can often determine winning or losing before the game even begins. For example, one of the most basic, fundamental comps is referred to as a "2/2/2," meaning the team consists of two attackers or defenders, two tanks, and two supports. Team composition is easy to geek out about, but in reality, it's primarily a concern for high-level play. At the shooting-around-in-the-driveway level, the primary concern should be on playing what you're comfortable with and enjoy playing as, even if that means, for example, the team doesn't have a healer (that's what the health packs located throughout the levels are for).

Comp is important because certain heroes, by their nature, can counter other heroes. Widowmaker, the sniper I mentioned earlier, doesn't have much in her toolkit to deal with direct, close range threats, which gives her a hard time against the shotgun-wielding, teleporting Reaper. Part of what makes OW play so much fun...and keeps it fair...is that the variables between the heroes involved in a conflict, and the personal skill of the players playing those heroes, can lead to wild results. The world's best Widowmaker can get taken down by an average Reaper, if that Reaper plays smart, works with his team, and knows how to use his abilities.

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