Thursday, January 11, 2018

Know Your Place

Of the many faults, flaws, and issues I may have in my continuing journey down the path of Gettin' Gud, perhaps the deepest and darkest fault of them all is this: I am a Symmetra main.

Symmetra is, perhaps, the most hated character on the roster. Even now, nearly two years into Overwatch's release, people still react with such vitriol towards her that I'm literally worried about writing this very blog entry, for fear that the pros or whatever will find out. I've had people accuse me of throwing games just for picking her. After a hard-fought win, I'll tune into the voice channel to congratulate my team, and you'd think we'd actually lost, so bitter and angry my "teammates" are for daring to choose her, even as my Play of the Game rolls across the screen and I receive a post-game card for eliminations.

The reasons Symmetra is hated are varied. The biggest, perhaps, is that she is the only Support hero on the roster who cannot actively heal other teammates. A lot of players think support equals heals. Symmetra, however, supports by inflicting damage in a variety of ways. She has miniature laser turrets that zap and cripple opponents. Her primary weapon is an auto-locking beam that ramps up in damage the longer it is active. And she has these chargeable power spheres that, when fully charged, moved slowly across the map and do devastating damage to anyone who doesn't get out of its path. So she can do point defense; she can do area of effect damage; and she can do intensive single target damage. Though there are several heroes on the roster who can do a couple of those, Symmetra is the only hero in the game who can effectively do all three.

But that's just on the offensive end. Defensively, Symmetra can project a photon barrier that slowly moves forward, absorbing all damage along the way. This photon barrier is the strongest shield in the game, stronger than Orisa's barrier or Reinhardt's shield, though, again, it automatically floats forward, and it's on a 10-second cooldown. Additionally, half of Symmetra's health is in shields, meaning she can regenerate more of her health than most heroes, and does not need to rely so much on healers or healthpacks on the map.

And then, there's her ultimate ability. Unlike every other hero in the game, Symmetra has two different ults. One is a teleporter that, when stepped through, brings a hero directly from the spawn room where the game starts to wherever the teleporter is placed. There are six charges for the teleporter; when it's out, it's destroyed, and Sym has to place another one. The other ultimate is a shield generator, which provides 75 points of shields to every hero in a wide radius around it.

All of this adds up to a hero that is super-versatile and a lot of fun to play. Specifically, what's fun about her to me is how playing the map and countering your opponent's plans is a huge part of what playing Symmetra is. Playing a straightforward attacker like Soldier: 76, for example, is oftentimes about sharp reflexes and good aim. Good Symmetra play is all about knowing where that Soldier is going to be and what he's going to do before he does it. It is one of the most gratifying experiences in Overwatch, to me, when I see a Tracer or Reaper flanking, I quickly put down some turrets around the hallways where I know they're going, and then melt them with my lasers as they run by. I've blasted entire teams like that. It's super-fun, and I'm pretty damn good at it.

Paradoxically, even though she has so many tools, it is the tools she doesn't have that catches her so much flack. As stated above, her lack of healing means a support slot on a team roster is going to a damage-dealing character. This shatters the brains of many players who swear by the "2/2/2" comp I mentioned earlier. Sym also has a hard time at long range; in a metagame where snipers like Widowmaker and Hanzo are among the most-chosen heroes, Sym is often perceived as a liability. Players unfamiliar with the vastness of Sym's arsenal sometimes hate her because they look at her most obvious tools, her deployable turrets, as her main tool, and so shun her in situations when turrets aren't useful, like Payload maps.

This all leads into one of Overwatch's most existential of considerations: the idea of the main. I recognize that Sym, like all heroes, isn't perfect for every scenario, and there are plenty of scenarios where, say, my average skills as a tank would be more useful than the additional damage I'm throwing around as her. If I'm playing to win, the most basic of questions to ask is: am I willing to play the hero who needs to be played to win the round? The answer, if you were to ask the designers of Overwatch, is to play whoever you have the most fun with. But the reality, the metagame, is quite different. Players are expecting other players to play certain positions, and if those positions aren't played, their own play will suffer. So if I care about winning, and I'm in a ranked competitive game, and the group wants a second healer and I've locked in Symmetra, do I change? Do I risk staying with my main at the cost of possibly tilting my team into a loss? Do I even want that?

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