Evolving Strategies in Overwatch: Analyzing NA’s Best Teams
The esports wave is picking up speed, and not even Closed Betas are safe. In a growing world of competitive gaming, Shooters seem poised to make the biggest splash in 2016 and one game has everyone’s attention -- and it isn’t even out. I’m talking about Overwatch: the highly anticipated Arena Shooter from Blizzard whose Closed Beta lasted only a month and a half, yet spawned nearly a dozen tournaments and more than enough highly competitive teams to fill them. During its short, invite-only run Overwatch fostered a competitive scene which was healthy enough for numerous Meta tactics and team compositions to take form. Much of the innovation centered around Overwatch’s fundamental distinction from its competitors in the genre: Hero-switching during matches. This created complex strategies which revolved around team compositions that varied not just per map, but even throughout different progression areas of a single map.
Two NA teams have emerged as favorites both in strength of roster and ability to experiment with team compositions: Team NotEnigma, and Team Hubris. Over the course of late November and into December, these two teams fought, innovated, and fought again attempting to out-play each other with their skill and out-strategize each other with their lineups. I will be breaking down various strategies each of these teams employed in different maps and on both attack and defense to help demonstrate the insane potential Overwatch represents as an esport.** The first tournament I will be pulling matches from is the weekly King of the Watch Tournament hosted by Creation eSports and casted by AskJoshy (read my BlizzCon interview with AskJoshy here), and the GosuGamers weekly NA Cup casted by Tempo_ZP and Hexagrams. Let’s get to it!
**This article will assume the reader is familiar with the abilities of the various Overwatch Heroes and basic gameplay.
Game 1: Small Changes Lead to Big Payoffs
Match: King of the Watch Game 3, Hubris Attacking
Initial Lineup: Reinhardt, Winston, Lύcio, Mercy, Pharah, McCree
Hero Swaps: McCree becomes Soldier 76 after first Control Point, Winston becomes D.Va after second Contol Point.
Match VOD: https://www.youtube.com/embed/oOMo2wxOlcg?start=600
Hubris begins this Payload match with Talespin on Pharah in a duo with Esper’s Mercy to pressure NotEnigma’s position on the bridge by rocketing above the buildings as the Payload turns the first corner. Mercy-boosted rockets and Pharah’s Wrist-Rocket knockback forces NotEnigma off the bridge while Coolmatt69 on McCree takes out any player unlucky enough to fall to the ground. Winston, Reinhardt, and Lύcio form an uncontestable wall on the Payload: NotEnigma is unable to get through the two shields and an aura-heal from long range. Upon reaching the first archway, Ras on Winston splits off and jumps on NotEnigma’s back line to harass and prevent them from stalling Hubris in the tunnel. Dorado has few hiding spots along its first Payload Leg: allowing Coolmatt69 to threaten McCree’s Ultimate to recover should Hubris stall at the first archway, however Hubris pushes through to the first checkpoint with little difficulty.
Dorado’s streets begin much wider and without clutter but become more narrow as the Payload progresses. Hubris recognizes this, and when Coolmatt69 suffers his first death on McCree after the first checkpoint he switches to Soldier 76: a Hero whose Ultimate and Alt-Fire abilities more suited to Dorado’s later, tightly-packed stages. Hubris reaches the second checkpoint with little difficulty as well: Seagull’s Pharah eats a rocket to the face shortly after Clockwork’s Soldier 76 is ambushed and cut off by three Hubris players with Lύcio’s speed buff. Clockwork then switches to D.Va -- presumably to get back to the point faster -- but D.Va’s significantly lower damage barely tickles Hubris’ Lύcio-Reinhardt-Winston combo riding the Payload.
Upon stalling at the final checkpoint, Ras switches off Winston for a D.Va of his own: noting that this final section of Dorado -- with its high, close-together walls -- does not synergize well with Winston’s jump ability but creates deadly traps with D.Va’s Ultimate. At this point, it’s also important to mention a Hero Switch that Hubris performed in Game 2 of the same series -- swapping a Pharah for a second D.Va -- which stalled their progress and lead to a loss. In Game 3, Hubris has learned from their mistake and Talespin remains on Pharah: giving them enough offensive firepower to push back the defenders while maintaining still making use of a single D.Va’s staying power and Ultimate ability.
Getting back to the action, Coolmatt69’s swap to Soldier 76 pays off immensely when he uses his Ultimate to take out four NotEnigma defenders while simultaneously chasing them around several corners: a move he could not have performed had he stayed on his previous Hero, McCree. NotEnigma attempts to stop Hubris’ push by swapping to multiple D.Vas, but Ras’ switch to D.Va and Talespin’s decision to stay on Pharah gives them the oomf to finally push through: a well-placed D.Va ultimate scares most of NotEnigma off the Payload while a Pharah Ultimate cleans up the final few hiding behind it.
Game 2: Consistency is Key
Match: King of the Watch Game 4, NotEnigma Attacking
Initial Lineup: Reinhardt, D.Va, Lύcio, Mercy, Pharah, Reaper
Hero Swaps: Reaper swaps to McCree, then Soldier 76 very early in the game
Match VOD: https://www.youtube.com/embed/aFzITe80aQo?start=756
In this match, NotEnigma opens as the attackers on the Hollywood Payload map. Hollywood shares some of Dorado’s map philosophy: the payload path begins outdoors with wide roads and open spaces which gradually narrow and move through an indoor area to an arena-like final checkpoint. While NotEnigma rolls out with the cookie-cutter Lύcio-Reinhardt Payload-pushing setup as well as the now well-known Mercy-boosted Pharah duo for damage, it’s their final two Hero choices that make their lineup so powerful.
Because of the high walls and rooftops surrounding the winding Payload path, defending teams on Hollywood will generally try to take the high ground with a Pharah-Mercy combo: raining damage-boosted rockets down upon their attackers. To counter this, NotEnigma chooses to include D.Va in their starting lineup to fly ahead of their front line and wreak havoc on Hubris’s defensive line: harrassing the rooftop defenders and disrupting the barrage. Indeed, as soon as the payload reaches the first arch in Hollywood Enigma takes off on D.Va to chase Talespin’s Pharah and Esper’s Mercy off of the adjacent rooftop -- splitting them up and forcing Talespin to the ground.
Unfortunately, D.Va cannot eliminate a Pharah-Mercy team on her own and NotEnigma realizes they need another, preferably hitscan character to snipe the high-mobility defenders out of the air when their D.Va forces them to relocate. Clockwork, after dying early on Reaper and seeing Hubris’ lineup, initially switches to McCree then to Soldier 76: a high damage hitscan character with excellent sustaining pressure. Soldier 76’s team synergy shines due to his Sprint and Biotic Field abilities: Sprint compliments the team’s high mobility while Biotic Field gives Payload-pushers an extra bit of breathing room. In a map like Hollywood with long paths back from respawn for the attacking team, this team full of Heroes with movement-augmenting abilities allows NotEnigma to pile on the pressure and push Hubris back on their heels.
After the swap to Soldier 76, NotEnigma locks in the uber-comp that they stick with for the remainder of the map. Enigma on D.Va stays far ahead in front of the Payload as a triple-threat: harrassing rooftop defenders, providing defensive support by deleting Talespin’s rockets with Defense Matrix, and denying contention from Hubris by Self-Destructing near the Payload. Seagull on Pharah quickly takes the high ground with his Mercy partner by winning the Pharah duels -- partly thanks to D.Va’s defensive support -- and snags a few team wipes. Clockwork on Soldier 76 plays a flexible ground role: picking off air and ground defenders while providing additional healing for the Reinhardt-Lύcio Payload team. After the first Checkpoint, Seagull and Talespin trade teamwipes with their Ultimates -- but a timely Mercy Ultimate from Dummy resurrects all of NotEnigma, a swing that Hubris never quite recovers from as NotEnigma cruises through the rest of the map.
Game #3: The Great Wall of D.Va (http://i.imgur.com/zLY7QfU.jpg)
Match: GosuGamers Weekly NA Cup #1 Game 3, Hubris Defending
Map: Watchpoint: Gibraltar
Initial Lineup: Pharah, McCree, Mercy, Lύcio, Reinhardt, Roadhog
Hero Swaps: All except Lύcio switch to D.Va at final Checkpoint
Match VOD: https://www.youtube.com/embed/KIwHtdcqZ6I?start=2578
Hubris begins the match with a standard lineup: the typical Pharah-Mercy combo, a hitscan character in in the form of a McCree, and a Lύcio and Reinhardt to contest the Payload. The only variation comes from the flexible sixth spot where Ras makes an appearance on Roadhog as Hubris’ second tank. Roadhog in particular shines in the first leg of Watchpoint: Gibraltar because Gibraltar has potentially the most open first Payload leg of any map where Roadhog can get easy hooks and provide large area denial from the knockback of his Ultimate. Despite Hubris’s choice to take advantage of Gibraltar’s open spaces, NotEnigma quickly takes map control by controlling the high ground with an aggressive double D.Va lineup while Mesrawr backs up their aerial assult by charging behind the lines as Reinhardt. After a short stalemate under the bridge, a damage boosted Seagull on Pharah takes out a few of Hubris’ members to split the team, and Hubris has to fall back to the second checkpoint.
Watchpoint: Gibraltar differs from the previous two maps examined because its indoor portion of the Payload path occurs during the second Checkpoint leg instead of the third. Gibraltar’s shuttle hangar is extremely cramped and has high ceilings and objects strewn about. Defenders will often take advantage of hangar’s clutter and the shuttle hanging above to hide and snipe attackers. NotEnigma, unphased by the change in scenery, continues to utilize their double-D.Va strategy to try to harrass Hubris’ superior positions while Hubris is slow to respond. Ras stays on Roadhog in an area that’s far too tight for him to get reliable hooks, and NotEnigma seizes this opportunity to move the Payload quickly through the hangar to the second Checkpoint.
The third leg of Watchpoint: Gibraltar opens back up again giving much more free space for Ras on Roadhog to operate, and Hubris temporarily pushes NotEnigma back thanks to a timely Ultimate from Talespin on Pharah. They manage to take out a few Payload pushers and split Mesrawr’s Reinhardt off away from the group -- leading to an easy eliminatino. Unfortunately for Hubris, Seagull and Dummy’s Pharah-Mercy duo sneaks behind them to the final bridge overlooking the third Checkpoint, taking control of the sky and forcing Hubris back to their spawn the help of their two D.Va protectors.
Around this time, Coolmatt69 and the rest of Hubris seem to realize something: these D.Va’s have been wrecking them all game. If they can’t beat them, why not join them? Gradually, all of Hubris begins to switch to D.Va, until their team consists of five D.Vas and one Lύcio. This strategy is insane...ly good. It takes advantage of several aspects of Watchpoint: Gibraltar, D.Va, and the fact that Overwatch allows teams to have multiple of the same Hero to create an endless stream of Korean Gamer Girls. Gibraltar’s final defense spawn point is*** much closer to the final Payload Checkpoint than most maps, meaning that D.Va can use her Rocket Boosters and Lύcio’s movement speed buff to quickly reach the Payload from spawn. D.Va additionally has one of the the strongest sustaining presences in Overwatch for contesting Control Points because losing her MEKA doesn’t kill her: it only reverts her to Human form. Combine her survivability with her projectile-deleting Defense Matrix and multiply it across five D.Vas and you end up with a Payload defense that simply cannot be stopped. Despite NotEnigma’s dominance for the first 90% of the map, they fail to break through the Great Wall of D.Va and eventually defending D.Va Ultimate forces the attackers off the point long for enough time during overtime for Hubris to claim successful defense.
***at the time of this writing
From MOBAs to Hearthstone, I have never seen a Meta quite as flexible and fast-paced as Overwatch. Blizzard has stumbled upon something game-changing here by designing a game that allows Hero-swapping at any time while also permitting multiples of the same Hero -- resulting in map-by-map strategies and position-within-map strategies. Competitive Overwatch teams will be forced to not only have the highest skilled players, but also have the most flexibility and ingenuity to stay on top. We’ve seen hints here about how small changes can have big outcomes in a team’s success in attacking, and that more extreme strategies can result in huge comebacks on defense. Team compositions and strategies will only get more complex and exciting as the game ages and more Beta invites go out, and I’m excited to see what crazy ideas the best teams come up with next.