Article 2: Post Beta-Break Hero Balance: First Impressions

Post Beta-Break Hero Balance: First Impressions

What's up guys, CaptainPlanet here and HOLY CRAP THE BREAK IS OVER! Overwatch Beta has officially come back online, and those of us following the competitive scene have a whole bunch of Patch Notes to get through. Jeff Kaplan and Co. have introduced two new maps (Nepal, and Lijang Tower), a new game mode (Control, a King-of-the-Hill variant), and Private games with all sorts of options  -- but what I'm most interested in right now is how our beloved Overwatch Heroes have changed in the Beta's absence. What follows will be my analysis of the Balance portion of the Patch Notes -- line by line -- where I will provide insight into how these changes affect where these Heroes fit in the competitive Meta of Overwatch. 

General Notes

  • Healing effects now applying to Shields greatly improves the Heroes who have innate Shielding included in their kit: Zarya, Zenyatta, and Symmetra. These three Heroes suffered in usage compared to similar Heroes who occupied the same roster slot because they were simply not tanky enough under constant pressure with much of their effective health tied up in un-healable shields. Now, Shields stand to be the the best type of effective health in the game: not only can it be healed like regular health, but it still retains the bonus of recharging on its own after a delay of 3 seconds.  Finally, Symmetra and Zarya can apply Shields to their allies, so look to see a huge increase in the usage of these two Heroes. 
  • Quick melee pausing weapon recovery time while active should address resetting weapon bullet spread by meleeing -- this will no longer work. 
  • Ammo reloading in the middle of the animation should be a helpful change for players who enjoy Heroes like Roadhog or Torbjörn who have excessively long reload animations which were un-intuitive when the reload occurred at the end. 
  • Improving enemy team color seems like a nice quality-of-life change, while muzzle screen-obscuring animations have been a major concern in the community -- especially for Heroes like Soldier 76.
  • Finally, Sound Design is an often-overlooked element of first person shooters, so seeing Blizzard address and improve the Sound Design of Overwatch encouraging.

Ultimate Charge

This is an interesting change and the developer insight explains why: Heroes like Junkrat whose maximum effectiveness was tied to spamming their regular fire over and over were being unfairly punished for playing correctly. At higher levels of play, spamming your abilities ended up being counter-productive by constantly charging the enemy teams' Ultimates -- leading to a drop-off in the popularity of such Heroes. Enemy teams would also engage in suicidal strategies by diving into your barrage to build their Ultimates, a playstyle that was not very fun or interactive to face. This change will hopefully cause Ultimates to recharge at similar rates, while also freeing up "spammy" Heroes to do their thing. 


Bastion marks the first of our two "major" Hero overhauls along with Torbjörn, and there's quite a bit to go through here. Bastion received a buff to his base heath in Recon Configuration, making him a tiny bit tankier while moving from Turret spot to Turret spot. His Recon gun also received a small boost in accuracy at close range, allowing him to better defend himself against sneaky Tracers and Genjis. Speaking of defending himself: Bastion also received a buff to the speed at which he swaps Configurations, meaning that if you manage to get the jump on a Bastion, you no longer have time to melee him multiple times while he's stuck in an animation. 

In Turret Mode, Bastion has both gained and lost ground in different ways. The most obvious change is that it is much more difficult to out-flank a Bastion now: Bastion's Turret mode has a 360 degree rotation instead of just 180. This makes some of the more innovative Offensive-Bastion strategies a bit more viable: such as planting a Bastion on top of a moving Payload. Bastion's Turret weapon has also received some Balance changes which increases his learning curve.  By decreasing the bullet spread you reward the more skilled players who can aim better, while reducing the overall bullet damage makes the Hero less newbie-friendly. Blizzard has also done away with Bastion's frontal shield -- which makes sense given his 360 degree aim buff -- opting for a 300 Armor boost bringing his effective health up to the level of current Tanks. Despite all of these anti-flanking buffs to his kit, Blizzard seems to want to preserve flanking as the preferred strategy to deal with an entrenched Bastion: in Turret Mode Bastion's core is exposed, giving Tracers and Genjis a nice juicy target to target for triple damage. 

With these changes, Blizzard seems to have addressed the "overpowered versus new players but underpowered against experienced players" situation Bastion players found themselves in. Nerfing his damage while giving him more tools to deal with hard counters provides an increased learning curve for all Bastion mains to enjoy and simultaneously opens up the possibilities for strategies and team compositions that Bastion can fit into. 


D.Va is by far my favorite Hero in Overwatch, but I even I knew she was due for a nerf. As I discussed in a previous article, D.Va on her own is a strong tank -- but when multiple D.Vas enter the picture they can overwhelm an attacking team and neuter any offense. Blizzard realized this and has made the spread of her Defense Matrix much smaller, which should decrease the effective area in which multiple D.Vas can deny projectiles. While I love my Defense Matrix, I look forward to the increase in skill that maining D.Va will require in order to effectively use this smaller version. Finally, the change to the Mech despawn should make killing a suit-less D.Va slightly easier, because the Mech will no longer soak up random bullets.


Hanzo has received some fairly straightforward, quality-of-life changes. Scatter Arrow having a consistent spread pattern will allow players to more consistently plan how they want their shots to hit their Opponents, and Sonic Arrow sticking to enemies will provide additional position info while not forcing you to aim away from your target. Finally, like a few other Ultimates in the balance notes, Hanzo's Dragonstrike can be aimed while charging -- making it less likely to miss due to quick action from a well-prepared enemy team. 


Mercy was a constant presence on every pre-break team due to the power of her Ultimate ability, something Blizzard has definitively addressed with Mercy's Ultimate overhaul. The cost of her Ultimate has been decreased likely due to the passive Ultimate recharge changes. This may end up allowing Mercy to cast more Ultimates than before,  but that's a bonus she'll be needing because Mercy's Ultimate's range has also been reduced by more than half. This means that Mercy players need to play extra carefully to get a good Team Resurrection off as they now need to be right on top of their dead teammates to Ressurect them. Luckily, Mercy can now dash to her teammates' dead bodies due to the Guardian Angel change -- a change that will also give Mercy additional recovery options when she gets knocked off the edges of maps. 


Pharah's balance change isn't really a balance change as much as a bug-fix. This will address Pharah players abusing map objects in an unfair manner and frees up design space for future maps. 


Pre-break, Reinhardt was another Hero who was being picked in almost every team composition due to his immense tankiness and powerful Ultimate ability. Blizzard seems to have decided that Reinhardt's Ultimate was too powerful, allowing him to solo entire teams with a well-placed Earthshatter -- instead of simply setting up team Ultimate combos as they originally planned. The days of 1v5ing a poorly-spaced enemy team with Reinhardt seem to be over...Sorry Renbot :(. Like Hanzo, Reinhardt will now be able to change where he's aiming his Earthshatter while it's charging, making it harder for enemy teams to dodge. 


Roadhog also receives a straightforward buff which should help less-skilled players hit the "hook-left click-melee" combo more easily. This will also help Roadhog become a single-target specialist, picking off more mobile characters like Tracer and Genji who previously could make a quick getaway after being hooked. Finally, an undocumented Roadhog change was just confirmed on Seagull's stream: Roadhog's weapon now always fires in the center of the target reticule, instead of from the barrel of the gun. This will make Roadhog much more accurate -- and deadly -- at close range. 

Soldier 76

Like a few other Heroes in this round of balancing, Soldier 76's changes seem to create a greater learning curve to the Hero, separating the pros from the beginners. Learning to balance 76's bullet spread with bursts of shots will now be essential for any aspiring fragger, however this gain in accuracy comes at a cost. Possibly prompted by some of Blizzard's more skilled testers, Soldier 76 now suffers a long-range damage fall-off similar to McCree, placing his maximum effectiveness in close to mid range battles. 


I've already covered the how the overall changes to Shields help Symmetra, but she's also received a few Balance changes with Overwatch's return. Symmetra can now get her first Teleporter out faster -- giving her a boost to her roster potential on both Attack and Defense -- but no longer generates Ultimate charge while her Teleporter is active. As the Devs state above, they don't want Symmetra to be able to chain Teleporters one after the other, but it seems to me that being able to rush her first Teleporter could introduce strange gameplay. A team could have a single support rush out a Teleporter with the intent of immediately Hero-swapping as soon as their team has taken full advantage of it -- essentially becoming a single-use Ultimate bot. With this and other whacky strategies in mind, it will be surely interesting to see how Symmetra fits into new team compositions. 


Blizzard seems to have saved the best for last with Torbjörn. Or, at least, the most. Torbjörn has received the most line item changes of any Hero in Overwatch post-break, but the Developer team seems to have still kept the spirit of the Hero intact. Torbjörn can now find and hoard much more Scrap, allowing him to buff himself and his teammates with Armor packs and increase their sustaining power. Torbjörn's base, non-Turret based fire has been buffed as well, making him more dangerous as an individual when he's finished hammering away at his stationary weapons. His Level 1 and Level 2 Turrets now deal more damage but have far less health as well, making them both more effective against his hard counters but less punishing against new players. Finally, his Ultimate Ability instantly converts Level 2 Turrets to Level 3 -- adding a bit of challenge to choosing when to activate his Ultimate ability. This also gives Torbjörn more freedom to run around bashing and shooting enemies while his Level 3 Turrets rain rockets from afar. Teams will have to experiment to figure out when and where on maps to make best use of a Torbjörn, as well as what compositions can make the best use of his Armor buffs while protecting his Turrets. 

Final Thoughts

Overwatch's Devs seem to have a good handle on what knobs to tweak to break up entrenched Meta compositions while also bringing underused Heroes back from the grave. I can't wait for the budding esports scene to start experimenting with new Hero rosters to start pushing the limits of what's possible. Maybe we'll see an offensive Torbjörn, a Payload-pushing Bastion, or some crazy Symmetra strats in the coming weeks! One thing's for sure: regardless of what Heroes come out on top, we're all just happy that Overwatch has returned. 


Article 1: Pre Beta-Break Competitive Strategies (NotEnigma and Hubris)

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

Map: Dorado

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:

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

Map: Hollywood

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:

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 (

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:

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 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

Final Thoughts

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.

- CaptainPlanet