With Blizzard preparing to release a revamped ranked competitive game mode to Overwatch, the amateur competitive scene will soon blossom, and with it a need for resources to understand basic game concepts for successful Overwatch play. This guide seeks to provide beginning teams with a solid foundation of understanding for standard, meta-based, play. As always, there are exceptions to everything. Play at a professional level is all about pushing “Standard” ideas and breaking the rules. Professional level play is able to do this because they are armed with a very strong understanding of the fundamentals. You have to understand the “rules” before you can break them.
For the purposes of this guide, I will be focused primarily on Payload, and Point Capture/Defense maps. King of the Hill maps tend to be more chaotic, so the fundamental roles/positions described within this guide become less clear or at times, nonexistent. It is for this reason that KOTH matches typically have a wider variety of potentially successful team compositions in competitive play while payload and point capture maps tend to all fall into similar, more standard trends. We will examine those trends below.
Fundamental Position & Role Concepts:
Frontline: A Front Line is the focal point of a team’s position on the map and moves as teams and objectives progress. Typically, a front line is located on a payload or providing a central push to take a point on attack. In turn, on defense, the front line is holding a key choke point, stalling the advance of an objective, or defending directly on a capture point. Front lines of opposing teams generally are squared off against each other. The front line’s role is to further team advancement of objectives while maintaining a “safe” zone behind which a backline can form. The frontline is the foundation on which the rest of a team is built. If a frontline is killed/broken, it is likely that the team will be wiped or at the very least, rendered largely ineffective until a subsequent respawn and regroup.
Backline: The back line encompasses all positions a reasonably safe distance behind a front line. This can simply mean on a high ground or at some other strategic map vantage point. The backline’s role typically is to either safely augment Frontline damage (Snipers), or provide flank/rear defense for the frontline (Builders, Stationary turrets, etc)
Flank: The flank encompasses all the space on maps that is not on the main, direct path. Typically flanks are smaller, sometimes enclosed areas running on either side of a larger open path or up to high ground locations. Flank locations, whether above or to the side are used to create lines of fire different from the Front line’s. The flank’s role is to provide distraction, punish out of position or vulnerable enemies (ie. rejoining their team from spawn), and offer new angles of attack to damage the opponent’s frontline.
Applying Position & Role Concepts to Team Composition:
Whether you’ve suffered through solo queue matches with attack Torbjorns, or 3 self-proclaimed Hanzo masters with not a healer in sight, or even if your newly formed eager team of 6 just can’t quite make things work to improve, approaching team composition with roles in mind will be a valuable tool.
Before getting into the details of applying these concepts to hero composition, I want to address a frequent problem I have seen with stubborn players. Many players have made the erroneous conclusion that just because something can be forced to work in public play, it can be viably scalable to organized competitive team play. Overwatch is a team based game, so any strategy which relies on compromising the overall effectiveness of your team for individual success is not a good strategy, and is evidence of a lack of understanding of the game (and is frankly selfish gameplay). These strategies tend to prey upon disorganization/lack of communication of an enemy and subsequently deteriorate in competitive play as often times they can be simply countered with coordination.
That being said, you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t trying to seriously improve, further your understanding, and help grow the amateur competitive Overwatch scene. Bravo! We can be friends 🙂
The hero selection tips provided in game can be misleading and don’t always lead to successful compositions. In game you’ll see: damage, defense, tank, sniper, support, and builder as the recommended picks depending on situation and find the heroes in four groupings (Attack, Defense, Tank, and Support). This in-game organization of heroes, while seemingly complete, is an insufficient way to fully understand creation of team compositions. In order to truly know your role, a player or team must consider a hero’s attributes and play style as it pertains to role and positioning.
As a result, let’s try instead to group heroes by the positions/roles they fill at a very basic level, keeping in mind that many heroes can serve in multiple roles depending on the choices for other 5 members as well as the overall team strategy. The groupings below are to illustrate the concepts of role/position, not necessarily argue a particular designation for any hero, many can be used in various roles.
Reinhardt, Zarya, Roadhog, McCree, Soldier 76, Hanzo, Junkrat, Mei, Mercy, Lucio, Zenyatta
Widowmaker, Torbjorn, Bastion, Symmetra
Flank (High Mobility):
Genji, Tracer, Reaper, D.Va, Winston, Pharah
So, with this in mind… What combination makes up a solid team composition for competitive style play? To answer this, let’s look to the most standard of meta-based play at the moment and operate under that assumption that all players in a game are relatively similar in skill. Skill disparity in a game enables teams to “get away” with things that otherwise would not be as effective. This happens frequently in public play since sometimes the only needed disparity in skill of a team is the lack of communication/organization of their enemy.
The core of most standard team competitive compositions (for the moment at least) is:
Reinhardt, McCree (or Soldier76), Mercy, Lucio
(At the very least, a standard team core needs a frontline DPS, a frontline tank, and a frontline support.)
Not surprisingly, this core of four heroes makes up a very solid frontline group with tremendous sustainability to fill that role and position. A frontline’s primary job is to stay alive, plain and simple. They are the team’s foundation. Secondarily, they need to be able to advance progress towards the objective. If your team is lacking ability to create or maintain momentum, it is likely that your core frontline composition is insufficient or ineffective.
From there, the other two roles (often called flex roles) can be used to take advantages of map specific strengths/weaknesses, as counter play to the opposing team’s composition, or to capitalize on individual talents of your players specifically.
Some potential options for flex roles:
– Bolster the frontline further by adding another frontline tank (ie. Zarya)
– Increase team hitscan or AOE damage with a second McCree, Soldier 76, Reaper, Pharah or Junkrat.
– Gain a tactical advantage by utilizing high value backline heroes like Widowmaker or Symmetra who can safely cover attack/defend areas with little danger to themselves.
– Gain a tactical advantage by disrupting an opponent’s backline (ie. Genji, Winston, Tracer)
– Create advantage opportunities by effectively generating picks from the flanks to lead to imbalanced team fight situations.
Why is this formula effective? When played well, it has the capacity to control game momentum while offering a solid base that is able to deal with the majority of threats without wholescale composition changes. If both teams play this style, the team with better communication and execution will likely prevail.
That being said, like any strategy, it does have weakness and creates a “slow and steady” pace of play which can be taken advantage of by certain faster counter compositions (2x Winston, 2x Lucio, 2x McCree, for example). Part of being solid with any composition is understanding its weaknesses (and when it flat out won’t work at all) and what adjustments to make if you are being effectively countered. This comes with experience, and exploration. Changing a particular hero selection mid-game to counter or take better advantage of the map design is an integral part of fundamental gameplay.
There are many other factors that contribute to the nuances of successful team composition, such as map region, engagement tactics, spawn distances, ultimate combinations, counterplay, synergies between heroes, etc. I’ve deliberately refrained from getting too in depth about those topics as this is intended to be a basic/introductory guide.
Conclusion: The beauty of Overwatch is in its immense diversity of possible options and ways to gain advantage over your opponent. Each option lends itself to different play styles and exploring those styles is part of the joy of playing. Overwatch will undoubtedly evolve in new and exciting ways, however a good understanding of game fundamentals will always fuel the most effective methods of exploiting new features and strategies. I hope this guide has been insightful!