I’ve been playing Pharah for a while now, and I’ve worked out most of these tips through in-game experience. That being said, take everything with a grain of salt–and if you happen to learn anything from it, I’ll be happy.
Hitscans like McCree, Soldier 76, Widow, etc are all very strong against Pharah in general. However, there are so many factors that contribute to their success or failures that you really can’t make the generalization that they will counter you just because of their hero pick. Here are a few tips on how to deal with them:
Caveat: most of this pertains only to solo performance without relying on your teammates to help you.
- Don’t just play against the hero, play against the player playing the hero.
- Mind games. The mindset of players who switch to McCree to counter you are going to aggressively go after you. Many will put themselves in danger to try to shoot you down. Use this to your advantage and bait them into playing sloppily. Make them take risks for a shot at you while keeping your own risk factor very low. How do you do this?
- Know that he wants you. You’re the roadrunner and he’s a dust-covered coyote. You can harass the tanks and draw the McCree to the front line, then reposition to harass his healers. McCree gets yelled at by the healers. He runs back to support them, but you’re gone. Now he spends the next 10-15 seconds looking for you in the air and contributes very little to his team. More on this later.
- Be unpredictable–I cannot stress this enough. You are very good at many things: You can flank. You can pressure healers. You can pressure tanks. You can single out a DPS who is trying to flank. You can boop enemies out of position. Don’t only do one thing, but also don’t try to do them all at once. Hop back and forth between your different strengths and keep the enemy players on their toes.
- More on this: If all you do all game is spam rockets from on top of the arch, guess who’s going to die on top of the arch over and over? Hint: it ain’t the guy on the ground who knows you’ll be back there in 30 seconds.
- You are the master of the vertical. Use this to your advantage. This may seem like a generic tip, and while it sort of is, I’d like to explore it a bit more.
- Don’t use the same cover over and over. Peak the McCree from a ground level wall, then boost up 30 ft in the air the next time you peak. Constantly repositioning will make it very hard for the enemy team to deal with you. If you become predictable, you’re dead.
- Elevated platforms make good vantage points. Floating behind them makes an even better one! The platform above the first choke on Anubis is a great example of this. Standing on that strip makes you a prime target for some seriously perilous sight lines. If you stutter your hover BEHIND the platform, you can essentially cover 50-75% of your hit box while still maintaining the decent vantage. An added bonus is that you are always moving, and not just side to side. Don’t make it easy on the widow by only strafing left and right. Bobbing up and down WHILE air strafing AND only exposing 50-75% of your hit box is so much better. This also keeps you mobile and unpredictable.
- Know your escape routes and be very careful about spending your concussive blast. Concussive blast is a resource, and should think of it as one. With it you can ensure your life or one of your teammates’ lives, ensure an enemy kill by chasing, reposition yourself to a better vantage, boop dudes, reposition enemy players out of cover or to delay them (from reaching a point, etc.), and deny certain ults (like booping the Dead Eyeing McCree behind a wall, lol).
- Your life and the life of your teammates is USUALLY more important than securing a kill (with only certain exceptions).
- Don’t chase someone down with conc only to find that you now need it to escape and die. Often, just making the guy(s) retreat is enough to win the engagement. If you’re chasing a healer or an important tank, though, use your judgement before you commit and risk your own death.
- Know the maps backwards and forwards. Know where you can escape, where you should escape to, and where your healers are. This leads me to my next point:
- Positioning is so so so important.
- Know where your team is and who is alive or dead. If your tanks just died and your team is getting pushed back, now is not the time to be looking for a sweet flank pick. If you can escape and regroup with your team, do it. If you’re playing correctly, you should already know decent routes to get away from virtually anywhere. If you don’t have a route out, you probably made a mistake in the seconds before your death. Think back on these moments and think about where you could have been instead.
- Know where the enemy players are and who is alive or dead. After the first engagement, you should know the enemy team comp. While you can’t know where every one of the enemy is at any given time, you will know where some are–and you can probably make educated guesses for the others. If the roadhog, DVa, and 76 are zoning you out of the skies from the point, reposition to a flank route and try to harass somewhere else. Don’t over-commit to a chase if they got respawns 10 seconds ago and you’re going to fly face first into a bullet wall. Don’t dive the Ana if she’s surrounded by her teammates.
- Attention. Back up a bit where I spoke about the McCree looking for you. He wants you. You have his attention. Because of this you are at risk whenever you engage someone within his sight lines. You can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid him forever though, so to deal with him, you can react in one of two ways.
- Avoid him. Do this long enough and he will drop his main attention to ground level, giving you a little more freedom to move about. Just keep in mind where he is, and know that he still wants you (even if he isn’t thinking about you at that moment). This won’t work forever–and if you can’t rely on someone else to help you with him:
- Be unavoidable. If you establish a favorable position (directly above him, but out of flashbang range, for example), and he is distracted, make his life rocket hell. If he knows you’re around but doesn’t know where you are, make sure you engage unpredictably and don’t miss your rockets. If he SEES you coming, however, you’re probably dead meat. Concussion blast is your friend here to either disengage from the fight (safer) or move him somewhere else (riskier). You can boop him away if you need to, but usually escaping yourself with it is better. That being said, you can also use conc to push him into a wall or corner and have a rocket waiting to give him a close shave when he gets there. EDIT #2 You can also use concussive blast to dive him or rapidly move yourself into a favorable position, but it’s risky. Too close and he can flashbang you. If you expose yourself to his team or can’t land your shots on him, you no longer have many escape options.
- The above works for Widow and 76 as well, but:
- Widow is usually farther away, making it much more difficult. You almost always have to dive her in these situations, and almost always when she’s not looking at you. Be aware of her mobility and be ready for her to try to zip line away. If she’s not far away, diving her is much easier and her kit doesn’t have much to deal with you up close unless her aim is godlike or she zips off.EDIT #2 Be weary of using both boost and conc to dive her. Usually, after your first rocket, she’ll pee pee dance and zip away from you. If you don’t have any means of rapid movement left to you, tuck your head firmly betwixt your legs and kiss your metal bum goodbye.
- 76 does less burst damage, but is harder to kill (hp-wise) because of his self heal. Use this to your advantage. If he’s not getting headshots and you’re connecting rockets, he’ll be dead in no time. If he drops his aoe heal, expect him to sit on it. If he’s standing on the left of it, he’ll probably try to flip to the right of it. He thinks the healy doodad will save him, but if you look close enough, it’s actually kind of a huge freaking rocket bulls eye. Spam near the middle of it while he rain dances and laugh because for some reason he thinks you think he’s not going to stay inside the circle… but he is (like 9 times out of 10). He’s almost literally serving himself up to you on a plate of his own making. A smart 76 will drop it behind cover and use the cover to stay alive. If you can’t follow up on your damage on him, disengage before he gets reinforcements.
EDIT #1 – Q&A
I have a question OP, if you would watch, review and evaluate one of your matches playing pharah; What would you actively look for ?
I’d look for two things. Goals and decision making.
In writing fiction, one of the most important aspects of character development is to give your characters goals. Not just the “big picture goal” of wanting to beat the bad guy, but scene to scene stuff. Some scenes, your characters will have more than one goal at once, but they always have to be working towards something. Otherwise the reader will become bored and you’ll lose them. Nobody wants to read about Darth Vader’s having a quiet breakfast and a good sit before his afternoon nap on his day off.
That being said, I try to take a similar approach while playing Overwatch. I want to be actively working towards something with each action I make. Jump to the high ground for the height advantage. Leave the high ground because I’m too exposed. Dive the Mercy because I know she’s about to try to resurrect. Fall back to my healers because someone just called out a flanking reaper. That’s just the simple stuff. After each decision to pursue one goal, I have to make a new decision to pursue another. Sometimes I will achieve my goal, sometimes I won’t, and sometimes I’ll find that I had the wrong goal all together.
Understand your role as a Pharah, and analyze why you made each decision. Perhaps during the game, you thought you’d get the most value for your time by running a flank route to counter their flanker, but in watching the replay, you realize their main force was totally exposed while pushing in. You can’t know everything all the time, but you can analyze what you did know and how you reacted to the information you had. Did the Widow bait you into peaking again? Was chasing the fleeing Ana worth it even though you died? What might you have done differently?
This isn’t just for the bad decisions. It’s easy to know you screwed up when you die, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Don’t only look at when you died or when you failed to achieve a particular goal. Look at each major decision you make (where you went to stand to wait for the push, who you engaged first in a fight, when you decided to disengage to safety), and consider the other options that may have been available to you at the time. This can be tedious to do, but with practice and repetition, you’ll start to consciously make better, more informed decisions during live games.
You want to analyze the value you’re bringing to your team. Even without dying, you could be providing a very low or even negative value to your team if you consistently make poor choices. One of people’s favorite anti-[insert favorite “non-meta” hero here] reasoning is, “Why run a Pharah when we could have a third tank?” The sentiment here, while often presented in a not-so-polite way (see system of a down’s “toxicity”), is that they are perceiving the payoff of the third tank as more valuable than the inclusion of a Pharah.
The hard news here is that they’re not always wrong. If you want to play Pharah in a meta game that can be pretty Pharah unfriendly, you have to make sure you’re doing enough of the right things that the value you are bringing to the table is high enough to merit the pick. If you discover that you’re providing a very low value to the team because the enemy’s zenyatta and mccree made it their life’s goal to end yours, you’ll probably be better off going with a different hero for a little while–at the very least, long enough for them to switch off when they think your Pharah harassment is done for the match. Don’t be the guy who mains Pharah but refuses to change when it’s just not working. Every hero pick has games where they’d be better off playing someone else. If that’s the case, suck it up and play your favorite rocket hucking flying she-demon again the next match.