I've invested a huge amount of time into Overwatch over the last couple of months. Indeed, it's been my primary video gaming activity pretty much every night since I bought the game on PS4 back at the end of May. For me, it strikes the perfect balance of interesting character-based combat and compelling objective-oriented gameplay that just doesn't seem to get old.
Well, sometimes it does – but that's less to do with Overwatch itself, and more to do with its players. I'm one of those weirdoes who likes to play support roles, and have spent the vast majority of my Overwatch time playing as Mercy, the game's most proficient and focused healing character. For me, there's real appeal in the challenge of supporting the team by keeping them alive as long as possible while they wade through the opposition, killing all and sundry. At least, that's what can happen when the team is working together as a cohesive unit.
However, while a decent healer can help make a good team great, he or she won't necessarily make a bad team good – and that's really the point of me writing this article. What I want to do is to talk about team play from a support perspective, and point out some things that are really worth bearing in mind while playing the game. Some things I'll say will probably sound quite patronizing, because in many respects they're patently obvious, but it amazes me how often even good players forget the most basic stuff in the heat of battle – one of those things being line of sight.
I can't tell you how many times I've been asked for heals (or been yelled at for not healing) by a player who's standing way out of line of sight. One of most fundamentally important aspects of Overwatch is for the team to stick together fairly closely. That doesn't mean standing on top of one another so that an enemy Junkrat or D-Va can ultimate team kill everyone with ease, but it does mean trying to stay reasonably close so that the team members can support each other.
A classic situation I see happen all-too-regularly during defensive plays is a couple of players staying on the point to guard it, while others move right up to the enemy starting point so that they can engage their foes. This is not really a good move. The enemy respawns quickly, and if they happen to overwhelm those players who've moved up to their starting area, they can quickly move to the point as a group and kill off the remaining members of the defending team. This results in the point being taken with ease while the defending team is busy respawning and/or running back to the point. The general rule of thumb is to stay together – either move forward to the starting point as a group if you want to try to lock down the enemy, or hang back a little. Either way, stick together so that you can engage the enemy together, and help protect one another. Don't effectively split the team by doing your own thing – try to move together as a unit.
The same is true for when the team starts getting killed, and ends up with staggered respawns. I've seen a team lose momentum on a push due to this, many, many times. Basically, players respawn and immediately run back to the fray, not thinking that they're essentially rushing in on their own, or perhaps with one or two allies while the enemy team has everyone active, ready to kill them. When you respawn, just be aware of where the rest of the team is, and if it looks like everyone else is either getting killed, or about to be, wait up for a few more players to respawn before rushing back into the action. That way you can all move as a group, and stand a better chance of blasting the opposition off the point or the payload. It also means your friendly neighborhood support character can stay close to you and keep you healed.
Since I spend plenty of time standing behind players, I've noticed that a lot of combatants get tunnel vision while playing – often focusing on what's ahead, and not thinking about enemy players potentially flanking and attacking from behind. This is usually not good for support characters, who are the first players to get targeted by an enemy who's essentially broken through the frontline. At least, they are if the enemy knows what he or she is doing. So with that in mind, simply pay attention to what's going on around you and don't forget to look behind you occasionally – and to listen too. Those loud footsteps you hear are almost always the enemy approaching, not an ally. If you can't see them, that means they're behind you.
I've also noticed that a lot of players tend to stick with certain characters, no matter what's going on, and that's a bad habit. One of the beauties of Overwatch is the sheer wealth of diverse playstyles that its different characters deliver, and their suitability for different circumstances and situations. With that in mind, don't be afraid to change characters mid-fight if the enemy is overwhelming you. Sure, it might just be a skill disparity causing you to be on the receiving end of a drubbing – we all get matched with poorly performing players occasionally – but it could also be something to do with your team makeup being countered by the opposing team's composition. Always be aware of which characters comprise your team, and take the initiative and switch out if needed. A well-timed Reinhardt can make all the difference when a team is pushing to take a point, or are trying to move on a payload, for example.
If you're not fully up to speed on which characters counter others, check out our comprehensive Overwatch character guide. It has plenty of useful information that will help you raise your game, and choose the right characters for the right situations to make a difference to your team. Also, if you're not familiar with a diverse set of characters, try playing something different! You'll never know which characters best suit your playstyle if you don't try them out a few times. And anyway, being able to play a broad roster of characters makes you a far more effective player than someone who just sticks with a "main".
Something that sounds somewhat counter-intuitive, but is quite important to remember is that it's okay to die. The reason why I say this is because I've played many games where the attacking team has been overly cautious about moving forward, and hasn't been able to move the payload or take a point, resulting in a quick loss. Sometimes this situation is a case of the team being countered like I explained above, but a lot of the time it's because the attacking team is playing far too conservatively, and isn't aggressively trying to take the objective. It's very hard to turn the tide of battle in this sort of situation, but sometimes the team can be rallied by switching to a tank and calling on them to group up with you, or by taking the initiative and moving forward along the flanks to disrupt the defending team. Somebody like Genji or Tracer can be very useful here, rushing forward and goading the enemy to try to chase you, essentially taking players off the point, or at least distracting them so that the rest of the team can advance. You might die in the process, but if it results in the objective being taken, then that's a noble sacrifice.
Speaking of which – the most important thing to remember when playing Overwatch is that it's all about the objectives. I see a lot of players going for kills above all else, and that's not the best way to play. Kills are, of course, important in the grand scheme of things, but if all you're doing is chasing after the enemy and shooting them down, you're not necessarily helping your team win. It's very tempting to continually try to engage the enemy, but when doing so it's easy to get isolated and eliminated. Just play smart. If you're trying to capture a point, and an enemy with low health runs away, don't chase after them – stay and take the point! Likewise, if you're defending and players are trying to tempt you away from the point, don't play into their hands. Let them come to you. The thing to consider is that you'll still get plenty of kills by playing smart. It mightn't be as many as you'd like, but if you're helping your team win by taking points and escorting payloads, you're playing the game in the best possible way.
Ultimately, Overwatch is all about positional, and situational awareness – being at the right place at the right time. It's easy to get distracted by a myriad of things in the heat of battle, but just remember that the team that sticks together has a far higher chance of winning than the team that doesn't.