Overwatch is a very approachable first-person shooter, but if you’ve watched the pros, then you know that the game has a high skill ceiling. How the hell do they do thing with the backline flank and the Pulse Bomb without dying? Surely you want to do that, too, and feel like a champ. (Maybe you have big dreams of being a pro Genji.)
Reader, I can’t tell you how to go pro at Overwatch. I play Overwatch basically every day and am quite good, but nobody’s made a jersey with my name on it. That means I’m just about qualified to tell you how to get decent at it. Let’s all have realistic expectations.
Understand What Game You’re Playing
Overwatch is not Call of Duty. It’s not Counter-Strike. It’s a first-person team shooter, yes, with an emphasis on “team.” You win by pushing the payload the furthest, taking an objective or doing both of those things the fastest. You don’t win by killing the most enemies.
There’s no personal glory in the best kill-death ratio. If your goal is to get lots of kills, that’s an endeavor made possible by tanks, who carve a path forward, healers, who keep you alive, and defense heroes, who help control space. Every hero has a different role with different benchmarks for what decent play looks like.
You need think holistically about what a team shooter means. It does not mean “I go in, kill the guys and try not to die.” Played decently, and played together, heroes’ toolkits mesh into a force that puts pressure on different parts of the enemy force. If the force is applied correctly, you’ll be able to accomplish your objectives.
Pick 3-4 Heroes You’re Good At
Overwatch has like two dozen heroes. On Overwatch’s website, it ranks the heroes by difficulty. Those rankings aren’t great. Listen to me instead. Dva, Reinhardt, Lucio, Soldier 76, Winston, McCree and Mercy are the easier heroes to wrap your head around. When you’re getting started, it’s important to try out at least two heroes from every class. That helps you understand how each role works and how to mesh best with your teammates.
We’re trying to get decent, though, which means you’ve already done that it’s time to narrow your choices down to three or four main picks.
Be real with yourself. Take a deep breath and look up your stats on Overwatch analytics app Oversumo. It will tell you how you’re faring compared to other players who play your main heroes. Do you love playing McCree, but can’t seem to ever get “Gold” kills? Do you play lots of Mercy, but can’t avoid enemy fire for the life of you? It’s time to buck up—and I’m looking at you, DPS players. Either get good or focus on different heroes.
We’ll touch on this again later, but your life will be a lot easier if your main picks are viable in a lot of strategic situations. It might be fun to master heroes like Symmetra, Torbjorn, Doomfist and Mei, but be versatile.
Learn the Maps
At the very least, learn where the health packs are, alternative routes to objectives and good escape routes for when you’re in trouble. For a +1 to Overwatch intel, learn a few good places to position yourself as each of your main heroes on both sides of every map.
Watch Videos and Streams
The first step to getting decent at the three to four heroes you’ve wisely chosen for yourself is imprinting in your mind what decent play looks like. You can’t just blindly feel this out. You need to have a pattern laid out before you. If you’re trying to get decent at Overwatch, there is assuredly a streamer out there who is better than you at your main hero picks. If they’re mainstream heroes, then there’s definitely an Overwatch pro who streams one of them on Twitch in their off hours. Here’s a great, thorough list of streamers categorized by main heroes. At the very least, tune into Overwatch League matches a few times a week.
Don’t just pay attention to how these pros use their hero abilities. Pay attention to their placement on the map. Pay attention to how they make call-outs to teammates. Pay attention to how they move with their team and when and how they flank. Pay attention to how they get healing. Pay attention to the circumstances under which they use their ultimate ability. And finally, pay attention to how they support their teammates. It’s easy to get hype over the big moments, but it’s the little things that carve out space for them.
Now that you’ve done that, remember that pro play is just a pattern for decent play. Watching it asserts good play habits, but you’re just not going to be able to do a lot of what they do. It’s good to experiment, however, don’t be too ambitious—especially if your team isn’t thinking on that level.
How to Practice
Take a two-pronged approach to practice. Raw skill is important. It’s not everything. There are five other players on your team. You need to utilize and empower them. You might feel good about getting gold kills, gold healing or tons of “damage blocked,” but high numbers often aren’t what matter most. You need to be making the clutch plays.
First, let’s talk about how to sharpen your skills through practice. You need to set firm benchmarks for progress on each of your mains. If you’re playing Soldier 76, you need to be able to consistently shoot a Pharah down from the sky. If you’re playing Roadhog, aim for a, say, 60% hook accuracy. On DPS, shoot for an average of 15 kills per game. If you’re playing Reinhardt, try honing your instinct on when to tackle and when to hold up your shield for teammates. And if you’re playing Mercy, aim for as few deaths as possible by practicing flying around the map. These are skills you can hone on your own in Quick Play with time and concentration.
Like I said, though, the best part about raw skills is that it makes it possible for you to make the clutch plays. Clutch plays are like when the entire team is alive and together, your tanks forge a path into enemy territory, a DPS and support hero have their ultimate abilities and, after other teammates get a pick, they unleash their ultimate abilities together. Coordinated plays like this help players take objectives more consistently than a when player or two trickles in, uses their ultimate ability and then promptly dies. They also don’t happen very frequently through telepathy. You need to be playing with at least a few people who can coordinate plays and give you feedback.
After watching some pros, you’ll have a few ideas of what coordinated plays might lead to success on certain maps. Decide on your roles and practice these with your friends and with strangers who have microphones. On Temple of Anubis’s first point, for example, lots of players on defense enjoy holding the high ground instead of the choke. On Ilios, players like combining Reinhardt’s paralyzing ultimate ability with Lucio’s “boop,” sending enemies flying off the map. Suggest concrete coordinated plays to your team over voice chat. That can sound like, “When I get my ultimate ability, do you want to combine it with yours, Pharah?” or “Reaper, how about we take the back route around Volskaya Industry’s first point and get a few picks while everyone else rushes the choke?”
The most basic coordinated play is also one of the most effective: Wait for the whole team to be ready and at full health before attempting to take a point. You can say to your teammates, “Hey, let’s wait up for everyone before attacking.”
Play In Competitive Mode
Unfortunately, competitive mode is the best place to play with people who take the game seriously. On PC at least, lots of competitive mode players use microphones to make call-outs and announce heros switches. More importantly, players there (in theory) tend to care about the best team compositions: two tanks, two DPS/defense heroes and two healers.
If your composition is bad, you’re in a bad environment for getting decent. You might not get enough healing to stay alive and get kills. You might not get enough tank protection to stay alive while you’re healing DPS. The ideal team composition exists for a reason, and it’s so everybody can support each other in their quest to take an objective. If you’re serious about getting decent, it might be time to bite the bullet and do your placement matches.