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Breaking Down Overwatch Heroes and Their Roles

Gillian Linscott  | 
With 30 to choose from, understanding the heroes of Overwatch is a key part of the game. (Image via Blizzard)

With 30 to choose from, understanding the heroes of Overwatch is a key part of the game. (Image via Blizzard)

Overwatch heroes are, according to lore, either individuals who have gathered together to protect Earth from forces set to destroy it… or the forces set to destroy it. As Mei likes to say, “Our world is worth fighting for.” 

There are thirty playable heroes and all thirty of them are categorized into three classes: Tank, Support and Damage. Each hero has their own set of abilities and skills and, collectively, they can be drafted into teams of five with devastating effects.

Read Also: Overwatch Maps: Laying the Foundation

Heroes are crucial to the game of Overwatch. You’ll need to know about them and how their abilities work.

Tanks

Tanks in Overwatch specialize in their ability to protect their teammates. Tanks have unique abilities that allow them to take an immense amount of damage, cancel or disrupt opponents’ abilities and protect their allies or themselves with shields or quick-healing abilities. Whether on attack or defense, Tanks lead the charge and to protect. There are two main categories for tank heroes: Main Tank and Off-Tank.

Main Tank

Main tanks function as heroes whose activated abilities are able to protect the rest of the team. Very simply, main tanks are heroes who have shields or abilities that shield allies from damage. Their abilities are not limited to just producing a shield. Their primary function is to protect themselves and their team from incoming damage. Two Overwatch heroes that are good main tank examples are Reinhardt and Orisa. These two do not deviate away from the frontline too often. They focus on making sure their opponents cannot break their ranks.

Appearance wise, it’s not a stretch to see why Reinhard is a main tank. Wearing power armor and carrying a giant hammer, Reinhardt is a scary opponent to face. His Barrier Field has 2,000 HP. He is able to rotate and move it as he walks, making it a scary barrier for any opponent to break. While he is able to protect his allies, Reinhardt is also able to deal a lot of damage to any opponent that gets close enough to his shield or hammer.

Similar to Reinhardt, Orisa’s abilities allow her to control her opponents, buff her allies and protect her teammates from damage. While Reinhardt’s shield is mobile, Orisa’s Protective Barrier is stationary and has a much smaller base HP. Along with her barrier, Orisa protects her allies by slowing her opponents with Halt!

Off-Tank

Off-Tanks are heroes who are more mobile, and their defensive abilities are much shorter than Orisa and Reinhardt. Off-tanks also generally focus more on diving than protecting the team. A great example of this is D.Va, who makes a lot of big plays without the need of a support hero or the team. While known for picking off players or surprising the opponents with a flank, D.Va and Winston are able to tank the damage and 1v1 just about any player in the game.

D.va. (Image via Blizzard)

D.va. (Image via Blizzard)

D.Va is known for jumping around the map and taking on any hero she finds with ease. Her Fusion Cannons deal a lot of damage and her ultimate Self-Destruct can be map-ending if done correctly. What makes D.Va more of a tank than a Damage hero is that she has a Defense Matrix that can shoot down any incoming projectiles aimed her way as well as a very generous starting HP and armor thanks to her Mech. With a good blend of damage and some defensive abilities, she’s an off-tank you’ll see in almost every game.

Winston is another off-tank who is known for jumping around and finding pick-offs or starting fights. His Jump-Pack is great for getting him into the air and staggering opponents when he lands and his Barrier Projector allows him to protect himself and allies. He’s known for running off and finding convenient pick-offs as well as using his ultimate to crash into the enemy team without the need for backup.

Support

Support heroes in Overwatch are especially crucial to the game as they provide the healing and utility support for all other heroes on the team. Support heroes have abilities that are designed to boost their allies either by increasing their speed, providing healing or increasing their teammates’ damage output. Support heroes are typically extremely weak in 1v1 scenarios and normally require teammates to be near them during matches.

Supports are crucial in any team composition, and they are a constant necessity in competitive play.  They are the backbone of every good Overwatch team, and teams without at least one support hero lack the ability to withstand any prolonged fight or a surprise rotation from their opponents.

The trick to understanding the support role is that each hero has different situation abilities and provide a different level of well, support. There are quite a few support heroes in Overwatch so to understand the different ways of playing support heroes, we’ve broken them into two sub-categories: traditional support heroes and versatile support heroes.

Traditional Support Heroes

Traditional support heroes are heroes who lack HP, lack any real damage output and are always on the heels of a DPS hero or Tank hero. Mercy is a good example of a squishy support hero. Her Caduceus Staff is the primary source of both her healing and her damage buff for whomever she is linked with. Mercy is required to always be with another hero as she is too weak in 1v1 situations and because her abilities are all designed to support her teammates or get her in or out of situations by using her Angelic Descent.

Lúcio is another example of a squishy hero that doesn’t have the abilities to 1v1 another hero but is able to amplify his allies on the map. Similar to Mercy, Lúcio is able to heal or buff allies with his abilities Amp It Up and Crossfade and his second ability Wall Ride is very similar to Mercy’s Angelic Descent where it allows them to escape situations or get into a fight to support their teammates.

Versatile/Aggressive Supports

Versatile or aggressive supports are equipped to both support the allies but also are able to handle themselves in a 1v1 situation or even a larger team fight. These support heroes often find themselves flexing in situations where more damage or aggression is required from the team. Great examples of aggressive supports are Moira and Ana.

Moira and Widowmaker. (Image via Blizzard)

Moira and Widowmaker. (Image via Blizzard)

Moira has one of the best damage outputs from any support and her ability to effect a more than just through her healing is why she’s an aggressive support. Like most supports, she has a way to heal her team with her Biotic Grasp as well as with her Biotic Orb. However, both of those abilities, as well as her ultimate, are able to damage opponents if she chooses making her a fairly adaptable and flexible in a team fight.

Similar to Moria, Ana is a versatile support her who is able to switch between healing and damage with ease. Unlike Moria who has to choose between heal/damage, Ana’s healing or damage is determined by who is hit by her abilities. Her Biotic Rifle is able to shoot allies to heal them or opponents to deal damage. Similarly, her Biotic Grenade heals and damages players depending on whether they are allies or opponents. These heroes are able to adapt to situations and are good for players who are not wanting to be limited to the traditional support role.

Damage

Damage heroes are the powerhouse of an Overwatch team. They are ultimately responsible for seeking out their opponents and defeating them. They do this through a range of abilities that generally focus on ranged attacks but some have melee attack options as well. They are well equipped to get into situations quickly and execute their opponents with ease. They need Support heroes to be able to withstand their opponents’ attacks, but they can 1v1 quite easily.

Burst Damage Heroes

Burst damage heroes are heroes that are looking to deal as much damage as possible to as many as possible. Burst damage heroes have abilities that focus on dealing out either splash damage or as much damage as possible. Heroes like Pharah or Bastion are good examples of burst damage heroes who are looking to get take down a player quickly.

Bastion and Hanzo. (Image via Blizzard)

Bastion and Hanzo. (Image via Blizzard)

Bastion is a good hero if you are looking to supply a lot of damage in a fight. Its ability to configure its weapon to either be a moderately fast rapid fire hitscan gun to an extremely rapid fire hitscan gun is what makes it so challenging in a fight. Its Sentry mode allows for 300 rounds per clip with 35 rounds per second as opposed to its Recon mode, which has 35 rounds per clip and shoots 8 shots per second. Intense amounts of damage in such short concession is why Bastion is a great burst damage hero.

Another great example of a burst damage hero is Pharah whose iconic “justice rains from above” line makes every player run for cover – foe or friend. Her Rocket Launcher is a splash damage projectile meaning that when it hits the ground, it splash on everyone in the area – it’s not a singular bullet. Her ultimate Barrage fires 30 rockets per second with 40 damage per rocket over 3 seconds. It’s the definition of burst damage on a hero and that fly around the skies unstoppable by anything except perhaps a pesky Widow.

Snipers

Sniper heroes in Overwatch can make or break a capture point when played by the most skilled players. There’s really nothing more exhilarating than a Widowmaker fight when the rest of the teams are battling it out down below. Snipers generally do not have the best base HP but are equipped with abilities to get them in and out of trouble when necessary. Some of the most popular Snipers in the game are Widowmaker and Hanzo.

Widowmaker fights have become a signature aspect of Overwatch and even in the Overwatch League. Widowmaker has a multi-functional gun that serves as both a rapid fire gun and single shot rifle. The Widow’s Kiss, as it’s affectionately called, is great for picking off a flying Mercy or Pharah from a hidden ledge or a Lucio on the ground in the middle of the team fight. Her Widow’s Kiss has a lot of damage and can take out a single hero with one shot. If she needs to get out, she can easily use her Grappling Hook to escape danger and look for the next opportunity.

Hanzo is a skilled archer whose bow is able to produce multiple abilities from the same weapon. He’s generally found using his Sonic Arrow to find and detect heroes he wouldn’t otherwise see, climbing up walls to get a better vantage point or releasing his ultimate Dragonstrike to kill any hero that gets in his path. While he doesn’t have a quick escape ability like Widowmaker does – he can get up and around buildings and walls with greater ease.  

Roamers

Roamers are the peskiest sort of Overwatch hero when you are playing against them in a game. Their ability to sneak around the map, getting intel and unleashing damage on unsuspecting heroes is why they are a valuable part of any lineup. Heroes like Tracer and Sombra are prime examples of how roaming heroes function and why they are so critical to the game.

Tracer is best known for her ability to blink around the map with ease and effectively go back in time to a previous location if she feels threatened. Most Tracer players run around the map and gather intel on their opponents and attempt to pick off any strangers they find while they run about. Similar to her ability to blink around the map, Tracer’s Pulse Pistols are also really good at dealing out damage in rapid succession. It’s her abilities that make Tracer an extremely slippery and hard hero to catch out.

Tracer. (Image via Blizzard)

Tracer. (Image via Blizzard)

Sombra is the player that truly leaves in the shadows. Her ability to roam about the map invisible and Hack opponents without them knowing is game-changing. Her Machine Pistol deals lethal damage, her Stealth ensures she can run around the map invisible and her Hack (and EMP) disables all heroes from using their abilities for a given length of time. One of the best roamers in the game, Sombra is a terrifying opponent face.

Read Also: Best Overwatch Heroes for Beginners

All the heroes in Overwatch have their own strengths and weaknesses but knowing how the classes function and how certain types of tanks or supports work is important for playing the game. This week we wanted to go over the heroes so that you can better understand how teams in the Overwatch League draft their team’s and why certain hero compositions are so deadly.

Check out next week’s Foundation Friday to learn about these heroes are played in the Overwatch League!

Gillian Linscott
Gillian Linscott
Gillian is Hotspawn's Communication Manager. She is also a lifelong gamer with a habit of getting distracted by random side quests, falling in love with fictional video game characters and forever buying wards as a position 5 in Dota 2. You can normally find her watching far too many Twitch streams to be human and rambling about esports community issues with a cup of coffee in hand.