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What is Overwatch?

Bradley Long

Most esports titles have at least one major direct competitor. In the MOBA space, League of Legends and Dota 2 vie for attention. The tactical shooter scene is split between CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege, and Riot’s new addition VALORANT. Battle royales are a dime a dozen, with Fortnite reigning supreme. Since its release in 2016, Overwatch has delivered a wholly unique experience for its players. A graceful blend of MOBA elements into the FPS genre has allowed Overwatch to carve out a niche in the gaming landscape and made the game one of Blizzard’s flagship titles. Four year in, Overwatch’s 10 million monthly active users keep coming back, trying to scratch the itch that only this game can reach.

Overwatch

Overwatch is Blizzard’s one-of-a-kind class-based FPS. (Image Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment)

How do you play Overwatch?

On the surface, Overwatch is a relatively simple game. Two teams of six players will fight for control of a specific objective. There are currently four game modes in Overwatch, with a fifth, Push, on the way in the game’s upcoming sequel, Overwatch 2.

Game modes

  • Assault – Attackers must capture two points, first Point A and then Point B. To do so, attackers must clear defenders off the point and occupy it for a period of time.
  • Escort – Attackers attempt to move a cart along a defined path by standing on top of it. Defenders can slow them by standing on the cart themselves or by clearing off the attackers.
  • Hybrid – This mode combines the previous two. First, attackers capture a single point, then move the cart along the path.
  • Control – Both teams fight to capture a neutral control point. The team in control accrues percentage until the round is won at 100%. Each Control game is best two out of three rounds.

Heroes

The depth in Overwatch’s gameplay comes from its diverse roster of 32 playable heroes, and how they can team up to pull off extraordinary plays. Each hero is equipped with a primary weapon as well as a number of abilities, typically two or three, that help them deal damage, traverse the map, incapacitate enemies, or protect teammates.

Benji

(Photo courtesy Blizzard Entertainment)

Every Overwatch hero also has an Ultimate ability that can single handedly swing a teamfight. These are available less often, but when used in the right situation, they can result in some of Overwatch’s most spectacular moments. Ultimate combos occur when teammates coordinate to unleash their Ultimate abilities in unison and are a core part of the game’s strategy.

The game’s heroes are split between three roles: Tank. Damage, and Support. Since the adoption of Role Queue in 2019, each six-player team must have two heroes of each role. In general, every role will have its own responsibilities, but even within roles, tremendous variety exists.

Tank

Tank heroes are typically at the front lines of a fight. They have higher health pools and at least one defensive ability. Tanks are capable of dealing significant damage, but usually have limited range. They will usually be responsible for taking and holding areas of the map so their teammates can follow up from behind.

Damage

Damage heroes have the most straightforward job of any of Overwatch’s roles. See enemy, shoot enemy. Often called DPS (a term borrowed from MMO games), these heroes will be expected to lead the way in damage and eliminations. The damage role contains some of the game’s most mechanically intensive and difficult to master heroes.

Support

Overwatch’s final role is often overlooked, but supports are more than capable of taking over a match. As the name suggests, these heroes support their teammates, mostly by healing them when they take damage. Supports are incredibly valuable in longer fights as both teams take damage, and they will always be high priority targets for enemies.

Who to play

The key to finding success and enjoyment in Overwatch is to figure out which heroes fit your style. Want to scrap on the edge of the skirmish and fight on the flank? Tracer and Genji might be the move. Prefer to sit back and take shots from afar? Widowmaker or Ana are probably your best bets. Do you just want to rollerblade along the walls while you blast sick beats? Lucio is waiting with open arms.

Other considerations when picking a hero are the map being played, the heroes being played by teammates, and the enemy team composition. Every hero will have their quirks – maps that favor them, heroes they work well alongside, and matchups with opposing heroes – that will affect each game of Overwatch. Learning these quirks is key to mastering the game, but the beauty of Overwatch lies in its ability to cater to both the casual gamer and the seasoned player.

The game strikes a balance of simple, beginner-friendly heroes and incredible depth for players that want to seriously hone their skills. At the highest level, Overwatch is played at a frenetic pace that has the potential to overwhelm. For those that learn to follow the action, the reward is an esport that delivers individual brilliance and strategic depth in equal parts.

What Is the Overwatch League?

For the first two years following Overwatch’s 2016 release, its esports operated much the same as many others. Teams fielded by endemic organizations competed in a tournament circuit largely run by third-party organizers.

Play was mostly regional, with occasional big LAN events providing the opportunity for international competition. The crown jewel was APEX. It brought several of the best Western teams to Korea to test themselves against the deepest, most talented region Overwatch had to offer. Across four APEX seasons the game’s elite built their legends. Teams like EnVyUs, Lunatic-Hai, and Runaway become beloved not only for their brilliant play, but for their stories.

Then came Blizzard’s announcement of the Overwatch League. Starting in 2018, Overwatch esports at the highest level would come in the form of a franchise system. Blizzard’s plan was ambitious. Teams would represent home markets, much like traditional sports. It would create a truly global esports league. Based on that vision, Blizzard was able to attract big names and big money from the worlds of esports, traditional sports, and venture capital. Franchise buy-in fees came in at $20 million on the low end, with larger markets yielding higher figures.

Starting with 12 teams in its first season, the OWL expanded to 20 franchises for 2019. The league operates similarly to most American sports leagues, with a regular season followed by a playoff bracket to end the year. Though the format has changed slightly over the years, there are also several mid season tournaments meant to provide frequent clashes between the league’s best.

Who Are the Best Teams?

When discussing the best Overwatch teams, there’s really only one place to start. The San Francisco Shock have won each of the last two seasons of the Overwatch League. The Shock have emerged victorious in back to back seasons, establishing themselves as the league’s first dynasty after just three seasons.

San Francisco Shock

The 2020 OWL season was a wild ride from start to finish, culminating in San Francisco’s second straight title. (Photo Courtesy Robert Paul – Blizzard)

In 2020, the league was split between two regions, North America and Asia. In North America, the Shock’s main rival was the Philadelphia Fusion, who have been among the league’s most consistent teams across all three years. Their superstar Damage player JaeHyeok “carpe” Lee, has been historically great, but the team has repeatedly fallen short near the finish line.

In Asia, the Shanghai Dragons and Seoul Dynasty are the teams to beat. After going 0-40 during the league’s inaugural season, Shanghai has rebuilt their roster into a championship contender. They had the league’s best record in 2020 and celebrated an MVP award for DPS star ByungSun “Fleta” Kim.

In the playoffs though, the Dragons ran up against Seoul and their all-time great duo of Jaehui “Gesture” Hong and Junyoung “Profit” Park. Those two had previously won a title in 2018 with the London Spitfire, and used that championship experience to upset Shanghai en route to a runner-up finish.

Heading into the 2021 season, there’s already been a tremendous upheaval in the OWL hierarchy. Many teams are completely revamping their rosters, and the league continues to grow stronger as new talent pours in from the Tier 2 ranks, especially Korea. Teams that couldn’t compete in the past, such as the Dallas Fuel and Los Angeles Gladiators, now seem like legitimate contenders to San Francisco’s throne.

Who Are the Best Players?

Though the Overwatch League is relatively young, it has no shortage of star power. If anything, there’s simply too much talent to be effectively covered. When it comes to deciding the GOAT of Overwatch, there is hardly a consensus, but these five all have good claims on the title. They have an unmatched combo of team success, individual prowess, and longevity dating back before the Overwatch League even began.

Profit and Gesture go somewhat hand-in-hand. They’ve played their entire professional careers together and seen the top of the Overwatch mountain together. Of the two, Profit’s claim is probably stronger, maybe the strongest of any player. As a Damage player, Profit is a true Swiss Army Knife. Most DPS stars thrive playing either hitscan or projectile, but Profit does everything at the absolute highest level. In 2020 he played 18 heroes, or in other words, every Damage hero plus one tank in Zarya. He’s the all-time leader in Final Blows, Eliminations, and Damage. He’s the closest thing we have to Faker.

Overwatch

(Photo Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment)

Fleta’s GOAT case is not all too dissimilar from Profit’s. He’s a hyperflexible Damage player who can play anything. His history goes back long before his 2020 MVP award. He was the biggest bright spot on a mediocre Flash Lux squad in APEX. Despite a losing team for years, Fleta was so impressive that a new statistical marker, the “Fleta Deadlift”, was coined in his honor to indicate a player who earns half their team’s final blows in a map.

Fleta may have his deadlift, but carpe single handedly inserted “winnable” into the OWL lexicon with his ability to pull clutch fights seemingly out of thin air. Carpe is a hitscan god who’s been at the top of the game since 2017, and he’s just behind Profit in all the career counting stats. He was one of the first big-name Korean players to make the move to North America, and he’s earned a reputation as Overwatch’s king of clutch.

The fifth and final GOAT candidate is NamJu “STRIKER” Gwon of the San Francisco Shock. Of all the players listed here, he’s inarguably had the most success at the OWL level. On top of the two titles with the Shock, he claimed the 2020 Grand Finals MVP and was a season MVP candidate in 2018 with Boston. The lone knock against him is that San Francisco has been so good that they don’t always play him. Still, he’s been crucial to both their playoff runs and his Tracer might be the most dominant player-hero pairing in the league.

Rookies Rise Up

New challengers are always emerging in such a young esport, and the influx of talent has been constant. There’s been a new flex support god every season – SeongHyun “JJonak” Bang in 2018, Minki “Viol2t” Park in 2019, and KyeongBo “Alarm” Kim this past season. Given some time, they could all make GOAT cases of their own.

Tanks tend to get less love overall because it’s the role that depends on the team the most and it’s often difficult to parse their individual impact. Still there have been standouts there. Dong-Gyu “Mano” Kim has been the gold standard at main tank for years. In the flex tank position, Junho “Fury” Kim and Hyobin “Choihyobin” Choi have led the way.

Where Can I Watch Overwatch?

If you want to see the best players and teams compete, the Overwatch League is really the only game in town. The league’s season typically runs from early spring through early fall. During that time, matches can be seen live most weekends on the league’s. YouTube channel.

For fans who want to tune in periodically without having to follow every bit of the action, the league has implemented regular tournaments that provide focal points for the season. Teams compete for prize money and bonuses to their regular season win total.

Overwatch NYXL vs. Fusion

(Photo Courtesy Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment)

With the league’s start delayed for 2021, fans might be itching for Overwatch esports during the offseason. Luckily, the game’s Tier 2 scene, Overwatch Contenders, runs essentially year round, with consistent tournaments to fill the gap.

Overwatch isn’t always the easiest game or esport to jump right into. It’s action can be confusing and tough to follow for new viewers. The league format can make the regular season a slog at times. Rule changes seem to throw every season into varying degrees of chaos.

Still, when Overwatch does deliver, it packs an absolutely incredible punch. Storylines build with a slow burn, then explode with intensity. Players grow their legend by adapting to a game that sometimes scarcely resembles the Overwatch they first picked up. Through all the bad balance changes and broken heroes, they keep coming back because Overwatch is unlike anything else.

Bradley Long
Bradley Long

Bradley is a freelance writer who started his esports journey with Overwatch’s launch in 2016. Since then, he’s thrown himself headfirst into the competitive scene at all levels. When he’s not writing about the Overwatch League, he’s probably casting Tier 3 tournaments or playing with his cats.