I don’t know about you all, but as a big Symmetra fan, I have been loving the new patch. It took a few days for me to lose a ranked game once the game finished updating and even that was a capture point map where a teammate left. I was up 250 rating points before I finally lost a match where I played Symmetra. I have been fairly confident that she will have a place in the tournament meta-game and MLG Vegas was set to feature a few teams who have been known to use her in her previous state. The power level of her shield generator rivals many support ultimates and really compensates for the fact that you are using a support character who is completely unable to heal herself, let alone the team. 450 HP gets added to your team for as long as you can protect the generator and in my experience so far, it makes a world of difference on defense.
This past weekend we were lucky enough to get to watch the MLG Vegas LAN Tournament, even if we were relegated to YouTube. Seriously. Why any tournament would forfeit the thousands of viewers who stayed on twitch and DIDN’T watch this event, I will never understand, but I digress. Production value was great here as usual and apart from Taimou’s visa problem, everything went off without a hitch.
So lets take a look at the pick rates from the tournament and try to do some analysis on these numbers and predict what we may see going forward:
Clearly, the three and four tank meta-game of patches past is here to stay. There was very little deviation from the strategy throughout the event and it begs the question that I have been ignoring for the most part: how does it get fixed? It is hard to imagine Blizzard is happy about all of their beautifully designed DPS characters getting almost zero play in the competitive scene and while some are likely not going to be fixable anytime soon (sorry, Junkrat players). However, there are some options that could be explored.
Alternatives Seeing Play
Not every team in the pro scene is playing heavy tanks. Notably, the old Misfits roster as well as Complexity have been known to shun the heavy tank meta and play their own strategy. Misfits was part of a trade that shook up their roster so let’s focus on the Complexity strategy first:
Sombra is key to this strategy and they use her better than anyone else I have seen try it. They use Sombra’s hack on a large health pack that their team has easy access to. This makes the pack respawn incredibly fast and when it is used by a teammate, the Sombra gets a pretty sizable chunk of ult charge. By abusing this, Sombra can generate her ultimate FAR faster than any other hero in the game. It’s not even close. Hack and EMP are then used to disable the shields on opposing tanks and open the door to initiate fights. With no Reinhardt shield or Zarya bubble available, they are easily able to get a pick and move in on the point. And if you didn’t know, characters like Zarya and Zenyatta loses all of their “shield” (blue portion of the health bar) from an EMP, too. Translocate allows the Sombra to move into the middle of the team for the EMP and it’s a thing of beauty to watch, when properly executed:
Misfits on the other hand won Dreamhack by shunning Ana for Zenyatta and playing a ton of Tracer to harass the back line supports of the opponent. As a second DPS, they also used a combination of Mei, Genji, Soldier:76 and even Widowmaker. They were very vocal about not liking the three tank meta and simply refused to play it, proving it is possible to win without it. Here are their pick rates from Dreamhack:
Lastly, I want to look at the Hollywood defense that Cloud 9 debuted in Vegas:
This is a thing of beauty to those of us who have wanted to see variety… sort of. I’ve mentioned being a big Symmetra fan, so of course I am biased. (I’m a big Aardvark fan, too.) I’ve played this composition on this map before the event and it clearly works. It takes some set up so if you face a well executed dive comp, you may be in trouble. However, after you repel the initial push, your Symmetra should have a shield generator active and Torbjorn will have a fair share of armor packs to spread around. Your entire team suddenly each has a tank worth of hit points and even though you are solo healing, there is little pressure on the healer because of it. Cloud9 is also using this comp WITH three tanks, but the added HP almost makes this choice redundant to me. To each their own, I suppose.
Why You Shouldn’t Play So Many Tanks
I feel like this strategy is so successful due in large part to how forgiving it is. Without squishy DPS to get picked by a Roadhog hook or stray Helix Rocket, you aren’t punished with a death and forced to retreat nearly as often. This leaves me to wonder if teams are simply taking the easy way out. If your DPS stay vigilant and keep good positioning, they have to be more effective than the extra tanks…right?
To me, the best reason to run something else for these pro teams is simply that you can feel very confident your opponent WILL. If you don’t know me from the podcast, I am a former Magic: The Gathering player. In Magic, there is almost always an established meta-game and I almost NEVER operated from within it. The meta-game was instead my blueprint; it told me what I had to beat so I would do my best to devise a strategy to succeed in that environment. I don’t see any reason this philosophy wouldn’t be viable in Overwatch. I believe that many teams are reluctantly playing these tank comps to mirror the opponent, so it comes down to individual player skill as opposed to strategy.
Pro teams understand how to win or lose on that basis and can come to terms with it more easily than a strategy problem. The thing is, only one team can be the best mechanically in a match. So the technically worse team is making a tactical mistake by surrendering their ability to gain an advantage in other ways, like team composition. It’s just a matter of recognizing your strengths and weaknesses in a match up and deciding to “throw a hail mary”. It’s hard to fault teams for not wanting to admit they are less skilled mechanically than another team, but they should at least be trying it when they are facing elimination. Swapping Soldier:76 to McCree isn’t different enough to turn the tide often enough.
Being willing to try off-the-wall strategies is only half of it; It then has to work. The reason EVERYONE is moving into the heavy tank lineups, is simply because they can’t find anything reliable to beat it. And if it takes a different strategy for every map, that spreads your practice time pretty thin. So in preparation, it does make sense to focus your time on what is known to work on every map. I believe that Blizzard really should step in and take the strategy down a peg. The popular consensus on how to fix it is to target Ana with the nerf bat. I’ve never been great at coming up with ideas about how to appropriately nerf characters, but maybe they could try to mirror Discord Orb’s behavior with Biotic Grenade. If Discord Orb increases Zen’s damage more than the rest of the team, why not try making the grenade increase HER healing on affected allies less than it helps healing effects from Ana’s teammates? I could be wrong, but I feel as though it would make it a little less beneficial to have so many deep health pools and a lower damage output.
Hopefully we see a shift sooner rather than later to help keep the esports scene exciting, but Blizzard seems intent on letting this go for a while, to see if it will fix itself. That may sound lazy, but it is possible that the answer is out there and simply hasn’t been discovered yet. I am less optimistic with each passing event, but I am personally not nearly as opposed to four tanks as I was to double orb comp from beta or twinston, twocio & tray-tray from back when there was no hero limit.
Let me know how you would fix the tank problem in the comments!
Until Next Time,
About The Author
Many of you will know me from the podcast, but my name is Jim. You can call me DeathBlow. I have been a host of the High Noon Podcast for over a year now. On the show, we talk primarily about the eSports scene and I wanted to expand some of my thoughts via the blog on our website.
You can listen to new episodes of @HighNoonPodcast every Wednesday on iTunes, Stitcher, Sound Cloud and YouTube. You can also watch us record it live on twitch, Mondays at 7 (ish).
About High Noon
The competitive Overwatch podcast.