So you’ve been playing video games since way back when, have finished Red Dead Redemption 2 twice, and rock Fortnight.
You might have strong opinions about the games you play and keep up to date on new releases, but you’re still wondering what this Overwatch thing is about. Maybe you’ve seen confusing clips from the Overwatch League (OWL) with excited commentators shouting as if the delicate balance of life hangs on the outcome of every round, or maybe you’ve even tried playing it on your kid’s console only to be overwhelmed by the number of heroes to choose from, their differing abilities, and the dialogue that makes you feel like you’re watching the sequel to a movie that everyone knows the lines to except you.
For those who haven’t spent a good amount of time with the game there can be questions: Why is there a gorilla fighting a hamster who lives in a giant ball-tank-thing? Cowboys? Wait, which ones can fly? What the hell is an ult!? Didn’t this game come out three years ago? How is it still relevant??
Overwatch’s developer, Blizzard, has somehow managed to create a game that is still going strong at a point in its tenure when many games would either be on a sequel or even just a distant memory. Thanks in large part to the competitive league and a strong marketing presence, it’s now possible to watch games on Disney networks such as ABC, ESPN, and Disney XD. Also, you can buy Overwatch Legos. And Nerf guns.
Ok Fine, Tell Me What It Is
At its most basic level, Overwatch is a first person team shooter. The common modes, and the ones used in competition, are six vs. six on objective-based maps set in various cities around the world. As of this writing there are 30 distinct heroes to choose from, each of them having unique abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
Players level up (to infinity it seems), but you only earn the right to play with other high-ranked players through that process. That is, you begin with all the abilities the hero has access to right from the start. There are loot boxes, but they only offer skins, voice lines, icons, etc. No one gets better weapons or abilities by virtue of leveling up.
Let’s break down the need-to-knows:
Three classes of heroes
- Damage: These are the heroes that (theoretically) kill the most. Snipers, gunslingers, ninjas, etc. If your previous experience is limited then start with Soldier 76 or Ashe, with whom you can point and shoot until you figure out what the heck is going on.
- Tanks: Big heroes who can take a lot of damage, designed to lead pushes, create space, and control strategy. D.Va is a favorite who can fly and has relatively easy controls, but she’s also one of the most played heroes, so she may not be available. Try Orisa who can set up a shield and fire a lot of ammo before having to reload.
- Support: This class contains the heroes that used to be called “Healers”. They are absolutely key for higher level play, but are often absent in beginner and intermediate pick up games. Ana and Baptiste both shoot and heal with fairly intuitive abilities, or try Lucio, the in-line skater who can add speed to all nearby allies and boop enemies off the map.
- Ult: Short for “Ultimate”, a hero’s biggest, most damage inducing ability, usable once their ult-meter is full. These run the gamut from bombs to boosts to snowstorms. Experienced players will combine ults for massive damage, but they can also be countered with opposing team’s ults and shields.
- Game Modes (these are really categories): Without going into too much detail (available elsewhere), there are several arcade modes that vary weekly, Quick Play, a Practice Range, Custom Game options, and finally, Competitive Play.
To many, the “modes” are the objectives of the maps. Quick Play, Competitive, and OWL are limited to:
- Control: Teams fight for a geographic location which must be held for a certain amount of time
- Assault: One team defends a point, the other attacks it. The attacking team must reach 100% of control or some such cacamamy before time runs out.
- Escort: Accompany a slow moving payload to objective points in a certain amount of time while the other team tries to stop you.
- Hybrid: Assault/Escort. The offensive team releases the payload by occupying a point, then tries to escort it to the final destination.
If you’re going to sit down with the kids and watch OWL matches then you should also know these common buzzwords:
- Comp: The “composition” of a team, or in other words, the heroes chosen to compliment each other on a given map.
- Meta: The current state of Overwatch gameplay based on the most recent patches and hero attributes.
- Main: the type of hero a player specializes in. For instance, everyone and their dog on console thinks they’re a damage main. Seriously, try support for once!
- GOATS: A comp consisting of three tanks and three supports, exceedingly popular in OWL season two stage one due to the meta (see how much you know already?), but slowly falling from favor.
Why is Overwatch Still a Thing??
It’s been THREE years! And to be honest it took me nearly two before I felt like I could get past the comic-book tropes and really enjoy the game for what it is. It seems Blizzard has been very clever in creating a long-lived franchise that doesn’t really have and end in sight unless the Overwatch League goes the way of a 20 ounce Starbucks latte and saturates itself stale.
Among their clever marketing strategies:
- Consistent new heroes, usually preceded by a drawn-out and mysterious internet trail of clues that drives the fan base near to a riotous state of insanity.
- Periodic new maps.
- Unique, (relatively) diverse heroes with backstories that appeal to anime and sci-fi loving youth who will then carry the memories of Overwatch with them as a treasure of their childhood.
- Kick ass animated shorts like this one about Widowmaker, the sultry sniper:
- And obviously, a competitive league staffed by youthful real life heroes who stream on the side, or perhaps more accurately, compete in OWL on the side of their streaming. (As an aside, Blizzard will need to take care of the young e-thletes in this league if they want to ensure talent continues to gravitate towards OWL, and more importantly, that they remain safe and healthy.)
OK whatever, should I play it or what?
Do I look like your mother?
I don’t know the answer here, but I can tell you that the games are generally fairly short, so you can get some good fun in when time is tight. And while you’re waiting to join a game you’re often thrown into a “skirmish”, which is a random map with the other players who are also waiting for a game.
If you do decide to take the leap, then it would behoove you to spend a little time in the training area, but it’s not completely necessary. You can just jump into the chaos of Quick Play, although considering that someone had to write an article like this to explain the whole thing it might be a bit overwhelming. I would recommend joining up with one or some of your gaming buddies, or having your kid coach you along and easing into the fray. Don't get too hung up on the details to start, just try to stay with your teammates and do what the game tells you to do (escort the payload, attack the point, etc.). Pretty soon you’ll be speaking the lingo and bemoaning the choices of other players with the best of ‘em!
Images courtesy Blizzard press center.