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Overwatch Meta breakdown: On the offense

Tracer is the cheerful British time-traveling fighter pilot in the Overwatch hero lineup. Provided by Blizzard

The future looks rosy for Overwatch. Within a week of its release last month, Blizzard's newest game already had seven million players. What's more, the game's traditional sales model had players plopping down a minimum of $40 to play the new IP, which meant it lacked the easy access of the increasingly common free-to-play route.

Over the months of closed beta, top players put the game through the wringer and Blizzard balanced and re-balanced the relative strengths of Overwatch's 21 heroes. Even before launch, there were a healthy number of professional Overwatch tournaments, populated by some of the biggest teams in eSports.

All of these efforts developed the game's strategy space. Any spectator sport, whether it's hitting a ball with a large stick or dispensing an animated fighter with a Shoryuken, quickly develops its own internal strategies and trends as the players become more experienced and the sport becomes more refined. In gaming, we refer to this as "the meta," an endlessly evolving state that forms the backbone of tactics employed in the game.

With Overwatch's audience growing and Blizzard's focus on developing the game's competitive aspect -- as indicated by the game's just-released Competitive Mode -- there's an opportunity for Overwatch to flourish as an esport. And for a new player curious about Overwatch's burgeoning competitive scene and interested in following a match's intricacies, there's a lot of information to absorb about the individual heroes to really get a feel for what's going on. So, we've put together a competitive introduction for each Overwatch hero to guide the beginner, starting this week with the six heroes in the Offense class.

Tracer

Tracer is a character that has come and gone in the meta before (she was used a lot more before a health nerf late in the beta). The classic in-and-out harasser, Tracer is the fastest character in the game. Tracer can't match Genji's vertical mobility, but she has the ability to use Blink and Recall to get out of trouble quickly.

These days, Tracer doesn't see competitive play on every map, although we may see her more frequently if McCree sees less play for reasons we'll get into below. Tracer is most common on king of the hill maps where she has the ability to really get behind enemy lines. In maps with choke points, however, Tracer sees a good deal less use as she can do little to help the team bust through and her mobility can't be used as effectively.

Best maps: Nepal, Route 66

Genji

Half ninja, half cyborg -- both things people on the internet love (OK, me too) -- you've probably encountered quite a few Genji while playing pub games. With the ability to double-jump, climb vertical surfaces, and use Swift Strike for additional speed plus burst damage, Genji's mobility makes him a versatile flanker that can harass a defender's back line.

In competitive play, Genji is a lower-tier hero despite having a high skill cap. One of Genji's strengths in pubs is his ability to deal with Bastion; Genji can get behind Bastion fairly easily and, depending on placement, can either pepper him with shuriken or dispatch him with Deflect/Swift Strike. Given fewer Bastions present and elite players that can deal with his harassment tactics effectively with hitscan weapons, Genji's relatively fragile body becomes a bigger deal.

That's not to say that Genji never sees play. You may see Genji in particular instances when his vertical mobility is extremely useful, for example, in flanker maps such as Gibraltar or Hollywood.

Best maps: Watchpoint: Gibraltar, Hollywood

Pharah

Another character with good vertical mobility, Pharah uses it to different effect than a Genji player does. Pharah is a long-range attacker and her verticality focuses more on opening up sight lines rather than the annoy-and-escape tactics that you see from more traditional harassing flankers like Tracer.

Where Pharah shines is in situations where crowd control is most valuable or the other team is playing a number of short-range characters. Heroes like the non-Roadhog tanks, Junkrat, Tracer, Mei, and Reaper don't have a really effective way to deal with Pharah.

The downside of Pharah is that she has map mobility more than tactical mobility, meaning that a Widowmaker, McCree, or Soldier 76 can knock her out of the sky fairly easily despite the high damage from her rocket barrages. This is especially true with her ultimate, which leaves her completely immobile and easy pickings for enemy heroes.

In competitive play, successful Pharah players will try to keep her sight lines open for only as long as necessary in order to reduce her exposure. By contrast, against six random players you're more likely to see Pharah just hovering over the battlefield as if she were a helicopter.

Best maps: King's Row, Lijiang Tower, and arguably everywhere

Soldier: 76

Soldier: 76 is one of the game's core heroes in competitive play because of his flexible, orthodox playstyle. He uses a medium-range hitscan weapon, can fire off a projectile, do a little bit of healing, and sprint to a control point fairly quickly. Even if you've never played Overwatch, if you've ever played a first-person shooter, you've essentially played Soldier. Even his name sounds a bit generic.

As it turns out, this versatility means you can plug him into a lot of roles. For a player with elite targeting skills, Soldier's standard attack is useful in most situations, whether it's dealing with a pesky Tracer or knocking Pharah out of the sky. Soldier has issues with tanks that have shielding capabilities and isn't great at creating his own sight lines, but he's a safe, solid choice in most situations.

Best maps: Nepal, Ilios

Reaper

With one of his strongest checks, McCree, on the outs for the time being, Reaper's extremely high levels of close-range damage make him a staple of both competitive play and casual games. Pharah's still around to keep Reaper honest -- there's very little Reaper can do against Pharah except live to fight another day -- but Reaper's shotguns can effectively take out most characters in close quarters. While he's slow, his Wraith Form gives him an effective way to escape and his ability to collect Soul Globes to restore health provides a measure of additional survivability.

Reaper tends to be a good hero even for beginners simply because his use is straightforward: get behind the enemy, kill things, get away. While elite players more effectively execute this plan, the basic concept stays the same. Reaper is a particular problem for Mercy, who is often seen in the two-healers-per-team standard composition. Lucio, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier to deal with, as his Sound Barrier is a strong play against Reaper's Death Blossom ultimate.

Best maps: King's Row, Nepal

McCree

McCree used to be king of the mountain of the Offense class. So dominant was McCree both through beta and early release that teams at the competitive level actually averaged more than one McCree a game. In the hands of an accurate shooter like an elite player, McCree was always dangerous. But his ability to destroy tanks at close range with his Flashbang/Fan the Hammer combo was even scarier.

Then Blizzard made some big changes to McCree, causing him to fall into disuse very quickly. McCree's alternate-fire ability, the aforementioned Fan the Hammer, had its damage reduced by nearly 40 percent, preventing McCree from killing Reinhardt or Roadhog with relative ease. He's still lethal to many of the squishier Offense harassers like Tracer, but he's no longer the must-include he used to be.

In this past weekend's tournaments, you could see the fallout from the McCree nerf. No longer a staple, McCree was mainly reduced to a situational play of hunting down Pharah. McCree can still be dangerous in a pro's hands, but his lack of mobility is a much bigger deal when he can't go toe-to-toe with any hero in the game.

Best maps: Dorado, Hollywood