<
>

Overwatch Meta breakdown: The trustworthy tanks

Reinhardt brandishes his hammer in Overwatch. Provided by Blizzard.

Blizzard's newest game, Overwatch, officially launched last month already had seven million players within a week of release. What's more, this is a game that went the traditional sales route rather than the increasingly common free-to-play one, meaning that all those players plopped down a minimum of $40 to play Blizzard's newest IP.

Even before launch, there were a healthy number of professional Overwatch tournaments, populated by some of the biggest teams in esports. With Overwatch's audience growing and Blizzard's focus on increasing the competitiveness of the game -- as seen by the game's just-released Competitive Mode -- there's an opportunity for Overwatch to flourish as an esport.

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 21 heroes, there's a lot for a new viewer or player to grasp. To help potential Overwatch enthusiasts, last week we started our introduction to the heroes and their strategies. This is not a list of their various skills, but a basic overview of how each hero fits into the competitive framework based on where the game stands right now. We started off with the offensive heroes. Next up: the tanks.

The concept of a tank in gaming goes far beyond the first-person shooter. From a team FPS to multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs) to role-playing games (and so on), the essential job of a tank is to absorb damage in some way. Typically, the strong defensive skills of the tank are balanced by weakness in another area, whether that be reduced offensive power, reduced range and/or mobility, or some other drawback. Overwatch has five tanks that fulfill this role, but they all do it in very different ways.

Reinhardt

Gigantic, clad in heavy armor and wielding a massive warhammer, one look at Reinhardt should dispel any notion that this character is a healer or a squishy sniper. Reinhardt's game is the most straightforward of any tank in Overwatch: absorb a ridiculous amount of damage and smash anything that comes in range of the hammer.

Reinhardt's shield, the best single defensive tool in the game, does have a major drawback in that it only appears in a small arc that's directly in front of him. This makes Reinhardt a valuable character when it comes to protecting a particular hero -- when Bastion is played, you'll tend to see a Reinhardt nearby -- or a particular space. It also makes Reinhardt vulnerable in more wide-open, dynamic situations.

When a payload is involved -- a very linear mode where you escort an object to a destination -- or a specific point needs to be defended, Reinhardt's a top tank. In a King of the Hill match, in which the action is more difficult to channel in a single direction, Reinhardt becomes a more challenging choice. In terms of matchups, while McCree finds it hard to deal with Reinhardt one-on-one, Pharah's rockets and Reaper's ability to choose the angle of short-range engagement are problematic for Reinhardt. Both of those characters are very popular.

Best Maps: King's Row, Dorado

Winston

Like Reinhardt, Winston is a tank with a short-range attack and a shield that can protect multiple team members. That's where the similarities end. Winston's Jump Pack gives him a significant measure of mobility, giving Winston a great degree of flexibility in how you use him; to compensate, his shield can't absorb as much damage as Reinhardt's. Both the Jump Pack and the Tesla Cannon give Winston more effective crowd-control abilities than the other tanks, expanding Winston's role significantly beyond turtling.

That's what makes Winston more popular than other tanks in those King of the Hill maps. Dynamic situations are where Winston fits best, as his bubble-shaped shield covers a full 360 degrees and his Tesla Cannon is effective against the quicker attackers (Tracer and Genji most notably). Need your tank to jump across the map and annoy the other team's back line? Looking to cause a bit of chaos? Winston's your choice. Sometimes, on Route 66, you'll see multiple Winstons.

Best Maps: Watchpoint: Gibraltar, Route 66

Roadhog

Roadhog describes himself in-game as a one-man apocalypse, and that about sums up his role.

Sheltering weaker support characters isn't Roadhog's function, as he has no damage-mitigation abilities. The way a Roadhog defends a team is indirectly; it's not by protecting his teammates from damage with some kind of shield, but by simply being a large target and keeping the other team at a distance. His ability to heal himself means that he can soak up a lot of damage, and the Chain Hook, which drags an opponent into close range, is devastating on a single target. In addition, the Chain Hook can interrupt a number of ultimates (Reaper, McCree, Pharah and other Roadhogs).

The downside is that he's the least-mobile tank, as even Reinhardt technically can charge in a straight line fairly quickly. Characters like Soldier: 76 and Junkrat are able to damage Roadhog at will without being in any danger from the Chain Hook or either of his Scrap Gun's firing modes. His lack of mobility and need for straight sightlines keep Roadhog, even as an offensive-minded tank, from having a role in many of the King of the Hill maps.

Best Maps: King's Row, Numbani

Zarya

Zarya is unusual in that, unlike the other tanks, you usually see her on offense at high levels of competitive play and not defense. While Zarya's personal shield and the one that she can project onto a teammate are powerful, they also only last for two seconds. To successfully use her damage mitigation, you need to be choosing when to engage rather than having the enemy come to you.

The short shield window makes Zarya good for coordinated attacks on choke points or for a general assault on an opposing team's position. Damage absorbed by her barriers in these attacks also serves to increase her damage output significantly, which is another factor that makes her ideal for offense. The Graviton Surge ultimate also comes with team-wipe potential given a bit of coordination, something all top teams have in ample supply.

Best Maps: King's Row, Hollywood

D.Va

Of the five heroes classified as tanks, D.Va is the only one that has yet to find a real role in competitive play outside of tactical moments when her mech's vertical mobility comes in handy. If you play mostly pub games and haven't watched much competitive Overwatch, this might come as a surprise.

D.Va's ability to act as a shock trooper, charging in quickly where most heroes can't, can easily cause disarray in the enemy line in lower level play. Against a pro, however, this tactic is harder to pull off and you're not going to successfully cap points by sending a couple D.Vas to skip through the battle. Even the Self-Destruct ultimate is only really going to clear a room temporarily rather than actually kill anybody; while that move has a tempo value -- forcing opponents to move behind obstructions rather than doing something useful for several seconds -- that's really not enough.

D.Va does a lot of things well, but there's no real set role in which she's amazing. Until she can fill a more specialized task, she's a pub hero and a comp zero.

Best Maps: Dorado, Hanamura