I Want to Break Free: Escaping ELO Hell

A common complaint in the e-sports community is that team matchmaking traps solo players in “ELO Hell,” from which there is supposedly no escape. But what exactly is ELO Hell? In Overwatch, the term refers to the bottom half of the competitive ladder (Bronze, Silver, and Gold) where people have trouble getting their team to work together. With six players on each side, there’s only so much that you, a mere 16% of your team, can do alone! At some point, even the best player will inevitably discover that he or she simply cannot carry a game solo and needs the help of others to win. Unfortunately, many people in the lower leagues of matchmaking (and the higher ones as well!) either don’t know how to assist the team or simply don’t care enough to work together. At the same time, it’s not always the team’s fault and you shouldn’t be too quick to blame others when you may be tackling the game in the wrong way! With all that said, I’d like to share a few thoughts that might help those finding it hard to identify what’s holding them back!

Essential Tech

There are two game settings that should absolutely be enabled for anyone attempting to play Overwatch seriously. The first is the Kill Feed, which can be located by going to:

Options → Gameplay → Kill Feed Display → ON

Kill Feed Setting

The Kill Feed is a great tool: it extends your map awareness by notifying you not only when important enemies are brought down but how many teammates have fallen in the fight without needing to look around. When the opposing Reinhardt, Ana, or McRee is slain, it signifies a major window of opportunity during which you can contest the objectives or pursue regrouping foes! It also can tell you when a fight may already be lost, signaling when you should retreat or suicide to regroup faster for the next push.

The second game setting that every player should at least consider using is Allied Health Bar display. This can be found at:

Options → Controls → Hero → Allied Health Bars → ON

Allied Health Bars Setting

Some may consider Allied Health Bars optional if you refuse to play any healing classes, but it’s an amazing tool no matter which hero you’re currently using. It lets you assess with a single glance whether your ally is feeling healthy enough to help you in an impromptu ambush, whether or not they’re ready to go back into the fight, or whether they need your help to stay alive.

The Right Hero for the Job

I could write an entire book about which heroes are best in certain situations, but I’ll do my best to keep this brief. In Quick Play, feel free to play whatever you want, whenever you want if you so choose. It’s one of the best places to try and learn new heroes! However, once you hit competitive, you should pick your hero strategically. Try to keep these three things in mind:

  • Complementing your team’s composition. For example, Reinhardt is a very strong tank that is excellent on both Offense and Defense and is fantastic at helping your team get through hotly contested choke points. However, he can’t do it alone and needs people to group up with him and shoot behind his shield to be effective! If you look at your team and have some combination of Soldier, Mcree, Zenyatta, Roadhog, Mei, and even Hanzo, then you’ve got excellent heroes to stick with you and use your shield to it’s fullest extent! However, if your DPS is Pharah, Genji, Tracer then who is likely to stick behind and use your shield? It might be better to go DVA or Winston instead and compliment that highly-mobile composition!


  • Countering the enemy team’s composition. During the first engagement of the game, you’re quickly going to find out which heroes on the opposing team are going to cause you trouble. Is Pharah in the air uncontested and you lack a hitscan hero to keep her at bay? Go Soldier or McRee! Is there a Bastian or Torbjörn Turret that’s being ignored that no one can seem to kill? Flank with Genji, Tracer, or spam from range with Pharah! Is there a pesky Tracer that is harassing your healers? Let’s see how she likes it when it’s High Noon and you make sure to save your flashbang for after she blinks within range!
  • Taking advantage of the map layout. Some heroes are fantastic at one part of a map, but not great in other parts. Don’t be afraid to switch when the scenery changes! Junkrat is pretty effective defense on the first point of Dorado, as there are several chokepoints where he can spam his grenades, set traps, and dish out the damage! Once they cap that point though, he’s not nearly as good on the second point which is more wide open and has less chokepoints. Perhaps consider switching to a Hitscan that can take advantage of the new high ground, or a character that counters the opposing team’s composition better. If you’re on attack, don’t be Torbjorn or Symmetra. Please: your team will thank you.

Know your Role

Many heroes match up well against or at least partially counter other heroes. You should try to keep aware of this and target heroes you’re favored against, avoiding those that are favored against you. For example, if you’re McRee or Soldier and the enemy has a Pharah, you should be looking at ways to keep her pressured and scared to fly! After all, there isn’t anything that your allied Reinhardt, Reaper, or Zarya can do about her. Even worse – if you ignore Pharah, she’s free to harass your teammates uncontested! If you’re Winston, you should target 200 health heroes (especially the supports) and jump back to your healers when you’re low. Don’t go anywhere near DVA, Reaper, or Roadhog!

Recognize the Problem

So you’ve tried taking into consideration the first few things on this list, but things still don’t seem to be working out. Try to understand why! Think back: did you simply make a positioning mistake last push? Then maybe no deeper change is needed than being more careful. But was your team sitting at low health way too long and losing fights because of it? Perhaps you need another healer. Are enemies not dying quickly enough? It might take more thinking to figure out why! Are their healers uncontested and healing them nonstop? Go flank with Tracer or Genji and make sure your team focuses the high-value targets! Do you lack shield damage and their Reinhardt is blocking everything you’re trying? Soldier, DVA, and especially Roadhog can help! Is there someone on the high ground that no one can get to? Genji, Winston, and DVA can fix that problem!

Objective Gaming

This Ain’t Team Deathmatch, Kid

Overwatch is an objective-based game. Objectives don’t care that you’re gold on eliminations or that you’ve only died once. Your Kill:Death ratio is meaningless here. The only thing that matters is capturing or defending objectives via winning teamfights. Because of this, not all kills are equal! If you get three kills after your team already lost the teamfight, this is nowhere near as valuable as killing one Mercy at the start of a fight. Taking out a key healer prevents them from keeping their team topped off and resurrecting fallen friends to sustain a push. That one kill is more impactful than the theoretical triple-kill, since it much more significantly impedes the opponents’ ability to control the objectives.

Similarly, it might be tempting to play Widowmaker or Hanzo because you can pick off enemies from the relative safety from afar. In the context of competitive play, however, if it’s not helping to win teamfights, your nine kills and zero deaths may as well be zero kills and nine deaths. Any kill secured after a fight is already lost is negligible in most circumstances, since the person you killed will be back before the next teamfight happens. However, if you can snipe an important enemy player as your team is pushing in, then you have a six-versus-five numbers advantage that could snowball into a team wipe! Taking down key targets when the all-important teamfight occurs is what you should strive for.

The Buddy System

As discussed before, you’re only 16% of your team and there’s only so much you can theoretically do! Sometimes your team will be lacking in multiple areas, and you can only play one role at a time. You have no control over whether you are matched with five DPS players, four Support players, or just the dreaded Symmetra main. However, if you queue with a friend (preferably of similar rank) that can be relied on to play a role to compliment yours, then you guarantee that you have confidence in two different roles. Try to cover all three primary roles between the two of you (DPS, tank, and healer) so that you can fill in the biggest gaps in your team composition when your teammates select their roles. Be wary of queuing with larger groups as the matchmaking tries to queue you up against another similarly sized stack of players, unless you are very confident or want to seriously practice!

Communication is Key

This is the single most important part of this guide! Please don’t underestimate the importance of communication in this game. Most of the time, it isn’t a compositional problem that keeps teams in ELO Hell: it’s poor teamwork brought on by complete lack of communication. The biggest difference between the lower and higher tiers on the ladder is how quiet voice chat is! A matchup between two evenly skilled and experienced teams will be generally decided by whichever one works together best. A single person helping organize a public team and give out information before, during, and after fights can dominate the other team simply due to the improved overall efficiency. The others don’t even need to talk for this to have a huge effect in-game! Make sure that if you group with someone, you both join Team Voice Chat so that you’re not just talking to yourselves! You can do this once you’ve found a match by selecting ESC → Social → Groups and clicking the blue Headset icon next to the blue box labeled Team.

Team Voice Chat

Chances are, at low ranks no one taking charge and helping to lead the team as a shotcaller. That’s why you have to make it YOU. However, you need to have the right attitude to do so effectively. If you start the game off by ordering XxSniperXSlasherxX to jump off Junkrat and go Lucio, or by insulting someone for disagreeing with you, then you’re not going to earn the respect of anyone on your team and they’re won’t listen to you. You need a positive attitude to be an effective leader – and you need to accept the fact that not everyone is going to do what you say. That’s OK! You can still make suggestions on hero picks and strategies, but don’t be upset if they don’t listen. Try to work with and make the best out of what you have.

Try in particular to communicate things like:

  • where the enemy is when they try to flank
  • when and where they look like they’re going to push in
  • when you die / who killed you / where you were
  • what the team should do to counter a particular problem you’re facing
  • when and where to group up
  • when and how you’re going to use your Ultimate
  • who to target and focus down on the enemy team

This seems like a lot, but take on just one or two of these items to start and make them a priority to effectively communicate to your teammates! Remember though, allied attention is limited: keep your messages brief and to the point!

Take Five

Sometimes you run into a streak of poor luck, or maybe a single unpleasant experience that puts you in a bad mood. Don’t continue playing if you’re not thinking clearly, or you’ll find yourself making silly mistakes that cost you even more games! Take a break: watch a show or movie, go outside, or do something else for a while, then come back to the game once you’ve cleared your head. This is obvious advice, but you might be surprised how much of a difference it makes in your gameplay and overall experience!

Play of the Game

Overall, the journey out of ELO Hell is going to be different for everyone. Some will never be affected, while others may be trapped for months on end. Some players scoff at the very idea, while others feel unable to enjoy the game due to the experience. However with enough patience and the right attitude, you will eventually find yourself climbing in rank – and becoming a better player for it!

Thanks for reading, and I hope that these tips help you understand how to take on ELO Hell and pave the path into the higher ranks above! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to e-mail me at OverwatchTactic@gmail.com, and you can book your own personal lessons with me (either individually or for your entire team) right here at GamerSensei!