Learning Overwatch or any other competitive game is a never-ending process, and it can be easy to stray from the path! Especially for newer players, who might not have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, an unconventional FPS like Overwatch offers a bewildering variety of options and game systems. Fortunately, there are a few “best practice” tips that will help players of most any level to refine their play and reach a deeper understanding of the game, if properly implemented. In this article, I’ll offer a basic outline of a road to mastery; regardless of whether you’re a veteran of Beta or just started playing, follow me and we’ll climb together!
Master your Mentality
The most important factor in long-term improvement is having the right mindset. This has been thoroughly studied in the context of pro athletics, and the results are conclusive! Some take the wrong approach due to the obviousness of its appeal: too many players focus on their ELO or competitive rating, believing it to be the one indicator that matters. However, while skill rating is a good indicator of (mechanical) skill and game knowledge, it’s far from all that counts! Of course, I’m not saying that a bronze player belongs on a pro team. Rather, to be able to properly learn and grow you must learn to tune out the fluctuation of your competitive rating!
What you should do is instead focus yourself on improvement. Ignore your skill rating for the moment, at least for the first days or weeks. Just focus on your play and whatever you want to improve. If you do so, you’ll relieve the internal pressure of “needing” to achieve higher ratings and likely find yourself playing better as a result! Finally, you should try to use as little brainpower as possible on your teammates’ misplays: no matter what you do or say, it won’t make the mistake un-happen! Try either cheering them up so the team can forget about it and move on, or say nothing and focus on your own play, because that’s the only thing you have full control of in every game!
Identify Your Role
The next thing to do is decide what you want to be for your team. The meaning of this varies depending on what level you’re playing at: for higher-level players, this entails choosing the right hero based on the enemy composition, map choice, team synergy, etc. For newer players, this comes down to choosing a broadly defined role (or several roles) that you naturally prefer to play. In the latter case, you generally want to have a single main role that you focus on (at least initially). Why? Your main role is like your dominant hand. You always (or most of the time) do things with your dominant hand because you’re most adept with it. Sometimes you’ll have to use your off hand as a work around though, or simply because it’s needed!
Ditto Overwatch: you want to focus on a role (generally speaking Tank, projectile DPS, hitscan DPS, or Support) and play this for, let’s say, 70% of your games if possible. However this team-based game demands that you be able to adapt to the situation, which means a competent player should always be able to play at least two important heroes “off-role.” I’d recommend those “off-role” picks be heroes that are often relevant and needed, e.g. Reinhardt, Lucio, Ana, or Soldier:76 (depending on what you main of course), because your team will often lack one of these. Think about what role you want to main, but have a few “off-role” heroes ready that you can fall back on if your team really needs it!
For casual players it’s smart to stay focused on a few heroes and improve those first. This is the best way to achieve the best results with the minimum effort, because you don’t scatter your time trying to learn a bunch of different heroes. For hardcore players that strive to reach their maximum potential and are willing to put in the effort, I’d recommend learning entire role categories. For example, playing Soldier: 76, but also McCree, Tracer, and Sombra. Thus you are still a “hitscan DPS” main but can adjust to every situation with a diverse set of answers instead of a rather fixed one!
Set Your Goals
Now that you know what you want to improve on, it’s time to talk about how to do it! The most important thing is that you develop consistency, because only with consistency will you be able to sustain your ladder climb. Obviously everyone has bad days and games: don’t worry about these! I’m not advising you to become a cyborg (unless you get a McCree robot arm)! You always go into a game with a goal in mind; not just winning, but something more detailed and measurable. Let’s say you’ve decided to become a Reinhardt main. Your (personal) goal for the next few games is to save your team from enemy Earthshatters. Maybe you practice Mercy, and thus you want to improve on not getting caught out while you have Resurrection up.
These are goals you can try to practice on a daily basis. Once you feel like you’ve reached a goal, you set yourself a new one. How? Simply by figuring out what you need most! Sometimes it’s obvious; you got killed too many times that game because you were out of position, so that’s what you want to improve on later. Sometimes it’s harder though, especially the closer you come to perfecting your game! At high levels of play, every detail matters: but how do you remember those details? How do you know, after a long day of play, what you should focus on for next time?
Again: the newer you are to the game the better it is to start with simple goals, whether it’s dying as seldom as possible, staying with your teammates, or just getting better at aiming. Everyone starts small. The more experienced you get, the more complex your goals can become: for example focusing on Flashbang into headshotting a Tracer as McCree.
Reflect on Your Play
Reflecting on your performance is one of the key elements in the learning process, because if you’re not honest with yourself about what’s holding you back, you’ll only improve to a certain point and then be stuck! Self-examination is your greatest tool to set effective goals and see what you still need to hone your game. But how can you efficiently do that? What makes sense and what does not?
There are many ways to learn from your play, but obviously you want to choose one that suits you; it’s mainly a question of how much time and effort you’re able or willing to invest. For example, you could record your own gameplay and watch it afterwards to try and spot mistakes. It can be extremely beneficial to get an outsider’s perspective: let a friend do it, or even pay for a dedicated coach (I hear there’s a really cool website for that)! Most casual players don’t have the time or the experience to really get the most out of replay analysis alone. And remember, it doesn’t make sense to do analysis at the expense of practice; the main focus should always be on playing, because that’s where you actually apply the lessons learned!
I’ll recommend a strategy that I learned from Scarra, a well-known League of Legends streamer, former pro player, and coach. It’s pretty simple! After each game you write down, either in an spreadsheet, in a document, or on a piece of paper, the essential details of the game: what you played, whether you won or lost the game, and (most importantly) a small note as to what went wrong and right. This way you have a miniature “diary” of your games that you can refer to when deciding what to practice. This also lets you examine whatever patterns are emerging, because after a long evening of gaming you surely won’t remember what exactly went wrong in the game that you played four hours ago! Here’s a sample taken from Scarra’s stream:
Try to establish your own “diary” of this sort that helps you set goals and reflecting on what you do well and need to improve upon in each game. Once again, the same rule about play level applies: you should keep it simple at first, especially if you’re a newer player! The more you learn about yourself and about the game, the more detailed your data can become. For example, a high level player might track team composition, enemy counterpicks, and the map for each game they play!
Assemble the Puzzle
Now you’re familiar with the pieces of success: it’s up to you to match them! Use the knowledge you’ve gained to your advantage and start your adventure now! I know that you can climb the ladder with these techniques. But never forget what Overwatch is about in the end: fun! No matter how hard you work at improvement, always keep in mind that you should enjoy yourself. As soon as you stop doing that, take a break and do something else: clear your mind, watch a movie, go out, but don’t keep on playing – it will only make things worse.
All that said, I wish you best of luck on your journey and hope that these few points will help you all to reach your goals! If you enjoyed this article, check out my Profile and try a lesson with me!