Overwatch is a team-based shooter that includes 21 characters, each of whom handles completely differently from the rest. But the recently-launched title has a key difference from other team-based games — you can change characters at almost any time, and in fact, the key to winning is often in changing the character you’re playing as based on the situation you face.
Unfortunately, not everyone playing Overwatch gets that which characters you use together, or what situations you’re taking them into, is really, really important to winning. So you’ll often find yourself playing matches in which an attacking team has defense characters such as Torbjorn and Bastion, or a defending team that thinks it should definitely have three Genjis. With a few key tips, though, you and your teammates will be able to construct better teams with better success rates. It’s all about working together to amplify your characters’ strengths while covering their weaknesses.
Finding the winning combination
It’s not about you, it’s about the team
This isn’t Call of Duty. You’re not heading into a match trying to get the most ridiculous kill-to-death ratio you can scrounge up. This is Overwatch, and it’s about winning matches and playing smart. You might have the best twitch shooting skills of any human on the planet, but in Overwatch, they only go so far when you’re faced with a beefed-up, well-balanced squad. This isn’t a game about how great you are at shooting people. This is a game about teamwork.
And teamwork starts with character selection. Overwatch gives tips to players at the start of every match as they pick characters, suggesting that every team should have a tank and a support, and that defending teams need “builders” and snipers. They don’t — there are no real rules about what your team should and should not look like and a team of all the same character can be formidable, against all logic. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about those roles.
Teams that smartly combine characters always do better than teams that don’t. Tanks aren’t necessary for a team, but they can help draw fire from more vulnerable characters. Support isn’t essential, but you’re much more likely to survive a fight or two with someone backing you up.
Choose groups, not individuals
Your team has a Reinhardt. Their team has a Torbjorn. Who do you pick? Here’s a hint: Someone who goes good with Reinhardt, whose big tank shield is phenomenal for allowing characters with strong weapons to pick off stationary defenses. That means McCree, Pharah, Soldier: 76, Hanzo, or Widowmaker.
Every character in Overwatch has upshots and weaknesses, and the other people on your team are able to provide you with benefits if you pick the right characters to go with them. That means everyone does better if you match Winston with Mei than if you match Genji with defenders. Pick a character with a role in mind, and work together with your teammates to get each other’s backs.
You’re not as great a sniper as you think
Shooter players love sniping. Everybody thinks they’re going to be the sharpshooter hiding in the distance, picking off players at range and showing off their incredible skillz. Trouble is, Overwatch is a tough game for sniping in any case — its maps are generally pretty tight, basically in order to make sure snipers don’t become overpowering. Plus, most people are actually pretty bad at it, even though Overwatch is very forgiving with aiming.
Thus, many teams seem to wind up with players who think they’re going to be shouting “Boom! Headshot!” a lot. Those players are actually a drag on your team, particularly if they’re not actually that good. If you’re trying to snipe but you’re not pulling in kills or at least assists, you’re probably hurting your team more than helping — you’re not on the ground for major battles, you’re not contributing to kills, and you’re not contesting capture points. Bad snipers are like having a shorthanded team. Think twice before you add another Hanzo to the squad.
Defense needs damage
This is a common trap to fall into when defending. Everyone thinks they’ll post up a Torbjorn turret or zip up to a spectacular sniping spot. Here’s the trouble, though: Chances are very, very good that eventually, your defenses will crumble and you’ll be dealing with enemies actually standing on your capture point or rolling a payload toward a checkpoint. They might blow up a turret or blink past your front line, but sooner or later, you’ll need to repel an attack that’s at least moderately successful.
Tons of teams lose right here. Once their planned defenses are destroyed or circumvented, they’re not packing the power necessary to actually win a straight fight with their enemies. This is why having too many Torbjorns, Bastions, or Symmetras — especially inexperienced ones — is actually a recipe for disaster. A team heavy on defensive characters is usually lacking in damage dealers, and that means you’re much more likely to get overrun. Keep a D.Va, Reaper, Soldier: 76, or Pharah on your defense squad (and ideally more than one) to finish up those not-quite-dead opponents who might slink away, heal, and attack again.
If no one else is the healer, you are the healer
Especially close to launch, Overwatch is inundated with shooter fans who are trying a game that’s out of their comfort zone. Blizzard’s shooter tends to be more cooperative by a significant margin than other games of its ilk, but most players are used to military shooters, where twitch reaction and straight-up shooting skills are the order of the day. It might be that most players are used to running around alone in Call of Duty, but often teams will load out without a healer, and it’s always a mistake.
If your team doesn’t have a healer, suck it up and take the job. It’s always worth it. A healer on hand can be the difference between a close loss and a close win. Healing helps your teammates win more fights, and it can save people in those annoying moments when you beat one opponent, only to have a fresh one round the corner to finish you off. Teams that think they don’t need healers, by and large, don’t really get Overwatch.
What map you’re about to play is an essential element to choosing your team makeup. If the objective is enclosed in a tight indoor space, for instance, Pharah isn’t a super-great choice because her ability to hit people with rockets will probably be limited. Maps with a lot of cliffs and edges, on the other hand, are great for Pharah, Lucio, and Road Hog because they can push wayward players into the abyss. Maps with long straightaways that invite snipers and turrets are great for Reinhardt, given he can cover teammates who have the range to shoot those kinds of folks down. If you know you’re only attacking or defending capture points, Winston’s hit-and-run capabilities become much more useful.
Pick characters suited to your task
Some players really know how to apply Bastion effectively to every situation. They know how to deploy the robot who turns into a stationary turret to make him an effective helper even when you’re moving a payload across a map. That’s great. You do you.
But most of the time, picking Bastion for a payload attack level (or any attack level) is just a bad decision. Going Torbjorn midway through a losing fight as the other team is quickly moving the payload is another bad one. Some characters are better for attacking, some defending, some for payloads, some for control points. Consider how effective your characters will be at actually winning as you pick them.
Switch, switch, switch
Teams lose because they get stopped, they respawn, and they try the same plan again — over and over until the match ends. If you’re going up against a wall of ass-kicking you can’t seem to clear, change your strategy and characters. Overwatch is built around on-the-fly adjustments. Over-committing to a strategy that’s simply not paying off will lose you the match, and it’ll happen much faster than you expect. By the time you realize you need to switch to Tracer, for instance, it’s probably too late. Get in the habit of adjusting early.
Any character can be good if you’re contributing
This guide has made a lot about avoiding certain characters in certain situations, but the truth is that any character can be a great addition to a team in Overwatch — provided you’re thinking about how you can contribute to the team when you play. This mental framework is key to victory, because the collective is much more important than the individual. So if you think you can get way ahead of the payload and snipe the crap out of your opponents as they spawn, go for it. If you and two buddies know that your three-Genji squad is a force to be feared, use it. Just think before you leap — and make changes if your great idea isn’t working out.
Effective, readymade loadouts
Need to throw an effective team together in a hurry? Here are a few useful combinations.
Team Ol’ Standby
Characters: Reinhardt, Soldier: 76, Mercy, Tracer, Reaper, Another Soldier
You’ll get a lot of utility out of a team that sticks together with a Reinhardt and backs each other up. Soldier: 76 is great for shooting through Reinhardt’s shield to take out turrets and approaching threats, while avoiding any damage at all. Mercy can spot-heal or, even better, amp up Soldier’s firepower for even more devastation. Meanwhile, Tracer and Reaper are on harassment duty. Tracer should be the visible annoyance that flits around the enemy team’s backs, shooting them and drawing their attention away from the main force, while Reaper sneaks up behind and eliminates support characters or wounded fighters.
Team Wrecking Crew
Characters: McCree, Lucio, Soldier: 76, D.Va, Reaper, Winston
Function: Emergency, team-wiping operations
When you need to kill folks — like in those last few meters before the payload gets where it’s going — consider a damage-dealing powerhouse of a team. The mix of offense characters here lets you quickly take out enemy players, while still spacing out enough that you (hopefully) won’t get immediately flattened by a big ultimate like Pharah’s rocket barrage or Junk Rat’s riptire. Lucio’s function is to spam heals while supporting with light damage, Reaper should be teleporting around trying to get behind the main thrust of the enemy team and mop them up, and McCree and Soldier are great for supporting D.Va’s short-range guns with long-range punishment. Then, add Winston running around drawing fire, dropping shields, and generally being a menace.
That Team That Kills You From Somewhere Else
Characters: Torbjorn, Symmetra, Zenyatta, Hanzo/Widowmaker, D.Va, Tracer
When you’re trying to deny the enemy access to a specific location, smart combinations of Torbjorn, Symmetra, a sniper, and Zenyatta can be devastating. Put Torbjorn’s turret in a smart, out-of-the-way place where it’s hard to snipe but provides good coverage on the objective. Use Symmetra to hide a bunch of turrets in the map’s “back door” path to the objective to stop the likes of Genji, Tracer, or Reaper from sneaking up on you. Keep Zenyatta out of the way to drop Discord Orbs on big enemies as they come into the kill zone of your defenses. Use snipers to keep the enemy on their back foot as they approach, and harass them the whole way to the objective with Tracer or a similar damage dealer. Just be careful on this one — if your defenses fail, you’ll need to fully support D.Va’s front-line fighting efforts.
Team Really Annoying Guys
Characters: Pharah, Mercy, Junk Rat, McCree, Road Hog, Soldier: 76
Function: Defense/point capture
Taking over and holding a capture point is best done with overwhelming force. Teams often like to throw a Pharah and a Junk Rat into both attack and defense, because rockets and grenades tend to mess opponents up before they even realize they’re getting crushed. You can take that idea to the next level with a solid mix of range and damage-dealing to make it more difficult for players trying to hold a specific location. Keep Mercy boosting and following Pharah for max rocket punishment, have Junk Rat fill the control point with explosive death, and use McCree and Soldier to knock off anyone who takes damage. Junk Rat’s traps and Road Hog’s hooks are great for taking troublesome characters out of the equation, and a well-played Road Hog is tough to kill.
- XCOM 2 beginner’s guide
- Overwatch 2: Everything we know about the release date, new heroes, and more
- Valorant character guide: All agents and abilities explained
- Outriders review: Thrilling action makes up for a flat sci-fi story
- The best tower defense games