With the Overwatch League Playoffs starting today, I decided to write up a basic guide for understanding Overwatch compositions. You only need a cursory understanding of the different heroes in Overwatch which you can get from playing the game a little or googling their different abilities and ults. This article is meant to give a broad overview of how I categorize and model the different Overwatch team compositions. The first point idea I will explain is the front line and the back line.
The American Football Analogy
Among all of the esports I watch, Overwatch is most like the NFL in the way the team is structured. For those who don’t know, American Football teams can be designated into two different lines, the front line and the back line. The front line is filled with incredibly strong durable players that can either break through the opposing front line or defend their own. The back line is the quarterback, running back, receivers, tight ends, safeties, and cornerbacks. Basically they use the space given to them by their front line to make the plays whether on the offense or defence.
Much like NFL, there is no good team that has any single section lagging far behind. If you don’t have a strong front line, then you get the L.A. Gladiators from the first stage. If you don’t have incredible DPS players then you’re the Houston Outlaws. If you don’t have strong support players, then you can go 0-40 like the Shanghai Dragons. The game hits a fine balance between strategy, team identity, and individual skill. A player is most likely to shine from the DPS role, but two of the biggest MVPs of this season were from the tank and support line: Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek and Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang respectively.
With this concept in mind, I will now describe the four broad categories I put Overwatch Compositions into: Dive, Poke, Anti Dive, and Deathball.
Dive is the most aptly named composition in Overwatch. The premise is as the name suggests, you dive into the enemy team and take them out. The usual staple of composition includes: Genji, Tracer, Winston, D.Va, Zenyatta, and Mercy. The core of the composition is Tracer, Winston, and D.Va. The reason being that they are incredibly mobile heroes that have can put high pressure on the enemy backline and disengage when needed.
Beyond that there are multiple variations depending on team composition, map, and style of play. In general, the team wants to put on a high amount of pressure and find/create openings to get kills or win team fights. The team composition can also sub in Widowmaker or Pharah into the composition, in which case they gain more vertical mobility for maps that call for it.
This composition is heavily favored by the Korean teams and it’s something that was mastered by the Boston Uprising in Stage 3. It was once the alpha and omega of all compositions and something every team could fall back to like a default setup in CS:GO. Since the introduction of Brigitte, the dive compositions are no longer both the question and the answer, but just one among many answers that have to be cycled out depending on what you are facing. In general this style is fairly effective against the Poke comp.
Poke, Pick, and Chip
The idea of this composition is usually straightforward. In my mind, I call it the World War 1 style of play. Much like World War 1 warfare, a team sets up a defensive line with Orisa. Then the DPS heroes of Widowmaker, Hanzo, Junkrat, or Pharah go to town trying to take out or wear down the other team. It essentially comes down to mathematics.
For instance if the poke comp is using two snipers like Widowmaker and Hanzo, they can either immediately kill an enemy opposing hero and force them to regroup or wait for the Mercy Resurrection (in which case they get more time to take pot shots at the enemy team), or they try to outpace the healing output of the enemy team until their own team has a decisive advantage. The same applies to when Pharah or Junkrat is used instead.
Anti Dive compositions before Stage 4 have generally been using the same types of comps of the dive or poke compositions except that they played out the game in a stylistically different manner. In Stage 4 onwards though, I’ve come to associate anti dive with Brigitte, Zenyatta, and Mercy. These three make the core of the composition and it becomes more variable as to how the rest of the team composition comes together.
The reason Brigitte is now the anti dive composition is because she is literally the anti-matter to the matter of dive. Whatever they want to do she counters. When the dive team wants to jump and kill the back line, she is there to pocket and zone the supports. When they want to use their mobility to disengage, she can stun them and then the rest of the team can kill the hero who overstepped their bounds. Finally she can disrupt ultimates which is always an incredible skill to have.
From that point, there are a bunch of variations I’ve seen with the rest of the composition. You can go for a Wombo Combo like Zarya and Hanzo. Or play a more conservative tanks with Reinhardt and D.Va. You can also combine it with the dive comp and create a half/half mixture using Winston/D.Va and one of Widowmaker or Tracer.
In my mind I call this composition the Protoss Deathball. It works in a similar fashion in this game as well. The idea is you get an unkillable deathball and then have it slam into the enemy opponent. In Overwatch this composition consists of Reinhardt, Zarya, D.Va, Brigitte, Moira, and Lucio. In past iterations it included Sombra instead of Brigitte. In either case the composition plays it exactly as you imagine.
The entire team tries to crunch together into as small a ball as possible. The team then smashes into the enemy team and with Moira and Lucio providing area of effect heals, you end up running over the enemy team. Hence deathball.
The “Rat” or Back Cap
The final thing I will talk about is what I call “Rat Overwatch”. So named after a legendary story from Dota 2. Years ago in the nascent stages of Dota 2 there was a game between Fnatic and Virtus.Pro. Essentially what Fnatic did was avoid all team fights. Instead of engaging in a 5v5 fight they’d have four player stall out the team fight while their fifth played on the other side of the map taking down towers and pushing into the base. In the end the entire Virtus.Pro base was destroyed without a single huge fight happening.
The Fnatic team were like rats on a ship. Every time you weren’t looking they’d chew holes in the ship. Every time you tried to confront the rats they’d scurry away and you couldn’t find them. Hence the term rat dota was formed.
In a similar sense, there are rat players in the Overwatch League. It’s more commonly known as a back capture or “back cap”. It is essentially splitting your forces into a 5-1 split to get the objective across the line or split the enemy team. The player I’ve come to associate this the most with is Simon “snillo” Ekstrom from the Philadelphia Fusion. When he was fielded he played deep behind enemy lines planning to backstab them. Though I doubt he will be fielded in the playoffs, this is a good idea to know of as you will see some iteration of it at some point.
These are the basic ideas I’ve come to use to analyze and model Overwatch. As the playoffs are starting soon, hopefully any new viewers can find this will have a better grasp of what is happening in the bigger picture and from there can enjoy the more minute details of the game, teams, and players.