Defense Heroes: Why Theory Doesn't Always Matter
The Class Reddit Loves to Hate
On 75% of maps in Overwatch, there is a designated defending side, especially in professional play with the tendency to stay away from King of the Hill, the time spent on maps with defending teams is even higher. However, the defense class of heroes is the most underrepresented class in Overwatch while also occupying some of the lowest win rates. This class has some key weaknesses that are often oversimplified.
In order to establish common ground for discussion of defense heroes in Overwatch, I’m going to lay out some fundamentals of how the class and each hero should be played. I’ve already discussed support and tank heroes here, while an article on offense heroes is coming soon.
The Theory is Sound
According the Blizzard, the definition of the defense class is heroes who excel at “guarding locations, creating chokepoints, and preventing objectives from being taken.” Initially, this all sounds great. However, we are going to be more specific. Defense heroes are designed around making it difficult for an enemy to approach an area of the map. This can be accomplished by several methods depending on the hero, but this is the core concept of how defense heroes operate in Overwatch.
And my Turret!
The bane of console players and noobs everywhere, Torbjorn has the second strongest defense kit in the game and is one of the defense heroes that does see occasional play. The dwarven engineer enjoys a strangely snowbally kit.
The first strength Trob has when defending is his Rivet gun, notably it’s two alternate fire modes. The combination of a long range left click with a short range right click allows him to harass foes to build ultimate charge and finish them off when they get too close. Being effective at all ranges is unique in this category of heroes and contributes to Torbjorn’s ability to control zones of the map.
The most underappreciated part of Torbjorn’s kit is his E: Armor Up. Armor Up is one reason why he is such a snowbally defense hero. If Torbjorn and his team manage to win the first fight, by skill or using map advantages, then Torb can grant several members of his team 75 armor. When thrown onto supports or most offensive heroes, they gain an effective 37.5% health increase. This means that the vulnerable members of the defending team are now significantly more difficult to take down. Especially when used on your healers, it aids them in staying alive to sustain the rest of the squad and makes the defending team much harder to uproot from the point.
Obviously, you can’t talk about Torbjorn without talking about his turret. A defining characteristic of his kit is also one of the worst. The turret does add another dimension to the defense’s crossfire and provides a slight damage increase. Another redeeming factor of the turret is that it does require the enemy team to deal with it. The unerring accuracy and consistent dps means that eventually it will begin to rack up kills if unanswered.
However, the turret is easy to destroy. It requires lots of time to set up, is immobile, and the rate at which Torbjorn can repair it is much lower than many heroes put out. When standing behind a Reinhardt shield, any hero in the game can easily dispatch it and once dispatched, it requires lots of time to build again.
The one hero who actually struggles quite a lot with the turret in a one-on-one situation is Tracer. From long or medium range, the turret will actually out dps the Tracer who needs to be up close. But once she closes the gap, she finds that her 150 health gets taken out in 11 rounds from the turret, which takes place in less than three seconds. Whereas to deal 300 damage to the turret, it requires her to empty an entire magazine, without missing any rounds, reload and empty another ten rounds into the turret. Tracer cannot take the turret down mano-e-mano and requires using her Rewind to heal, which makes her vulnerable.
Now we get to the best ability Torbjorn has: Molten Core. Obviously, most heroes in Overwatch have strong ultimates, but few tie together a kit quite like Molten Core. This ultimate contributes to Torbjorn’s ability to snowball a defense. If his team can win the initial engagement, the ultimate charge Torbjorn gains from dealing damage and then supporting his team with armor will oftentimes grant him Molten Core for the second fight.
When Molten Core is activated, it massively powers up both Torbjorn and his turret. Their firerates are increased and his turret now fires a few rockets every second as well. The turret gains 500 health and Torb finds himself 300 health worth of armor. At 800 health, the buffed turret is the second highest health entity in the game, second only to Primal Rage’d Winston. The sheer health pool and massive damage output both the turret and Torbjorn enjoy can singlehandedly carry the second engagement for the defending team.
In the scenario where the attacking team lost the first engagement, they will not have the ultimates to deal with Torbjorn the second time around. Depending on the map, a free teamfight win can allow Torbjorn and his squad to delay the enemy by anywhere from 30 seconds to a full minute. Especially in professional play, where stopwatch rules affect the outcome of payload maps, this can be the difference between a won or lost match.
Creating Funnels with Bombs
If you think wild animals in Australia are scary, then Junkrat must be terrifying. Hailing from the Outback, the radiation altered his mind and transformed him into a maniac with a knack for explosives. His newfound affinity for bombs is what makes him such a powerful defensive hero.
Hitscan heroes like McCree and Soldier crave chokepoints, areas of the map where enemies are forced into narrow corridors which increases the odds of hitting their marks. Often times in Overwatch, there are more than one way to approach any given point. As such, true chokepoints are rarer than they are in other FPS games, like Counter-Strike.
However, Junkrat has the ability to confine the space available to approaching teams, my favorite example being Dorado. Defending teams often hold in the courtyard and concede the initial streets phase, and as such, the first point of real contact is at the bridge where the attacking team needs to push under.
This is normally a wide area with room for players to walk on either side of the payload and provides the attacking damage dealers space to capitalize on the cover and healing provided by the payload. In addition to the straightforward path, it’s also not uncommon for Genji or Reaper to go up to the side of the bridge and fire down upon the defenders from a covered high ground position.
But Junkrat has other ideas. By alternating his fire between one side of the payload and the side of the bridge, he can cut off half of the primary approach path and the side path. Now this may seem confusing, as Junkrat has a low rate of fire, however this low rate of fire is actually how he applies pressure.
It is up to the player to vary the rate of fire and how many rounds get sent in each direction at any given time. Even reloading at different amounts of rounds left can help. This is all in an effort to make it unpredictable when the next grenade is going to come flying in. This randomness makes it difficult for the enemy team to approach through the area as any squishy heroes who enter at the wrong moment can lose 60% of their health instantly.
This pressure can effectively funnel an enemy team into a corridor with the threat of death, allowing for the hitscan heroes to rain damage. Even the current supports with their projectile weapons benefit from corridors, as their slow moving bullets become harder to dodge, charging their meta defining ultimates quicker.
AWP is Still OP in Overwatch
The most played defensive hero in professional Overwatch is still Widowmaker. With unrivaled range, she controlled lines of sight and threatened her enemies with instant death. However, Hanzo also provides long range sniping but suffers a much lower pick rate despite bringing many similar strengths.
While Widow and Hanzo share many aspects of their kits, Widow just does it all a bit better. Hanzo has a significant flight time on his arrows where Widowmaker’s bullets are instant, which actually rewards good aim and makes her damage more reliable. The other overlooked aspect that makes her damage more reliable is her ability to zoom. It makes it easier for Widow to hit her targets by increasing their size on the screen. The zoom and bullet speed together both lower her skill floor and raise her skill ceiling, making it easier to hit her targets while further amplifying a skilled player's ability.
Widowmaker is also more mobile than Hanzo. They both possess the ability to reach high ground to neutralize a defense's advantage, but Hanzo can only climb vertically. He requires being in physical contact with the surface he wants to climb, whereas Widowmaker can grapple to any ledge in range. Bringing her dimension out of a 2D plane and into a 3D area allows her to better evade flankers like Tracer and Genji.
But the biggest edge Widowmaker has over Hanzo as a defensive hero is her ultimate. The largest advantage the offense has in Overwatch is their ability to be unpredictable. The defense is reliant on holding a control point or preventing a push, but the offense has more room to play. They can utilize multiple angles of attack to overwhelm a defense, but Widowmaker changes that.
Her ultimate reveals all enemies you can’t see through walls. This eliminates the attackers ability to sneak around the map, as you can clearly see their approach. The absolute information provided by her ultimate allows her team to play proactively instead of reactively. Playing proactively is always preferred because it allows more time for decision making instead of having to make snap calls when you are acted upon, and as such, Widowmaker fills the role of a defensive hero better than Hanzo.
All I do is Spray, Spray, Spray no Matter What
Now we get to the worst defense kit in the game, belonging to none other than Bastion. Reddit loves to complain about how difficult it is to beat a Bastion because of his damage output. But if you complain about Bastion, all it shows me is your lack of creativity. In order for Bastion to access his damage, which is the highest dps in the game, he has to root himself in place.
Because he is forced to stay in one spot while in sentry mode, it creates one massive vulnerability, quite simply, being that in such a mobile game like Overwatch he can’t move. The forced immobility restricts the player's knowledge because their vision picture can’t change. This lack of information combined with the mobility available to many heroes in Overwatch makes it easy for a creative player to prey on a Bastion.
On paper, controlling a line of sight with unrivaled damage does sound good. However, the way in which Bastion does his damage combined with his low mobility highlights the issue that all defensive heroes in Overwatch share: the inability to deal with the mobility in Overwatch.
Where the Theory Goes to Shit
If you were to copy paste any Overwatch defensive hero into CS:GO, they would all be incredibly useful when defending, except Bastion and his vulnerability to the AWP. But the critical issue is simply the speed at which an attacking team can approach the defending team, eliminating the advantage of holding positions. Many heroes like Genji or Winston can easily use their jumps to nullify advantages held by defending teams. Even worse is Lucio, who empowers his entire team and enables far less mobile heroes like McCree the ability to close with a defending team and take a fight on even ground.
The ability to quickly cover ground lessens or even nullifies the usefulness of zoning done by heroes like Torbjorn or Junkrat. As I mentioned before, the way Bastion does his damage is also a weakness. Bastion often just doesn’t have the time to cut down enemy players before they reach him. This does leave out Widowmaker and Hanzo, however, both of whom only need one good shot to cut someone down.
Because of the abundance of healing in Overwatch, poking can often seem futile. Unless you kill a player before their healers notice, the damage isn’t worth much more than a few extra points to build your ultimate charge. However, Hanzo and Widowmaker both can do just that from extreme range. With a well placed shot, you can force the enemy team to delay their push because they now find themselves at a man disadvantage.
But now we get to the other big reason defensive heroes in Overwatch suck: Reinhardt. The internet’s favorite German grandfather leads teams into battle behind his massive shield. His shield is easily in my top-five strongest abilities in the game, and possibly in the top-three. It’s a meta defining ability and forces the enemy team to play an entirely different game.
While Reinhardt has his shield available, his entire team can walk forward with impunity, completely protected from enemy attacks. In order to assail a team properly, you must break down their Rein’s shield first and, simply put, defensive heroes do that poorly. Their damage often requires a lengthy setup and instead it is more effective to have a McCree or Soldier destroy the shield. Both of whom, in addition to dealing damage more effectively, have the tools in their kits to deal with mobility of the game.
Mei Truly is Bae
So now we get to Mei. I purposely haven’t grouped her in with the rest of the defensive cast as she is an exception to their weaknesses. As the strongest defense kit in the game, she feels like the only defensive hero designed with the game Overwatch in mind. She is the only hero that actually restricts the attacking team's movement instead of just threatening them with some inconsequential damage.
Mei’s greatest strength lies in her Ice Wall and she can use it to great effect, making Trump proud. This ability is on a short ten second cooldown, and as such, generates a very real pressure onto an attacking team. Especially in areas such as Numbani point A or Hanamura point A, Mei can very simply punish attacking teams with her wall. When the enemy team begins to surge through a chokepoint, she can simply place the wall in their midst.
This splits the enemy team in two, often separating the backline from the fight and leaving the frontline stranded. The backline in this meta is comprised of Lucio, Zenyatta, and often a McCree, none of whom have the ability to scale the wall Mei has made, which leaves the tanks in the front line without healing.
This does two critical things, first of which, is it leaves Reinhardt vulnerable. When a team is attacking a point, inevitably Reinhardt is at the forefront soaking damage for his team. Now without his healers and missing the damage heroes he is supposed to protect, Rein becomes a useless pile of hitpoints. Being isolated by Ice Wall gives the defending team an extra four and a half seconds to tear down his shield and eliminates the primary advantage of playing a Reinhardt when attacking.
The second key aspect of the wall is that it wastes Lucio’s speed boost. As the most powerful ability in the game, Amp it Up needs to be dealt with and Ice Wall is one of the only ways to do so. When you throw the wall into the enemy team, or even in all six players faces, you prevent them from utilizing the speed to close the distance and take a more even fight. This negates any momentum the attacking team has, and denies a considerable portion of their mobility, creating space for the defending team to work.
So What Now?
We’re in a strange world where the heroes tagged as defense are actually supbar at defending. This isn’t for any weaknesses in their kits however. As I’ve laid out here, each hero has definite strengths that make them ideal candidates for holding areas of a map in any normal FPS game. But in Overwatch, they suffer because of the mobility available, rendering their zone control useless and the strength of Reinhardt making poke inconsequential.
I can see the theory behind each defensive hero and I agree that it’s valid. But I can’t help but feel that Blizzard designed them in a vacuum, ignoring the rest of the game, except for Mei, who still can thrive in the current environment of Overwatch. If you want my advice, play more Mei and Roadhog on defense.
For now, if we want to see defense heroes thrive, they will need reworking to fit Overwatch better; buffs to deal an unreasonable amount of damage like pre-nerf Widowmaker, or have the mobility available to attacking teams tuned down. I’m curious to see if Blizzard will do any of these, but for now, we have to live with a subpar defensive class.