Defense Heroes: Why Theory Doesn’t Always Matter

In order to establish common ground for discussing defensive heroes in Overwatch, I lay out some fundamentals of how they work and their current shortcomings.

The Class Reddit Loves toHate

On 75% of maps in Overwatch,there is a designated defending side, especially inprofessional play with the tendency to stay away from King of theHill, the time spent on maps with defending teams is even higher.However, the defense class of heroes is the most underrepresentedclass in Overwatch while also occupying some of the lowest winrates. This class has some key weaknesses that are oftenoversimplified.

In order to establish commonground for discussion of defense heroes in Overwatch, I’mgoing to lay out some fundamentals of how the class and each heroshould be played. I’ve already discussed support and tankheroes here, while anarticle on offense heroes is coming soon.

The Theory is Sound

According the Blizzard, thedefinition of the defense class is heroes who excel at“guarding locations, creating chokepoints, and preventingobjectives from being taken.” Initially, this all soundsgreat. However, we are going to be more specific. Defense heroesare designed around making it difficult for an enemy to approach anarea of the map. This can be accomplished by several methodsdepending on the hero, but this is the core concept of how defenseheroes operate in Overwatch.

And my Turret!

The bane of console players andnoobs everywhere, Torbjorn has the second strongest defense kit inthe game and is one of the defense heroes that does see occasionalplay. The dwarven engineer enjoys a strangely snowballykit.

The first strength Trob has whendefending is his Rivet gun, notably it’s two alternate firemodes. The combination of a long range left click with a shortrange right click allows him to harass foes to build ultimatecharge and finish them off when they get too close. Being effectiveat all ranges is unique in this category of heroes and contributesto Torbjorn’s ability to control zones of the map.

The most underappreciated partof Torbjorn’s kit is his E: Armor Up. Armor Up is one reasonwhy he is such a snowbally defense hero. If Torbjorn and his teammanage to win the first fight, by skill or using map advantages,then Torb can grant several members of his team 75 armor. Whenthrown onto supports or most offensive heroes, they gain aneffective 37.5% health increase. This means that the vulnerablemembers of the defending team are now significantly more difficultto take down. Especially when used on your healers, it aids them instaying alive to sustain the rest of the squad and makes thedefending team much harder to uproot from the point.

Obviously, you can’t talkabout Torbjorn without talking about his turret. A definingcharacteristic of his kit is also one of the worst. The turret doesadd another dimension to the defense’s crossfire and providesa slight damage increase. Another redeeming factor of the turret isthat it does require the enemy team to deal with it. The unerringaccuracy and consistent dps means that eventually it will begin torack up kills if unanswered.

However, the turret is easy todestroy. It requires lots of time to set up, is immobile, and therate at which Torbjorn can repair it is much lower than many heroesput out. When standing behind a Reinhardt shield, any hero in thegame can easily dispatch it and once dispatched, it requires lotsof time to build again.

The one hero who actuallystruggles quite a lot with the turret in a one-on-one situation isTracer. From long or medium range, the turret will actually out dpsthe 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 theturret, which takes place in less than three seconds. Whereas todeal 300 damage to the turret, it requires her to empty an entiremagazine, without missing any rounds, reload and empty another tenrounds into the turret. Tracer cannot take the turret downmano-e-mano and requires using her Rewind to heal, which makes hervulnerable.

Now we get to the best abilityTorbjorn has: Molten Core. Obviously, most heroes in Overwatch havestrong ultimates, but few tie together a kit quite like MoltenCore. This ultimate contributes to Torbjorn’s ability tosnowball a defense. If his team can win the initial engagement, theultimate charge Torbjorn gains from dealing damage and thensupporting his team with armor will oftentimes grant him MoltenCore for the second fight.

When Molten Core is activated,it massively powers up both Torbjorn and his turret. Theirfirerates are increased and his turret now fires a few rocketsevery second as well. The turret gains 500 health and Torb findshimself 300 health worth of armor. At 800 health, the buffed turretis the second highest health entity in the game, second only toPrimal Rage’d Winston. The sheer health pool and massivedamage output both the turret and Torbjorn enjoy can singlehandedlycarry the second engagement for the defending team.

In the scenario where theattacking team lost the first engagement, they will not have theultimates to deal with Torbjorn the second time around. Dependingon the map, a free teamfight win can allowTorbjorn and his squad to delay the enemy by anywherefrom 30 seconds to a full minute. Especially in professional play,where stopwatch rules affect the outcome of payload maps, this canbe the difference between a won or lost match.

Creating Funnels withBombs

If you think wild animals inAustralia are scary, then Junkrat must be terrifying. Hailing fromthe Outback, the radiation altered his mind and transformed himinto a maniac with a knack for explosives. His newfound affinityfor bombs is what makes him such a powerful defensivehero.

Hitscan heroes like McCree andSoldier crave chokepoints, areas of the map where enemies areforced into narrow corridors which increases the odds of hittingtheir marks. Often times in Overwatch, there are more than one wayto approach any given point. As such, true chokepoints are rarerthan they are in other FPS games, like Counter-Strike.

However, Junkrat has the abilityto confine the space available to approaching teams, my favoriteexample being Dorado. Defending teams often hold in the courtyardand concede the initial streets phase, and as such, the first pointof real contact is at the bridge where the attacking team needs topush under.

This is normally a wide areawith room for players to walk on either side of the payload andprovides the attacking damage dealers space to capitalize on thecover and healing provided by the payload. In addition to thestraightforward path, it’s also not uncommon for Genji orReaper to go up to the side of the bridge and fire down upon thedefenders from a covered high ground position.

But Junkrat has other ideas. Byalternating his fire between one side of the payload and the sideof the bridge, he can cut off half of the primary approach path andthe side path. Now this may seem confusing, as Junkrat has a lowrate of fire, however this low rate of fire is actually how heapplies pressure.

It is up to the player to varythe rate of fire and how many rounds get sent in each direction atany given time. Even reloading at different amounts of rounds leftcan help. This is all in an effort to make it unpredictable whenthe next grenade is going to come flying in. This randomness makesit difficult for the enemy team to approach through the area as anysquishy heroes who enter at the wrong moment can lose 60% of theirhealth instantly.

This pressure can effectivelyfunnel an enemy team into a corridor with the threat of death,allowing for the hitscan heroes to rain damage. Even the currentsupports with their projectile weapons benefit from corridors, astheir slow moving bullets become harder to dodge, charging theirmeta defining ultimates quicker.

AWP is Still OP inOverwatch

The most played defensive heroin professional Overwatch is still Widowmaker. With unrivaledrange, she controlled lines of sight and threatened her enemieswith instant death. However, Hanzo also provides long range snipingbut suffers a much lower pick rate despite bringing many similarstrengths.

While Widow and Hanzo share manyaspects of their kits, Widow just does it all a bit better. Hanzohas a significant flight time on his arrows whereWidowmaker’s bullets are instant, which actually rewards goodaim and makes her damage more reliable. The other overlooked aspectthat makes her damage more reliable is her ability to zoom. Itmakes it easier for Widow to hit her targets by increasing theirsize on the screen. The zoom and bullet speed together both lowerher skill floor and raise her skill ceiling, making it easier tohit her targets while further amplifying a skilled player’sability.

Widowmaker is also more mobilethan Hanzo. They both possess the ability to reach high ground toneutralize a defense’s advantage, but Hanzo can only climbvertically. He requires being in physical contact with the surfacehe wants to climb, whereas Widowmaker can grapple to any ledge inrange. Bringing her dimension out of a 2D plane and into a 3D areaallows her to better evade flankers like Tracer andGenji.

But the biggest edge Widowmakerhas over Hanzo as a defensive hero is her ultimate. The largestadvantage the offense has in Overwatch is their ability to beunpredictable. The defense is reliant on holding a control point orpreventing a push, but the offense has more room to play. They canutilize multiple angles of attack to overwhelm a defense, butWidowmaker changes that.

Her ultimate reveals all enemiesyou can’t see through walls. This eliminates the attackersability to sneak around the map, as you can clearly see theirapproach. The absolute information provided by her ultimate allowsher team to play proactively instead of reactively. Playingproactively is always preferred because it allows more time fordecision making instead of having to make snap calls when you areacted upon, and as such, Widowmaker fills the role of a defensivehero better than Hanzo.

All I do is Spray, Spray, Sprayno Matter What

Now we get to the worst defensekit in the game, belonging to none other than Bastion. Reddit lovesto complain about how difficult it is to beat a Bastion because ofhis damage output. But if you complain about Bastion, all it showsme is your lack of creativity. In order for Bastion to access hisdamage, which is the highest dps in the game, he has to roothimself in place.

Because he is forced to stay inone spot while in sentry mode, it creates one massivevulnerability, quite simply, being that in such a mobile game likeOverwatch he can’t move. The forced immobility restricts theplayer’s knowledge because their vision picture can’t change.This lack of information combined with the mobility available tomany heroes in Overwatch makes it easy for a creative player toprey on a Bastion.

On paper, controlling a line ofsight with unrivaled damage does sound good. However, the way inwhich Bastion does his damage combined with his low mobilityhighlights the issue that all defensive heroes in Overwatch share:the inability to deal with the mobility in Overwatch.

Where the Theory Goes toShit

If you were to copy paste anyOverwatch defensive hero into CS:GO, they would all be incrediblyuseful when defending, except Bastion and his vulnerability to theAWP. But the critical issue is simply the speed at which anattacking team can approach the defending team, eliminating theadvantage of holding positions. Many heroes like Genji or Winstoncan easily use their jumps to nullify advantages held by defendingteams. Even worse is Lucio, whoempowers his entire team and enables far less mobile heroes likeMcCree the ability to close with a defending team and take a fighton even ground.

The ability to quickly coverground lessens or even nullifies the usefulness of zoning done byheroes like Torbjorn or Junkrat. As I mentioned before, the wayBastion does his damage is also a weakness. Bastion often justdoesn’t have the time to cut down enemy players before theyreach him. This does leave out Widowmaker and Hanzo, however, bothof whom only need one good shot to cut someone down.

Because of the abundance ofhealing in Overwatch, poking can often seem futile. Unless you killa player before their healers notice, the damage isn’t worthmuch more than a few extra points to build your ultimate charge.However, Hanzo and Widowmaker both can do just that from extremerange. With a well placed shot, you can force the enemy team todelay their push because they now find themselves at a mandisadvantage.

But now we get to the other bigreason defensive heroes in Overwatch suck: Reinhardt. Theinternet’s favorite German grandfather leads teams intobattle behind his massive shield. His shield is easily in mytop-five strongest abilities in the game, and possibly in thetop-three. It’s a meta defining ability and forces the enemyteam to play an entirely different game.

While Reinhardt has his shieldavailable, his entire team can walk forward with impunity,completely protected from enemy attacks. In order to assail a teamproperly, you must break down their Rein’s shield first and,simply put, defensive heroes do that poorly. Their damage oftenrequires a lengthy setup and instead it is more effective to have aMcCree or Soldier destroy the shield. Both of whom, in addition todealing damage more effectively, have the tools in their kits todeal with mobility of the game.

Mei Truly is Bae

So now we get to Mei. Ipurposely haven’t grouped her in with the rest of thedefensive cast as she is an exception to their weaknesses. As thestrongest defense kit in the game, she feels like the onlydefensive hero designed with the game Overwatch in mind. She is theonly hero that actually restricts the attacking team’s movementinstead of just threatening them with some inconsequentialdamage.

Mei’s greatest strengthlies in her Ice Wall and she can use it to great effect, makingTrump proud. This ability is on a short ten second cooldown, and assuch, 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 theenemy team begins to surge through a chokepoint, she can simplyplace the wall in their midst.

This splits the enemy team intwo, often separating the backline from the fight and leaving thefrontline stranded. The backline in this meta is comprised ofLucio, Zenyatta, and often a McCree, none of whom have the abilityto scale the wall Mei has made, which leaves the tanks in the frontline without healing.

This does two critical things,first of which, is it leaves Reinhardt vulnerable. When a team isattacking a point, inevitably Reinhardt is at the forefront soakingdamage for his team. Now without his healers and missing the damageheroes he is supposed to protect, Rein becomes a useless pile ofhitpoints. Being isolated by Ice Wall gives the defending team anextra four and a half seconds to tear down his shield andeliminates the primary advantage of playing a Reinhardt whenattacking.

The second key aspect of thewall is that it wastes Lucio’s speed boost. As the mostpowerful ability in the game, Amp it Up needs to be dealt with andIce Wall is one of the only ways to do so. When you throw the wallinto the enemy team, or even in all six players faces, you preventthem from utilizing the speed to close the distance and take a moreeven fight. This negates any momentum the attacking team has, anddenies a considerable portion of their mobility, creating space forthe defending team to work.

So What Now?

We’re in a strange worldwhere the heroes tagged as defense are actually supbar atdefending. This isn’t for any weaknesses in their kitshowever. As I’ve laid out here, each hero has definitestrengths that make them ideal candidates for holding areas of amap in any normal FPS game. But in Overwatch, they suffer becauseof the mobility available, rendering their zone control useless andthe strength of Reinhardt making poke inconsequential.

I can see the theory behind eachdefensive hero and I agree that it’s valid. But I can’thelp but feel that Blizzard designed them in a vacuum, ignoring therest of the game, except for Mei, who still can thrive in thecurrent environment of Overwatch. If you want my advice, play moreMei and Roadhog on defense.

For now, if we want to seedefense heroes thrive, they will need reworking to fit Overwatchbetter; buffs to deal an unreasonable amount of damage likepre-nerf Widowmaker, or have the mobility available to attackingteams tuned down. I’m curious to see if Blizzard will do anyof these, but for now, we have to live with a subpar defensiveclass.