EMP and the meta domino effect

The dominance of D.Va has led to the rise of Sombra.

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

First it was just the audio skipping. But even that was enough to draw a breath from the crowd. Seconds later, the video was filled with static and fans began to hope their suspicions were correct. As the screen went black, the crowd live at BlizzCon erupted in cheers as it became clear Sombra was behind the interruption.

The manner in which Blizzard revealed Sombra will no doubt live on as a fan-favorite moment in Overwatch history. But alongside the excitement was a touch of fear at her abilities and what they would allow her to do.

Dozens of professional players and analysts alike warned of the strength her kit possessed, and the potential implications for the professional game. But Sombra has only recently found a solid footing in the meta, nearly eight months after her reveal. Instead of being picked for her raw power, however, we often see Sombra used as a specific counter to the currently most lamented hero in the game.

Korean esport pros OP

This isn’t the first time D.Va and her defense matrix have influenced the meta, and once again, we are stuck trying to find workarounds.

Defense matrix is unique in Overwatch. It’s the only defensive ability that isn’t limited in the amount of damage it can block and is instead restricted by the short amounts of time it’s available for use. At maximum charge, it can block all incoming projectiles for four seconds, absorbing anything from basic fire to ultimates.

To put that into perspective, Soldier 76’s ultimate, tactical visor, lasts six seconds in which he has guaranteed damage. D.Va can block upwards of 600 damage with just her defense matrix, and can easily absorb the rest simply by standing in the way. If Soldier was nano-boosted, the D.Va may be blocking nearly 900 damage from hitting her allies.

Even beyond the raw amount of protection defense matrix affords, D.Va is one of the most mobile characters in the game due to her rocket boosters. Her ability to reposition so quickly means that D.Va can shadow an enemy DPS hero to nullify them, or an ally support to protect them.

Defense matrix alone can control entire teamfights by blocking enemy ultimate combos or by affording an allied Zenyatta the time to place discord orbs and pump out damage.

As such, it’s become incredibly important for professional teams to focus down the enemy D.Va. Once her mech is destroyed, the defensive utility is gone and your own DPS can be unleashed in full. Because of that very defensive utility, however, this is no easy task.

Zarya was once a common pick against D.Va. Her beam weapon ignored defense matrix, and when played right, a high energy Zarya could shred the D.Va’s mech or at the very least force her off the frontline as she receives healing.

More recently, we’ve seen discord orbs and Tracer’s pulse bomb used as tools to burst through the mech during the gaps in defense matrix. But as we’ve seen during the OGN Overwatch Apex playoffs, teams are instead opting to simply turn off D.Va’s mech.

Everything can be hacked…

As now seems tradition, it takes a significant amount of time for the professional scene to embrace new heroes. Ana required teams like Ninjas in Pyjamas to realize her strength in tank-heavy compositions to become a meta staple. Orisa, meanwhile, remains a fringe pick.

But now seems like Sombra’s time to shine.

Image via Winston’s Lab

During the group stage of the third season of Overwatch Apex, Sombra was only played 12 percent of the time, and mostly by supports. Lee “Twilight” Ju Seok of Conbox Spirit, however, played just over one-third of his game time on Sombra. He was unique in how much Sombra he played—during groups, triple DPS was a more common composition.

Those triple DPS compositions played without D.Va in order to accommodate the extra offensive threat. But as the tournament progressed into the playoffs, teams went back to a more standard 2-2-2 setup with D.Va and she now sits at an overwhelming 96.81 percent play-rate.

In response, teams have matched the 17 percent climb in D.Va play with an equal increase in Sombra play, using her to counter D.Va.

Since her release, Sombra has received two rounds of buffs. First, Blizzard reduced the cooldown of her hack by four seconds, and cut the time it took to hack a target by 20 percent. Second, the cooldown on her translocator was shortened by two seconds and her stealth was improved by reducing the distance the sound effects traveled.

These all combined to make Sombra even better at sneaking into the backline and executing a hack on a key target. If Sombra is able to hack D.Va, then there are little tools in this meta to help D.Va survive the six seconds of vulnerability. Winston’s bubble is inadequate, and Zenyatta’s single target healing pales in comparison to Ana’s.

We can’t forget Sombra’s EMP, however, which allows her to hack everyone around her, especially when used as efficiently as above. Kim “Esca” In-jae simply threatens the backline of Afreeca Blue, forcing out their transcendence. With such short cooldowns, he’s able to quickly stealth back into the fight and disable all of Afreeca.

While Sombra’s ability to disable her opponents so frequently is an obvious strength, her ability to be so elusive often goes forgotten. But now, both Lunatic-Hai and Kongdoo Panthera have realized a better way to use her.

Offensive hero, offensive players

Both Ryu “Ryujehong” Je-hong and Yang “Luffy” Seong Hyeon are support players who have proven their ability to play Sombra. In fact, during the group stage, Ryujehong was the only Sombra player for Lunatic-Hai.

But now, both of the Overwatch Apex finalist teams have opted to have their DPS players pick her up, Esca for Lunatic-Hai and Kim “Rascal” Dong Jun for Panthera. Each team pairs Sombra with a Tracer from their other DPS player to still allow for two tanks and two supports.

When running Sombra as a DPS instead of a support, it changes the dynamic of your team composition. Your tanks on the frontline still have the healing of two supports, and don’t have to leave the battle while they run to a health pack. The extra healing on hand means it’s less likely your D.Va will be de-meched quickly, while still retaining the utility of Sombra.

The concern about Sombra being a lower damage DPS hero evaporates when you consider that you still get to run Zenyatta, who provides discord orbs and his own share of damage.

In fact, Sombra with Zenyatta is a potent way to defeat D.Va. Because hack’s range is the same as Sombra’s damage falloff distance, once she has disabled D.Va’s abilities, she’s in range to deal maximum damage.

When discord orb is applied to the helpless D.Va, Sombra alone can deal 200 damage per second, not including headshots, allowing her to seriously chunk the mech during the six second hack. With assistance from her allies, it becomes a simple matter to destroy D.Va’s mech—especially when we remember that Ana is no longer the premiere support, and the available healing for D.Va alive is a fraction of what it once was.

Beyond dealing with D.Va, Sombra and Tracer are also a potent combo at taking down Winston. Sombra can hack Winston from outside of his tesla cannon range, leaving him immobile. Then, Tracer and Sombra, with their rapid-fire hitscan guns against a large, easily hit, target like Winston, can shred him.

Sombra’s ability to counteract the frontline, as well as disable the enemy supports from assisting the tanks, makes her particularly powerful when a professional team decides to focus down the tanks like Lunatic-Hai does.

As Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith repeatedly, and aptly, mentioned on air during the semifinals, Lunatic-Hai has recently made a concerted effort to deal with enemy tanks first. Once the defensive utility is gone from the enemy team, it becomes a cakewalk to sweep the remainder of their foes aside.

Once the battlefield is opened up, Tracer and Sombra can form a devastating tag team. Tracer dashes into your backline, Sombra appears from thin air, and both simply press E to blink out to safety. Meanwhile, the two of them both charge up their high-impact ultimates quickly, meaning Sombra can clear a path with her EMP for Tracer’s pulse bomb to secure easy kills or chunk enemy tanks.

The versatility of Sombra’s kit is awe-inspiring. She supports allies, neutralizes key foes, can be played in different roles, and packs her own offensive punch. But specifically, her ability to counteract the enemy D.Va is invaluable in this day and age. While not a complete necessity, teams that have Sombra in their back pocket will find themselves with a competitive edge.