Evaluating Support and Tank Heroes in Overwatch

In order to establish common ground for discussing support and tank heroes, I lay out some fundamental concepts regarding their kits and play style.

Discussion orArgument?

In every game with multipleheroes, each one brings some unique strengths to the table. Somelay down death and destruction. Some are protectors, others affectthe game in more subtle ways. This often leads to the rathercontentious discussion on which heroes are better thanothers.

In order to establish commonground for this topic in Overwatch, I’m going to cover somefundamentals on how different categories of characters play. Today,I’ll only discuss supports and tanks. As for offense and defenseheroes, I have too much to say, and as such each category willreceive their own article in order to properly cover thetopic.

Together you areStronger

If you were to ask a group of100 Overwatch players which heroes are the most useful to theirteammates, 10 would incorrectly say Genji. The sane 90 of us wouldrespond with mixed responses of tanks and supports. While thoseresponding with tanks are close, supports are a bit more useful totheir teammates as we’ll cover now.

If you ask 100 Overwatch playerswhat makes supports useful, the majority would respond withhealing. That answer is true; supports are incredibly usefuldue to their healing. Supports allow the other members of theirteam to reach out and trade damage with enemies with significantlyreduced risk. As long as the player isn’t killed whilethey harass their foes, any damage they take will beerased.

This is important because itallows both the DPS and support heroes to build ultimate charge toprepare for major teamfights. But another large benefit is denyingmap positioning. Players and teams are less willing to contestareas of the map they know are being watched because they run therisk of dying and losing game momentum.

Healing allows for players totake risks, but true supports have ultimates that allow theirteammates be outright suicidal. Zenyatta and Lucio grant hugeeffective health pools, Symmetra teleports you back to the frontlines and Mercy practices necromancy upon her allies.

All of these ultimates grantwiggle room for a team to make slight misplays or to extend thefight beyond the normal reach of their abilities. A key note hereis that Ana is not included in this list, who of course does nothave an ultimate ability capable of affecting multiple allies.Ana’s ultimate is powerful in its own right and sets up asingle player to be an absolute juggernaut. However every othersupport in the game can use their ultimate to put every ally in aposition of power.

This is the primary reason wedon’t see Ana in professional play. The rest of her kit byall means is strong. And if you look at her ultimate in a vacuum,it seems Genji and Reinhardt should be monsters, ripping teamsapart with high damage blows. But once you compare her ability toenable her team, you realise how far behind she is.

Supports are enablers. Theyenable their team to take risks and play past the limits of a hero.With these things in mind, we need to judge the merit of supportheroes.

Lucio provides an insane amount ofutility making his team faster, tankier and keeps their healthtopped off. He earned his place in the meta long ago andisn’t leaving any time soon.

Zenyatta is a newcomer. Heprovides many very similar things to Lucio. Healing, someprojectile damage and an ultimate that allows his team to play likelunatics. But, Zenyatta enables his team in a way that no otherhero truly does. Mercy can damage boost a single ally, whereasZenyatta can increase his entire team’s damage.

Instead of targeting an ally toboost, Zen selects an enemy to weaken. This weakened foe gains alarge purple mark (Orb of Discord) for all to see, which paints alarge target on them. Zenyatta potentially boosts his entire team,while Mercy only aids one ally. As such, Zen has found his place inthe meta and won’t leave given the prevelance of Winston’sdiving the backline.

Fly You Fools

When a casual player is askedwhat the point of tank heroes are, the common answers includeblocking damage, engaging fights and protecting allies. These areall correct answers, but they fall under a much larger umbrella.The purpose of a tank hero is to create space and time for theirteammates to do their job whether it be shooting, healing or simplyrunning away.

The most common way for tankplayers to create space is simply to play Reinhardt and act as ashield wall, creating faux invulnerability. It gives time forthe hitscan heroes to try and find a kill without being exposed tothe repercussions of enemy fire. It also allows for allies toreposition themselves from cover to cover without coming underthreat and simply provides more options.

Zarya would also fit into thiscategory, but in a more mobile package. Granting invulnerability toenemy damage allows for a teammate to freely battle with theirfoes. Especially when thrown onto short range heroes such asWinston, Reaper, or an ulting Genji it grants them more time andopportunity to tear apart the enemy backline.

The second way a tank can givehis allies space is by literally increasing space between hisallies and the enemy team. Reinhardt charge and Roadhog ultimateare the two most effective ways for tanks to do so. All theseabilities can take an enemy threat and move it farther away fromany vulnerable teammates. Especially for heroes like McCree andWidowmaker who thrive at longer ranges this is a valuable tool andgives them extra time to find a key headshot.

Another obvious way for a tankto create time for their damage dealing allies is with crowdcontrol. Simply preventing action from the enemy for a period oftime provides a very literal time advantage. Whether spentshooting, healing or repositioning, it is extra time you provideyour allies with. Reinhardt’s ultimate is an obviousexample here and so is Zarya’s ultimate.

An underrated way, and myfavorite way, a tank can create space is with threat. The simplestexample of this is Roadhog. If you have ever played League ofLegends against a Blitzcrank, you know it is a very similarsituation. Whenever Roadhog shows himself and hasn’t thrownthe hook, you always have to be afraid.

A player has to dedicate some oftheir mental RAM to tracking Roadhog in order to avoid being pulledin to their doom. In its own right, the threat of being hookedprovides an unseen pressure that has to be respected. And as such,missing that hook creates a window when Roadhog is no longerthreatening as a tank champion, and instead becomes simply anoverweight subpar dps hero.

The interesting hero I want tobring up here is Mei. She actually fills all these roles of a tanksurprisingly well with her wall being the skill that fills most ofthe roles. The wall can provide cover for allies, provide physicaldistance, as well as provide threat. The enemy team has to beconstantly aware that their backline can be cut off, leaving just afew players isolated. Her gun provides both long range harass aswell as crowd control and her ultimate is one of the best zonecontrol skills in the game.

When held up to the lens I useto examine tank play, Mei actually excels in most situations. Morespecifically when defending points with narrow choke points such asNumbani point A or Temple of Anubis point B. Personally, I’dlove to see teams playing Mei more often as I think she can bring alot to a defense.

So What?

Understanding what each herobrings is important knowledge in determining how to properly playthem. Just because Widowmaker has a fully automatic mode on herrifle doesn’t mean she is useful at close ranges. It’salso important to understand what a hero brings to the unit inorder to build better compositions. Currently, this is a skill thatcan be ignored to an extent because of how few hero options areavailable, but as more are added to the game, this skill will onlybecome more valuable. The game’s circumstances should dictate ateam’s hero selection, and inflexibility is punished inOverwatch.