Resource allocation in Overwatch
Evaluating Overwatch teams in an objective manner is an ongoing struggle. Between differing opinions on how to weigh results and the fact that we are still learning the fundamentals of the game, it’s an incredibly complicated task. It’s a task that many, myself included, are drawing upon past experience in a diverse array of esport titles to craft analogies in which to explain their rationalizations.
In this piece, I intend to address a concept that is frequently discussed in other titles, but almost never approached in relation to Overwatch. Specifically, when it comes to evaluating teams and their in-game focus, I believe it is critical to understand what resources are available to Overwatch teams and how they are used.
History is a wonderful teacher
I think the first introduction many of us had to resources in gaming was in RTS style games, like Warcraft and Starcraft. Gas, gold, minerals, or lumber were often literally referred to as resources. The amount of each resource possessed by the player directly limited the type and number of units the player could purchase. Thus we would have a discussion around that player's flow of resources gained and spent, or their economy.
These limits were easily understood, and restricted to just the player. What I mean is your personal economy did not affect a team. However, if we look to titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) or League of Legends (LoL), we now see a team economy form.
In CS:GO, each player gains money from winning or losing each round, getting kills, or if their team plants a bomb. While you cannot directly hand off money to your teammates, you can pass off weapons.
This is mostly used in situations where one player can afford a weapon a teammate cannot. Especially on teams with star AWPers, we see an emphasis on either that player saving their own money, or teammates spending their own money on equipping the team’s star.
When this behavior becomes habitual, it reveals the thought process as to who a team is most confident will find key kills in the coming round. It places emphasis on the star player because while they are now equipped with a rifle or an AWP, it sometimes means their supporting player ends up with just an SMG in a subsequent round due to that player’s damaged economy.
In contrast, League of Legends players cannot pass items and teams are forced to distribute economic resources in a different manner. Instead, teams funnel farm into one player. During the mid-game, we will often see teams put priority on two players to farm; one of which farms mid lane, and the other rotates between side lanes to pick up large grouped waves of minions.
Those two players then get slung ahead in gold over the third traditional carry role, while junglers and supports get scraps. Much like in the CS:GO example, this behavior, especially if it becomes habitual, is very revealing of a team’s strategic focus.
This has led to the coining of terms such as low-econ top laners or low-econ AD carries; players who operate within their roles with minimal gold and minimal items. Just like in CS:GO, the LoL players who receive the economic focus are being given the tools by their team to be playmakers and carry the game.
Now, we can begin to understand the correlation to why resource allocation matters in Overwatch. If we can properly evaluate where a team's resources are being focused, it is now very clear where the priority lies in the team, which aids in determining their style.
Same, same. But different.
Unlike the other titles, Overwatch does not have economic systems with money to be spent acquiring units, items, or weapons. Instead, we have to look at slightly more abstract forms of resources. Despite being harder to track mathematically, these resources are just as critical at establishing which player a team is enabling to be a carry.
Shields, Boosts, and Crowd Control, oh my.
The concept of abilities as a resource is a familiar one to MOBA players, and in Overwatch, the abilities available to each player and team are the most obvious resource on hand. They are renewable, however, their use is limited either by cooldowns or by ultimate charge. Because the use of an ability is limited, it means in order for each player to be efficient with their resources, each use should be in an attempt to gain as much value from them as possible.
While these are not the only examples, I’ll be discussing three notable examples of abilities that are used in differing ways by different teams and players to achieve distinct goals.
Zarya’s barriers have long been a key reason for her stable position in the meta. The ability to prevent crowd control on yourself or an ally enables a wide array of plays. But, of course, if the barriers absorb any damage, they are converted into energy to increase Zarya’s damage. This is the area in which we see teams differ in their usage.
Most Zarya players use her barriers reactively or preventatively. Reactively often means shielding an ally who was just snared by a Roadhog hook and preventatively commonly takes the form of placing a barrier on a Genji before they dive. Both of these uses are relatively selfless uses that protect allies and enable them to play more aggressively.
However, when we look to Meta Athena and their star Zarya player Hoon, we see different patterns emerge. He places a much greater emphasis on building energy. This takes the form of not saving the cooldown of his protected barrier to save allies. Instead, Hoon throws them onto his Reinhardt or walking forward of the Reinhardt shield to intentionally take damage and build his energy levels.
Hoon’s selfish shielding means that his allies are required to play more conservatively themselves as they will not have that added layer of protection. Instead of Hoon enabling his allies with shields, he puts himself in a position to be the damage carry. It is a contrary tactic to the standard, but clearly an effective method for Meta Athena.
There is no secret that when Nano Boost is used, that team is attempting to put a target player in a position to carry a team-fight. Nano Boost specifically has been a staple resource in the meta for several months now, and as such, it’s usage is well understood.
Nano Boost is an effective force multiplier as it injects are large stat bonus to the player. So most often, it is used where it will multiply the largest force possible. What this means is that the most common useage of Nano Boost is onto a target that has an offensive ultimate available, whether it be Tactical Visor, Whole Hog, or Dragonblade.
The damage dealt increase and reduction in damage taken allow the player to gain the most value possible out of their ultimate. It’s an incredibly logical play, and as such, is less revealing about a team’s focus because it is just the best play, and they would be foolish to pass it up. As such, most teams gift the Nano Boost to a player with a damage based ultimate.
Instead, the most telling Nano Boosts are those used on players who do not have their ultimates ready. Returning to Meta Athena, we see a fantastic example of this. Hoon, once again, as one of the primary playmakers for his team is the frequent recipient of his team’s Nano Boost. Placing the boost onto the tank means that the damage potential is significantly lower than if it was gifted to say a Genji or Soldier 76. However, Meta Athena has faith in Hoon that he will deal enough damage to build a quick Graviton Surge that will allow them to win the fight.
While the previous two categories were focused discussions around a single ability and its uses, this section is focused around several different abilities that can all be used in nearly identical roles. For the purposes of our discussion, Roadhog’s hook, Ana’s sleep dart, and McCree’s flashbang are going to be collectively referred to as CC abilities.
CC abilities in Overwatch are relatively rare. Even if we factor in ultimate abilities, the total number is low. We shall define CC abilities as those whose effects are used to stop enemy movement, and often create situations to easily find a kill.
These abilities are critical resources for each team and can be used differently depending on the situation. If a team is looking to be proactive, CC abilities can be used to temporarily bring down Reinhardt shields while he is stunned. This, of course, can be used to open up for a devastating Earth Shatter or Graviton Surge, which catches the unprepared team.
But CC abilities are often used reactively to counteract enemy dives. Roadhog hooks could be used for backline protection, but rarely are. So primarily, we are looking at Flashbang and Sleep Dart as the backline safety tools; and they can be shockingly effective at that. I think back to the now famous Iddqd McCree vs. Seagull Genji duel on Hanamura, where Iddqd repeatedly kept himself alive to keep Fnatic in the match. On the other hand, think about Ryujehong on Ana against anybody in the world and his ability to keep himself alive.
It’s an interesting game philosophy discussion you can have, whether it is more important for your backline members to save their cooldowns to keep themselves alive, or attempt to use them to set up for a wombo combo team-fight victory. Each team will have to make that choice themselves.
In the instance where you have backline carries the caliber of Iddqd and Ryujehong, I understand the reasoning about keeping them alive. On rosters like Kongdoo Uncia where Birdring sometimes goes on long flanking McCree attacks, I understand that line of play as well. When you consider the talent level of Uncia’s frontline, it makes sense to be interested in setting them up to be playmakers.
Time is of the essence
Unlike many esport titles, particularly MOBAs, time is not a limitless resource in Overwatch. Games like League of Legends could, in theory, stretch indefinitely as long as neither team wins. However, in Overwatch, the clock counts down, not up, and eventually the game will end on non king of the hill maps.
Because of this, teams have a limited amount of attack opportunities and the defense only has so many times they need to hold. But even within each fight, the way a player spends their time can be a critical difference maker, particularly for support and tank players.
Think about two Reinhardt players; Cocco and Reinforce, for example. I’d wager that if we had the ability to track this statistic, Reinforce would most likely spend a much higher percentage of time swinging his hammer as opposed to shielding when compared to Cocco.
Similarly, if we were to select two Ana players, such as Ryujehong and Luna, I would once again make a similar bet, that Ryujehong fires a higher percentage of his rounds into his enemies rather than allies, as Luna does.
Neither of the Reinhardt or Ana players are necessarily more correct than their counterpart, but it instead represents differing styles. Cocco and Luna are both still excellent players, they just have less offensive mindsets. Instead, they spend more of their time protecting and enabling their allies.
How tank and support players split their time between zoning, healing, and blocking for their allies as opposed to playing offensively is another factor we should consider when evaluating teams.
The defensively minded players, by definition, are not primary playmakers for a team. That does not mean they can’t have explosive moments. But because they spend their time protecting their allies, the game-changing plays will have to be made by their teammates who are being directly enabled.
Realistically, this is not a very important concept to understand for climbing the solo queue ladder. However, if you ladder with a six-man stack, then it can be advantageous for you and your teammates to grasp this concept.
Where resource allocation begins to seriously matter is at the professional level. Limited resources are the reason that all-star rosters with six playmakers will never work. There simply are not enough available tools to allow every member of your team to be a playmaker.
In order to have truly successful teams, they need to be balanced rosters with a star carry or two, several role players to set those stars up, and maybe a backup carry in case your primary stars are having a bad day. This way, you have a designated team dynamic where each player understands where the resources will be going.
For example, you should never place Hoon and Arhan on the same roster. Both players can be hard carries in their own right, but require significant resources from their team in order to perform at their peak levels.
Instead, it would be better to pair Hoon with Whoru or Arhan with Bernar. In these duos, there is a designated player who can be your star carry when given the resources, and an extremely competent player who doesn’t require heavy resources to have a high game impact.
Once you understand the dynamic within your players, it becomes easier to pick hero compositions. For example, if you have a rather bad DPS player, it would not be in your best interest to play a solo DPS composition with them on a resource heavy hero such as Genji. Instead, it makes more sense to have them play a Soldier 76, which requires less Zarya shielding due to his range and healing attention from his supports because of biotic field.
With all of this in mind, we can begin to understand professional teams' decisions better. We can break down the specific role each player fulfills on the team and how well they perform with the amount of resources poured into them.
However, we need to be cautious with our conclusions. Drawing conclusions from just a few maps can lead to making incorrect conclusions because of our inexperience watching that player or team. Just because a team made a specific play once or twice does not mean it is their standard. We have to look for and identify patterns within their play, and from there, characterize them.