How (not) to reach platinum ranking as a support in Overwatch

overwatchmercy

When I play Overwatch [official site], my first priority is to do harm, abiding by a sort of anti-Hippocratic Oath. In fact, no matter what game I’m playing, I’ll pick the role that revolves around doing as much damage as I can as quickly as I can. I like mobile, assassin type characters, and playing Genji might be the most fun I’ve had in a multiplayer shooter since my halcyon days with the Spy in Team Fortress 2.

I am not, and never have been, a person who plays healers. But, here I am, about to try and reach a platinum ranking in competitive Overwatch using only support heroes.

As I set out on this mighty undertaking, I’ve put in less than three hours in a support role. That figure goes down to zero when it comes to competitive mode. That’s all about to change: with recent adjustments to Mercy, I figure that if I’m ever going to break out of my comfy, damage dealing box then this is the time to do it.

Mercy’s changes might be the most dramatic reworking of a character we’ve seen so far in Overwatch. Her ultimate, Resurrection, previously revived an unlimited number of friendly team mates but now she can revive a single ally every 30 seconds while her new ultimate turns her into a free-flying healing machine. The devs say they made the changes in an attempt to stop Mercy players from playing too cautiously and hiding around corners while their ultimate charged.

That sounds good to me, so Mercy is going to be my main focus as I dive into the pool of support characters. Of the others, Ana is the one I’m keenest to avoid as she’s an unusually offensive support that I’ve already put a little time into. Her sniper rifle can both damage enemies and heal allies, you see, and sniper characters have always been my preferred choice when I get temporarily tired with ‘in your face’ damage dealers.

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It’ll be interesting to see whether the random members of the public I’ll be playing with treat me any differently now that I’ll be healing them rather than hurting their opponents. God knows I’ve heard my fair share of moaning – if you hadn’t noticed, the internet really isn’t keen on Genji mains. By extension, the internet is not keen on me. Perhaps that’s about to change.

I decide to launch into quick play to get my bearings before playing the placement matches that will determine my ranking. My first game with Mercy goes surprisingly well! At one point I manage to turn around and kill a Genji that’s harassing me. Whenever I’ve been the other side of that, I’ve always thought of it as kind of embarrassing – now I’m realising just how much of a punch Mercy’s pistol packs. The match ends up being a stomp, which my team would have won no matter what I was up to.

My first real game does not go so well. It’s a king of the hill match and our Winston keeps overextending, and I haven’t yet acquired the restraint needed to not fly in after him, which leads to us both getting killed. I need to get out of my damage-dealing (‘damage per second’ or DPS) mindset, and start playing much more carefully. I remind myself that I’m now the biggest target for the enemy team, and I’m beginning to appreciate why. Every time I get picked off, the rest of my team seems to follow shortly afterwards: it really is vital that I stay alive as much as I possibly can.

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It’s one thing knowing that but another thing putting it into practice. In my second game, I die, die and die again. Someone else grabs Mercy so I plump for Lucio, but our combined efforts aren’t enough. Even though I’m an inexperienced support, I feel like I’m contributing, but even so it’s as if the outcome is entirely out of my hands. That’s rarely true with a DPS character, where there’s space for an individual play to turn the tides.

The second round goes a bit better. Back on Mercy, I use her ultimate to swoop down behind people and do some amped pistol damage. I’m not sure if it’s the most effective use of her ultimate, but gosh darn it feels good to be back in the thick of it, taking opponents down. It’s all for naught though: the game ends in another loss.

I decide I need to do some reading. I’ve used Furious Paul’s guides in the past, and manage to find some handy tips for Mercy. It turns out there are a whole bunch of settings that people recommend adjusting to make life easier. The first thing I change is turning on toggle mode for my staff: now I don’t have to hold down the left mouse button to keep healing or damage boosting. A more dramatic change is the one that lets me use the guardian angel ability to fly to whoever I have my cross-hairs over rather than my beam target, which should give me more options the next time I need to get out of danger quickly.

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While those changes were useful, the rest of Paul’s guide is out of date so I head over to Youtube. Quite a few people have made guides specifically for the new changes, and I find this video particularly useful. I learn that by releasing guardian angel early I can ‘slingshot’ myself, which both gets the ability off cooldown earlier and lets me travel further and faster. My research also reaffirms my suspicion that Mercy is the support hero of choice nowadays, with many people regarding her as an indispensable part of any competitive team composition.

I jump into my next game, and discover that my studies have backfired. I’m now so busy trying to remember how to slingshot and incorporate everything that I’ve just learned that I’m forgetting to play cautiously, instead defaulting back to my DPS mindset. People are dying, and this time it really is my fault: we lose the match without once gaining control of the point.

Somehow, my fortunes reverse in my fourth placement match. It’s a payload map, and the enemy team barely manages to push the cart past the first corner. I’m not really sure how much of the victory can be attributed to me, though I am at least dying less often.

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My 5th, 6th and 7th games also breeze by, with my team easily winning all of them. By this point I can slingshot myself all over the map, and I feel much more comfortable than when I first started. I’m noticing just how powerful certain character combinations are for the first time, despite the hours I’ve already invested in the game. Zarya and Mercy are excellent last-second saviours, with Zarya’s shield stopping an ally from being finished off while Mercy heals them up.

I haven’t swapped from Mercy since I learned how important she’s supposed to be for the team comp, apart from in one game where someone grabs her before I can. I play Lucio instead, and while I still feel like I’m contributing, I can’t help but feel a bit bored. His aura heals people just by standing near them, and while you can have it provide a speed boost instead, 90% of the time it makes sense to keep healing. It means I can focus more on trying to deal damage, but his piddly dubstep gun never really presents much of a threat. I’d probably have had a much better time if I’d managed to knock an enemy over an edge with his alternate fire, though on most maps opportunities to do that are few and far between.

By this point I’m getting weary of playing Mercy every game though, so I pick Symmetra for my 8th match. It’s a risky decision – I’ve only played 20 minutes as her in total. I immediately remember why: she’s got no mobility, and placing turrets down doesn’t hold any satisfaction for me. Any kills I get with them seem to be the result of my opponents playing poorly rather than me doing anything interesting. Unfortunately, my opponents are not playing poorly. We lose.

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I sigh and swap back to Mercy for my 9th game. I make best friends with a Pharah, who – aided by my damage boost – manages to get play of the game. I remember a suggestion Pip made a while back – why not have duo versions for play of the game? It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard for the system to detect when a support has contributed to one, and it’d help emphasise the importance of the role. I could do with some more validation, seeing as the match ends in a draw.

My last placement match is a tense one that goes all the way to the final round. I decide to break out Zenyatta. He’s a much more offensive support than Mercy, due to the ‘fire and forget’ nature of his abilities – he can set an orb on an ally to heal them, and an orb on an enemy to increase the damage they take. In theory he should be more up my street, were it not for the fact that he’s the slowest character in the game. I blame that for our ultimate defeat.

So, that’s four wins, a draw and five losses. A middling performance – though it’s better than I was hoping, considering how little experience I’ve had playing support. Ok, cue the drum roll…

I’m on 2465! That’s only 39 points below my target. If I can win the next three games, I’ll be at platinum already. It’s a far higher placement than I was expecting, considering I’ve lost more matches here than in my last season. I’d forgotten to take into account Blizzard’s changes to matchmaking.

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I reward myself with a quick round as Genji in quickplay. The screen suddenly seems empty now that I can’t see my teammates health bars, and I realise how much more information I was dealing with every second when I was playing a healer. Not only did I have to take more care in keeping track of where every enemy was, being both more fragile and a bigger target, I also needed to focus on every friendly hero and their relative levels of peril. With Mercy, I also had to constantly decide whether I should be healing or damage boosting. They’re decisions that don’t depend on twitch skill, but are just as demanding in their own way.

Back in the competitive queue as Mercy, I alternate between wins and losses for a while. Then I take another loss. And another…and another. I’m on 2405, and I’d have to win 7 games in a row to reach my target. It’s not going to happen, so I decide to call it quits.

So! What have we learned? Firstly, the game needs tweaking so that team comps that don’t include Mercy are more viable. Whenever she hadn’t already been picked and I tried to play as someone else, my team would insist that I swap to her – and they’re probably right. I’m not sure whether the answer is to tone her down or buff the other supports, but something’s gotta give.

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Nobody shouted at me the whole time, which is nice. On the other hand, nobody really interacted with me at all, despite my chipper ‘hello everyones!’ at the start of each game. I was hoping I could talk about how people are much more friendly to supports, or else how mad they get when they aren’t all individually chauffeured around with their own healing beams. Instead, I was mostly just quietly taken for granted. I suppose it’s less obvious when a support isn’t doing their job properly than a DPS, with any tank or support that gets gold eliminations feeling entitled to complain about their underperforming teammates.

I hadn’t quite realised that with the latest patch, Mercy has a level of mobility that rivals any other character – but only when there are allies around. Perhaps my biggest mistake was solo queuing. While DPS characters still need to work with their team, they’re not dependent on other players from moment to moment in the same way as a support is. With internet strangers, that mostly means following them around and trying to keep them from dying, as opposed to forming plans and moving as a cohesive unit.

I’ve spent 130 hours in Overwatch, but playing in a totally different role has given me a new perspective on It was a refreshing change, though I can’t say I’m going to stop insta-picking Genji any time soon.

14 Comments

  1. Jac says:

    I’ve not played overwatch for a while but Zenyatta was my man. Was in Masters with him and had about 60% win rate. This during the time when Ana and Lucio were seen as the supports to pick due to the competitive scene. Used to really frustrate me the amount of people that would throw hissy fits telling me to switch before the match had even started despite me being the same rank as them and not being as good on the other support characters.

    Sad to hear that attitude somewhat persists / makes people afraid to play as unfashionable characters. People need to realise that they aren’t playing professionally and by and large you can be successfull with any character.

    • Seafoam says:

      If only people could be sensible and play games for fun, but we know thats never going to happen.
      All we or blizzard can do is damage control and some degree of prevention, but the damage will always be done (example: my lack of willingness to play comp).

      • haradaya says:

        It’s a problem I’m encountering both online in games, and in real life. Competitive people who’re only into metas and winning, and the “casuals” that don’t mind losing as long as it was a fair match.
        The sooner we can reliably separate those groups from meeting each other, the better. Each group has a different goal with gaming, and they clash horribly. Creating the toxic environment that’s become the norm online.

        • frozbite says:

          That’s the worst thing that I hate in multiplayer games: “current metagame”. I left League of legends around 2 years ago. Shortly after release, meta comes and stays: bruiser top, ap carry mid (or ad nuker, after yasuo and talon showed up), bruiser jungler, ad carry with support bot. And it stays for years. I felt Dota 2 long ago but since there are so many different heroes, i dont think some strict picks exists. Same with HotS.

    • OscarWilde1854 says:

      That’s the worst logic people have in Overwatch.

      “Hey I need to play Genji 100% of the time because he’s the only character I’m good at, but you need to switch to Mercy because I don’t like Zenyatta even if you’re significantly better as Zenyatta.”

    • Synesthesia says:

      Zenny is so good. If you can get consistent headshots, you can 1v1 tanks who don’t know any better. Besting a confused reinhardt as a puny support never ceases to feel good.

  2. OscarWilde1854 says:

    “…I also needed to focus on every friendly hero and their relative levels of peril”

    You should be doing this even as Genji! If more people actually paid attention to their teammates status (health, ult charge, location, etc.) they could make better plays!

    Instalocking a DPS character is fine… playing as a lone wolf isn’t. This game is a team game more than any other I’ve played. You’ll rarely win without teamwork and nothing amplifies that more than playing support. Alone you’re vulnerable and weak. With effective teammates you can be unstoppable.

    If I get an effective team while playing Mercy I’ll rarely die. If I get a bunch of people who just keep trickling into the point and not grouping up then I die constantly (and so do they… and then they blame me for not healing them lol).

    Support is rough role in OW but easily the most important. You rarely get any credit for a win but get nearly all the blame in a loss.

  3. Haxton Fale says:

    I feel like I’m contributing, but even so it’s as if the outcome is entirely out of my hands.

    That’s basically my experience as a Mercy main. She’s pretty much a force multiplier, and you can only do so much to improve your team’s performance, which can lead to matches of frustration when it feels like you have been matched with the very bottom of the barrel.

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      sylmarien says:

      I could not say it better. And to specify : due to some mistake on my part, on my first season I was placed at 1500SR as a Mercy main and I could not get out of that zone. After 2 seasons trying to get up in SR while playing Mercy, I decided to play DPS/Tank for now.

      I quickly reached gold and now I usually play Mercy and continue my way up (even before the update). So yeah, if your teammates are not good, playing a very good Mercy won’t change much to the result of the game. (Maybe a bit different with the current state of Mercy).

  4. Excors says:

    I found the most helpful basic Mercy tip was to concentrate on staying out of the enemy’s line of sight. Your healing beam doesn’t require constant line of sight to your teammate – you can stay hidden behind a wall then pop out once every couple of seconds to reset the lock-on timer and keep healing continuously, with minimal exposure to the enemy team. If a teammate overextends and you can’t reach them without exposing yourself badly, leave them – it’s more important to stay alive yourself than to save them.

    It felt a slightly unnatural way to play at first. If the enemy can’t see you, you can’t see them either, and you kind of have to guess what they’re doing based on your teammates’ movements and the audio. It also feels a bit mean to leave someone to die instead of chasing after them. But the rest of your team can’t survive without healing, so you really need to keep yourself alive.

    I think it’s very useful to practice each role enough to get some intuitive understanding of their capabilities and limitations. Play Mercy enough to understand how far you can safely follow a Genji; then when you’re playing Genji, you’ll understand why you shouldn’t shout “I need healing” from the other side of the enemy team. Play Winston enough to see how fun it is to chase Genjis while zapping them with lightning as they deflect futilely, and how non-fun it is when you accidentally chase them into an enemy Roadhog; then when you’re playing Genji you’ll know when and where to retreat. And you might find a new hero that you really enjoy playing.

  5. Synesthesia says:

    I’m glad you left genji behind, you heathen. The shimada bros are weeaboo traps, at least up to platinum bracket. They consistently get counterpicked and fail to react.

    Maybe they’re better in diamond and such? I haven’t yet gotten that high.

  6. mitrovarr says:

    This is either a great time or a horrible time to play a support in OW. After the latest update, Mercy is ridiculously, horribly overpowered. Matches essentially revolve around who plays the better Mercy and she is present 100% of the time (completely literally true in comp). People still usually run another support on the side, but they don’t really matter.

    The balance is so incredibly awful right now that after two weeks with no end in sight, I completely gave up on the game and now play Paladins instead. It is 100% Mercy free, which is now the #1 thing I look for in a multiplayer FPS.

  7. Themadcow says:

    I’d agree there, Mercy is very overpowered. Both in the sense that she has an exceptional influence on who wins the game (if played well) but also in relation to other healer types such as Lucio. Prior to Mercy’s buff, use of either her or Lucio was very situational and a tactical choice. Post buff, I don’t think I’ve bothered with Lucio – he’s just not in her class as a support.

    Now beyond those two I think it’s more about personal preference. Sym is an exceptional defensive support and absolute game changer on a number of maps where running back to the control point simply takes too long. Her shield is decent, and both her beam and pulse weapon can do decent damage over and above her nasty little turrets.

  8. cpt_freakout says:

    Those realizations you had are fundamental to Overwatch I think, which is why ‘mains’ are OK as long as you know how to play every hero category (DPS, Tanks, and Support – Defense is just alt-DPS). You don’t need to be super good at all of them, but it does give you an edge that players that never go out from a single category do not have. I’m a supports and tanks main (Zen and DVA, specifically) who’s been oscillating between high plat and low diamond since last season, and the best DPS players I’ve seen are usually those who have a few hours of practice on supports and tanks. The thing is, in a game like OW mechanical skill can only get you so far, and you have to understand team dynamics and roles quite well if you want to get better. The Genji that helps his supports when they’re being flanked too often usually pushes the team further than one that pays no attention to the backline.

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