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

Begging for Mercy

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.

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