What is Overwatch? A primer for noobs

Blizzard’s Overwatch has just had its first anniversary, but I’ve only just started playing. For the most part, I was heavily invested in Destiny and unwilling to put time into another title, but more than that, I just didn’t really understand what made Overwatch so popular. In this article, I hope to perhaps help you understand the latter, and in the meantime also try to explain why the former doesn’t matter.


What is Overwatch?

Overwatch is a team-based shooter in the same vein as Team Fortress, but where Team Fortress allows players to customise the loadout for the 9 available characters, Overwatch does not, and this major difference makes for a very different game.

Personally, I like to compare it to the Street Fighter titles.

Hear me out.

In Street Fighter 2, for example, you had a roster of characters, each with their own special moves and mechanics. They had similar base attacks, of course, but each played differently, and the game was essentially balanced so that players could choose to play as virtually any character on the roster and battle it out against virtually anyone else on the roster. The objective was simply to win, and the rewards were minimal – some fighting games allow for stages, characters, or skins to be unlocked via play, but realistically most players were focused on simply improving and getting to a point where they were comfortable with all the characters on the roster, often putting hundreds of hours into this pursuit.

Overwatch may be a first-person shooter, and it may be 6v6 instead of 1v1 (although there is a 1v1 mode in the Arcade), but thematically, it’s quite similar. Currently, there are 24 characters available, each fitting loosely into a class type (attack, defence, tank, support), and each with their own set of special abilities. They all have similar base attacks, but they all play very differently, and most importantly, they are all available from the time you first load the game, and the player can not change their loadout at all, regardless of the time they’ve put in. The game is essentially balanced so that players can choose to play as any character from the roster and be effective – to a point.

What this means is – you’ve got a colourful bunch of characters, and you need to learn how to use them all. And really – that’s it. Players that have put more time in may (and should) be ranked higher, but the moveset and damage levels are the same as a player who’s just joined their first match.

Compare this to Destiny – where there is a focus on character development and loot, and randomness plays a major part in the efficacy of weapons and armour. In this way, players that have put in the time have a distinct advantage over new players – the weapons and armour they are using are likely to have perks that give them the edge. Don’t get me wrong – I love Destiny, and I love the fact that I can find weapons in game that make me more formidable, but this is a huge barrier to new players.

So why play Overwatch? Well, for one – it’s great to play with friends. There’s a solid focus on teamwork (in fact, there is no Deathmatch at all, which seems to be lost on many players), and the different character classes means you sometimes need to try something a bit different if you want to win. Also, you don’t have to put in a lot of time unless you really want to improve at the game. Lastly – and I would say most importantly – because… loot boxes. Loot boxes are awarded every time you “level up” (and is really the only thing you get from levelling up), and award players with 4 random items – these are character dependant, and may be voice lines, victory poses, highlight intros, skins, emotes, sprays, player icons, or in-game currency that can be used to purchase some of these items (some items are only available via loot boxes, and some only during certain time-limited events). With around 80 items per character, it takes a very long time to collect everything, what with the somewhat frequent occurrence of duplicates (which Blizzard is reportedly working to reduce).

Essentially, this makes Overwatch the perfect game for any reason – from quick 15-minute bursts on a whim, to hours-long play sessions, year-long loot chasing, or the occasional game with friends. It doesn’t need to be something you devote a piece of your life to, unless that’s what you WANT to do. And that’s glorious. In fact, players in the highest tier can play with n00b mates any old time they like and have a great ol’ time – but not in Competitive, naturally.

Characters and Class Types

I’m not going to go over every character, as there are too many, so I’ll give a couple of examples based on character class, and that should help you understand how they differ, and still leave some room for you to want to learn more. Note that character classes are more of a guide than a rule – most characters have abilities that would place them in more than one class, but their primary utility is where they are placed, and this is really there to help new players more than experienced ones…

The offence class is your DPS. These are the (generally) fast-moving characters you want to use to lay down damage on the opposing team. That said, they don’t have a lot of health, so they need to rely on movement perks and positioning to be most efficient. This class could be said to be the most “FPS-friendly” class, with characters like Soldier: 76, who has an assault rifle and rocket launcher (along with an area of effect health station and run toggle), and Tracer, who duel wields automatic pistols, but relies very strongly on her ability to teleport short distances and go back in time by 3 seconds. Where Soldier lays down solid damage from the mid to back line, Tracer gets in the opposing team’s face, and buzzes about them like an annoying mosquito before getting herself out of danger.

The defence class is a mixed bag – and I don’t mean that there are good and bad characters, I just mean that there a number of very different character types. The goal for defence is to stop or delay the progression of the opposing team’s attack, or to simply force them into a different play. Here, you have characters like Bastion, a mech that can heal itself, but who can also lock itself in place transform into a high power turret, which tears through the opposition, but doesn’t allow for any mobility. On the other hand, you have Junkrat, who uses his grenade launcher to continually harass the opposing team, as well as the ability to drop steel traps and concussion mines to slow them down and attack choke points. A well-positioned Bastion can hold off the advance of an unprepared team on its own, while Junkrat can be really annoying, firing grenade after grenade, which bounce around and keep everyone on their toes.


Tanks are big and slow and have a huge amount of hit points. They are there to soak up bullets and deal a bunch of damage, and to generally be a nuisance. There’s a really diverse mix here as well, from Roadhog, with his scattershot shotgun and hook (which can be used to pull enemies in for a shotgun blast to the face), to Reinhart, with his wide hand-held shield (behind which a smart team would stand) and warhammer, through the lovable Winston, who is a very large gorilla. Sure, he can drop a spherical shield and he carries a tesla gun, but he’s a gorilla. And he can jump large distances. Roadhog is a big beast who hits hard, Reinhart can lead a slow advance, and Winston? He just scares the crap out of everyone by suddenly jumping in and out of the fray, while being a gorilla.


Support is the one class in Overwatch that I feel has a bit of an identity crisis. Ideally, characters in this class should be sitting on the back line providing buffs to the rest of the team. While there are several characters in this class that fit the bill perfectly (for example, Ana is a sniper that can deal damage to enemies or heal team members with the same button press, while Lucio provides an area of effect buff [health or speed, depending on what the player chooses at the time] to players in the vicinity), there is one character that potentially seems better suited to perhaps the defence class… But that’s an argument best had elsewhere. In regards to support, the four healer-based characters in this class differ greatly, and so feel very different in their application. Realistically, healers is what you want from the support class, as a team without healers is bound to lose.

What to do when playing for the first time?

If it’s your first time playing Overwatch, the first thing I would say is to let go of your expectations. Overwatch is an AMAZING game, but it really wasn’t what I was expecting at first, and the requisite training that must be undertaken prior to the first “real” match is fairly underwhelming, to say the least, as it lacks the context and mechanics of a real match. The reality is – it’s one thing to shoot your assault rifle and another to shoot your rockets, but in play, when to use one and when to use the other is another thing entirely, and THAT’S what makes Overwatch so damned good, and that realisation takes time to settle in.

My advice (and everyone is different, so do with this what you will)? Quickly work your way through the training and do your first “vs AI” match to unlock quick play. Then take Soldier: 76 into Quick Play, and use him for at least 2 or 3 FULL matches. Don’t switch off him. The reason I say this is because you need to get a feel for the way matches progress, and how your character fits in to that progression, and Soldier: 76 is a good all rounder from which to gain that understanding.

I’d then recommend branching out a little – try someone else, see what you think. But try to stick with them for a whole match. Sure, you can switch after any death, but you won’t learn if you don’t persist. If you want to keep it simple, try the following four characters: Tracer, Lucio, Reinhart, and Bastion. These characters have a pretty clear application, and while the reality of it can be far more complicated, they are all pretty easy to understand at first glance.

Then branch out – play a bit of everyone, if you can. Jump into Arcade and choose Mystery Heroes – not only is it fun as hell, it gives you no choice as to who you’ll be playing, as it randomly chooses your character for you each time you spawn. But when you find 2 or 3 characters that you do well with, stick with them, and stick with them for a while. To be of benefit to your team, you need to be good at at least one character, so get good. Then try to get good with at least one character from each class – that way if your team is too DPS heavy, you can switch from Soldier: 76 to Lucio, for example, and not let the team down.

And most importantly, keep in mind that Overwatch isn’t Call of Duty. The goal is to win the objective, and not necessarily to get the most kills. In fact, with some characters, you may not get very many at all – for example, the utility for Reinhart is to block incoming fire and advance your team safely towards the goal. If that’s all you do, and by doing so you allow your team to get through the enemy front line, then you’ve done your job well.

Once you hit level 25, jump into Competitive, do your placement matches and see where the game places you. Don’t be disppointed if you’re Bronze or Silver (levels are Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, Grand Master, and Top 500), because everyone has to start somewhere, and you can’t expect to start at the top. Once you know where you sit – feel free to stop playing Competitive, unless you really enjoy it (some may argue the other way, but… each to their own). Quick Play will give you all the experience you need, and nobody expects anything from you (and more importantly, you don’t have to talk to anyone else). If you like Competitive, use your headset – it’s a team-based game after all, and the goal is to win, so play nice and play as a team.


Your end goal initially is to be strong with a few characters in each class, and “pretty OK” with everyone else. Once you get there, you can really start to understand how each player fits in, who complements who, what character can be used to counter another on the enemy team, and so on – it really is far more complicated than it seems, but dont try to go for that level of complexity right from the start. The reality is that everyone in Bronze and Silver is still trying to get their head around most of the characters, and it’s not until players reach Gold and above that skill becomes less of an problem, and map knowledge, character usage, and team composition really starts to matter more.

Overall, Overwatch can almost be whatever you want it to be. You want something you play casually with mates every once in a while? No worries. You want to be ultra-competitive and work your way to the top of the ranks? Go for it. And did I mention that Blizzard supports several events throughout the year, often with special game modes, loot boxes, and gear, and occasionally even with new maps and characters (3 have been added since the game launched, with 3 more rumoured to be on the way), and all for free (apart from the upfront cost of the game itself, of course)? There is so much to enjoy right now, and more filtering down the pipeline – if you don’t play Overwatch already and you enjoy multiplayer FPS, then you are missing out.

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