How To Watch The Overwatch League

If you want to check out the hottest new league in esports but don't know where to start, or just want to explain it to mom, we've got you covered.

Intro

With the sold-out OWL Grand Finals growing closer, it’s more urgent than ever for newer spectators to competitive Overwatch to have a comprehensive guide to watching this fast-paced esport so that it doesn’t become confusing or overwhelming.

With this in mind, we’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to watching Overwatch, designed specifically for sharing with friends you want to convert into diehard OWL fans. Who knows? You might learn something from the guide, too!

Overview

Overwatch is a team-based, first-person action game with objectives. Two teams, each comprised of six players, compete in different game modes across a series of different maps.  

Overwatch is an incredibly complex game due to the great number of variables that make up the gameplay. Hopefully, however, this guide will make it easier to digest Overwatch as a visual experience. Before you begin, however, a note: Don’t be discouraged if you can’t understand everything the first time you watch an Overwatch match, even after reading this guide. OWL’s casters work hard to ensure that the audience is in on every moment of the game, so make sure to listen to them if and when you feel lost!

Overwatch Heroes

There are currently 27 playable heroes in Overwatch, each belonging to one of three different classes: Damage, Tank, and Support. (Fun fact: There were four classes up until June 26th, when Blizzard issued a patch that consolidated the Attack and Defense classes into Damage).

The entire hero-class breakdown is as follows:

Damage: Soldier: 76, Tracer, Genji, Sombra, Reaper, Doomfist, Pharah, McCree, Junkrat, Torbjorn, Mei, Bastion, Widowmaker, Hanzo, Symmetra

Tank: Roadhog, Orisa, D.Va, Winston, Zarya, Reinhardt

Support: Zenyatta, Mercy, Moira, Lucio, Ana, Brigitte

Every hero has different stats, weapons, and abilities with cooldowns (e.g., intervals of time before the abilities become available for use again) that grant them a unique flavor and strategic advantage. They each also have an ultimate ability that must charge before use. Ultimates—often shortened to “ults”—begin at 0% charge and passively charge over time. Players can speed up the charge of their ult by dealing damage to other players and healing their teammates.

Team Roles

The three character classes described above are matched with OWL team roles. Though there are many ways to define team roles in competitive Overwatch, OWL slots its players into one of four: Offense (also called DPS for “damage per second,” a holdover term from MMORPGs), Tank, Support, and Flex.  

Offense/DPS players utilize heroes from the Damage class and function as the team’s main damage dealers. NYXL’s Saebyeolbe and Libero are DPS players.

Tank players command heroes with large amounts of health and generally aim to absorb damage, maintain fortified positions with barriers, and lead large-scale charges into enemy lines. They play either the “main tank” heroes (Orisa, Reinhardt, and Winston) or the “off-tank” heroes (D.Va, Zarya, and Roadhog). NYXL’s Janus, Mek0, and Mano are all tank players.

Support players mainly heal their teammates, though they also specialize in providing various buffs (armor, speed boosts, damage boosts, etc.) to their teammates and impediments to their opponents (ex: Ana’s Sleep Dart, Zenyatta’s Orb of Discord, etc.). They play heroes from the Support class. NYXL’s Anamo, JjoNak. and ArK are all support players.

Flex players are skilled at adjusting their actions to perform whatever is needed at a given moment during a match, as well as fulfilling any of the three other team roles should the team require it. Pine is NYXL’s flex player.    

Game Modes & Match Structure

Every match, teams compete in four different game modes across four different maps. The team who wins the most maps in a match wins the match. If both teams win two maps, they play a fifth tiebreaker map. The game modes are as follows: Control, Escort, Assault, and Hybrid.

Control

In Control, both teams compete for control over a single point. A team captures a point by remaining within its bounds uncontested by any member of the other team for a certain duration of time. The more team members present at the capture point, the less time it takes for the team to capture it. Once they’ve captured a point, a team must maintain control of it until a meter displayed at the top of the screen reaches 100%. Overtime occurs if a team manages to contest a point the moment the other team’s meter reaches 100%. Control maps are a best-of-three.  

The Control maps are Nepal, Ilios, Lijiang Tower, and Oasis.

Escort

In Escort, the attacking team is tasked with advancing a “payload” cart across a fixed track within a time limit while the defending team tries to halt their progress. Attackers advance the payload while standing within its boundary uncontested by any defenders. For every checkpoint the payload reaches, the attacking team is awarded a point and more time on the meter, with a total of three possible points to win per map.  

At the end of a round, the attacking and defending teams switch positions. Teams enter additional rounds on the offense if a) both teams are currently tied and b) they completed their objectives as attackers with time still on the clock. The remaining time rolls over into these subsequent rounds, in which the attacking team has additional chances to score points using the time that they banked during previous rounds. If a team no longer has time in their bank, they don’t get to participate in an additional round as attackers. The team who wins the most points and/or pushes the payload the farthest distance wins the map.  

The Escort maps are Dorado, Junkertown, Rialto, Route 66, and Watchpoint: Gibraltar.

Assault

In Assault, the attacking team must capture two points to win within a time limit while the defending team tries to stop them. Like in Control, attackers capture the point by standing within its bounds uncontested by their opponents. Unlike Control, however, each point has three “ticks” that function as checkpoints of the attacking team’s capture progress—that is, if an attacking team manages to stay on a point only long enough to secure two of the three ticks, those two ticks will stay filled on their next attempt. Capturing a point awards attackers more time on the meter and a point.  

Like in Escort, at the end of a round, the attacking and defending teams switch positions, and rounds are added if teams continue to have time left over after capturing both points as attackers. The team who wins the most points wins.  

The Assault maps are Temple of Anubis, Volskaya Industries, Horizon Lunar Colony, and Hanamura.

Hybrid

Hybrid, the fourth and last game mode, is named as such because it combines elements of both Escort and Assault. Attacking teams must first unlock a payload cart by capturing a point (à la Assault) from the defending team before pushing the payload over a checkpoint and to the finish (à la Escort) for a total of three possible points. Completing objectives awards the attacking team with more time and points.

As in Escort and Assault, time left over from completing all objectives rolls over into subsequent rounds should the teams tie. The team who wins the most points wins the map.

The Hybrid maps are Blizzard World, King’s Row, Hollywood, Eichenwalde, and Numbani.

Understanding the HUD

Now that we’ve covered all the basic game mechanics, dynamics, and competitive structures, we can dive into the HUD (Heads Up Display). This is what players see during the competition, and it’s one of the main perspectives through which we spectate OWL matches.

On the bottom left, you’ll see the player’s name, the icon for their hero, and their hero’s health. At bottom center is the player’s ultimate status, and to the right of that are the player’s abilities (with cooldowns), selected weapon, and ammo count.

The competing teams’ player compositions are listed on either side of the top part of the screen. Next to each team name is their match score (i.e., how many maps they’ve won so far). Next to that number is an icon that indicates whether they’re attacking (in the image above, crossed swords) or defending (a shield). Underneath the name of each team, you’ll see the players’ hero icons, health, and ultimate statuses.  

At the center of the top part of the screen is info about the map. It lets us know how many maps have been played in the match, what the current objective is, and the progress of the objective. Next to each team’s score are further details about their individual progress: For Escort and Hybrid maps, it’ll display the furthest distance they’ve pushed the cart during the current map. For all game modes besides Control, it’ll also display the amount of time the team has left in their time bank.

Finally, on the right-hand side of the screen is the kill feed, which displays eliminations in real time. It’s especially handy for grasping the action as it happens.

Team Compositions

Now that you understand the basics of watching competitive Overwatch, we’ll introduce some fundamentals of understanding the metagame (primarily referred to as “the meta”)—the game outside of the game that governs the larger choices teams make to craft strategies.

The first thing to address is team compositions. The most standard composition is 2-2-2—two DPS, two tanks, and two supports. Different strategies might call for different variations, however. For example, a triple-tank strat might call for three tanks and three supports, comprising a particularly beefy composition.  

What’s more, it’s helpful to identify a team’s front line and back line. The front line typically houses tanks and aggressive DPS, while the back line consists of supports and defensive DPS heroes. Teams are often tasked with ensuring their front line can dole out damage to opponents without risking a vulnerable back line. Paying attention to where heroes are relative to their teammates can help you determine how their team is faring (or what kind of composition they’re running) during an intense fight.

Looking to the heroes a team has chosen can help illuminate their strategy. For instance, if a team is composed of a Winston, a D.Va, a Tracer, a Genji, a Zenyatta, and a Lucio (or Mercy), chances are the team is running a “dive” composition: A strategy that specializes in “diving” over the enemy’s front line to eliminate their supports and expose them to damage, aided by mobile tanks and speedy DPS heroes skilled at flanking. However, if the team is huddled closely together behind a Reinhardt and aided by a speed boost from a Lucio, the team is likely running a “deathball” composition: A strategy that involves rushing the enemy team or map objective as a consolidated unit.

With 27 heroes at a team’s disposal (and frequent reworks of heroes and maps), there are numerous compositions for teams to experiment with depending on a wide host of variables: Map, game mode, enemy composition, etc. There’s also the element of surprise—take NYXL’s unexpected use of a quad-tank comp (four tanks and two supports) during a match against the LA Valiant

Conclusion

Remember, this is just a beginner’s guide to competitive Overwatch, but we hope it helps you join in on the fun! Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to learn how to digest what’s happening on the screen during a game. Listening to the casters and asking friends to explain plays to you as they occur can help catch you up to speed. Watching past matches and videos by Overwatch analysts would be a good way to supplement the info in this guide, too.  

When we asked NYXL what newcomers should know, ArK said, “Have fun!  If you enjoy watching, you’ll be more interested in it and will naturally want to get better at it.”  

JjoNak, on the other hand, offered a different tactic: “Just watch JjoNak play.”

On both counts, we couldn’t agree more.

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