Overwatch: the Heroes

By Jacob Toman and Michael Mendis

Welcome to our Overwatch series!  Overwatch is a fast-paced, colorful, team-based shooter that we are playing with gamers as part of our outreach efforts to the gaming community.  The series takes a look at some of the game's strategies and key aspects, and this first part focuses on Heroes, the characters you play as in the game.



Offense characters are designed to deal lots of damage on the battlefield, and are particularly useful when your team is attacking (rather than defending) an objective.  Most of them have good mobility and can wipe out weaker characters quickly.


Tracer is an incredibly speedy hero; her Blink ability allows her to zip quickly around the battlefield, which makes her great for flanking enemies and for covering long distances quickly.  Her Rewind ability pulls her back to the location she was in three seconds prior, and recovers any health lost during that time as well.  Her dual automatic pistols pack a decent punch up close, but won’t do much at range, while her Ultimate ability is a sticky bomb that can take out most characters in the game instantly (if you can get the bomb stuck directly on the enemy).

Tracer’s biggest weakness is her low health; with only 150 hp (tied for the lowest of any hero in the game), she won’t hold up long in a firefight.  The best strategy for playing Tracer is to get in close, deal some damage, and get out before the enemy has a chance to respond.  Save the Rewind for when you start to take damage and need a quick getaway.


Soldier 76

Soldier 76 is a good all-around character that anyone familiar with other first-person shooters can learn very easily.  His automatic rifle and his rocket attack are both great at mid range, and his Sprint ability lets him get into the fight quickly after respawning.  He can also heal himself and those right next to him with his Biotic Field, meaning he isn’t reliant upon other healers to bail him out of tough situations.  Soldier 76’s Ultimate temporarily targets all enemies in sight so that you don’t need to aim; just shoot and you’ll get hits (including with your rockets).  He doesn’t have any real specialties, but he doesn’t have any clear weaknesses either, making him a good pick for players who are new to the game.



Reaper’s primary function is to remove high health targets, winning duels through the superior damage output of his twin handheld shotguns. These double shotguns deal massive amounts of damage up close, but lose a significant amount of their potency the further away the target is. Reaper’s abilities all correspond with his theme as the harvester of souls. When an opposing player dies, they leave behind a health globe that can be collected by Reaper for a healing effect. With two mobility skills at his disposal (one being the ability to teleport to any spot on within line of sight, and the other the ability to temporarily become invulnerable and move more quickly across the battlefield), Reaper is a threat to appear anywhere around the map. Appearing in a wild commotion of gunfire and smoke, Reaper’s Ultimate fires several of his shotgun blasts in a whirling circle of death, bringing destruction to any enemy near him.



Pharah’s specialty is using the airspace above each map to control the battlefield.  Her Jump Jet allow her to fly high up into the air and hover for a brief time, making her a difficult target to hit.  Her primary weapon, a rocket launcher, can then be shot down at enemies below; in a way, she acts as a makeshift sniper, gaining the high ground and hitting targets with powerful shots from afar.  She also has a Concussive Blast that pushes enemies away from the point of impact, handy for getting them off an objective or knocking them off the edge of the map.  Finally, her Barrage ultimate attack fires a volley of rockets that is capable of wiping out groups of enemies unlucky enough to be caught in the blast.

When playing as Pharah, make sure to stay airborne as often as possible; she doesn’t have good footspeed, which makes her an easy target on the ground, and her weapon is a lot more difficult to use effectively there as well.  It’s also worth noting that her ultimate, while incredibly powerful, does leave her stationary for a few seconds while she fires her barrage, leaving her very vulnerable.



The gunslinger McCree is a solid offensive pick for mid-to-close range combat, particularly when going one-on-one with another enemy.  His six-shooter can fire one bullet at a time for good mid-range attacks, and he can also unload all six shots in rapid succession for heavy close-range damage.  This alternate mode of fire is especially effective when combined with his Flashbang, which stops enemies in their tracks for several seconds, leaving them completely vulnerable (and is a good counter to slippery characters like Tracer or Mei that otherwise would be hard to pin down).  The Combat Roll propels McCree forward a short distance and automatically reloads his gun; when used well this can throw an enemy for a loop and leave them exposed.

McCree’s ultimate, Deadeye, will lock onto any enemies in sight over the course of several seconds, and when you pull the trigger you’ll instantly kill all enemies you’ve successfully targeted.  When enemies hear McCree’s “high noon” voice line, they know they have a few seconds to find cover before they meet an untimely demise, so it’s best used when you have multiple enemies caught out in the open.



Genji is one of the harder characters to learn, but in the right hands can make a big difference on the battlefield.  While his projectile attack - sets of shurikens that he can throw in a straight line or in a wider spread - can pester enemies at range, Genji is most effective when he unleashes his katana for close range attacks.  His Swift Strike ability launches him toward his opponent with his sword out, slicing them for a good amount of damage (and if it kills an opponent, the cooldown timer resets immediately).  His ultimate, Dragonblade, briefly replaces his shurikens with a close-range melee attack that can kill most characters in two or three hits; when used in combination with Swift Strike, which helps close the distance on enemies, Genji becomes quite deadly.

While Genji doesn't run as quickly as someone like Tracer or Soldier 76, he does have the ability to climb up walls, making him harder to hit and allowing him a means of escape in the right circumstances.  He can also use his sword defensively, deflecting shots back at the enemy (making him a particularly good counter to turrets).  Altogether, Genji has a lot of tools at his disposal; in order to use him well, you’ll have to learn the best timing for using each one.




Sombra adds an element of stealth to the Overwatch cast that she uses to sneak behind enemies and harass the backline.  She can turn invisible for a brief period of time, which also increases her speed, thus allowing her to flank enemies undetected.  Additionally, her Translocator is a beacon that remains active for fifteen seconds, and she can teleport to the beacon’s location with the click of a button; this acts as an excellent method of escape when she gets in a tight spot.

In addition to her stealth skills, Sombra can hack enemy players, rendering them unable to use their special abilities for several seconds and giving Sombra and her team a temporary advantage in combat.  While she can normally only hack one person at a time, her Ultimate hacks all enemies in a wide radius and disables all their shields and barriers; when timed well, this can leave a whole enemy team crippled.  If that wasn’t enough, she can also hack health packs, leaving them inaccessible to enemy players for a whole minute.  Between her hacking, stealth, and SMG (which is good for short-to-mid range combat), Sombra is well suited to take enemies by surprise; just be sure to have an escape plan in mind when engaging enemies, as she doesn’t move very quickly while uncloaked and she doesn’t have any other abilities to help her in a direct firefight.



Defense characters are well suited to holding off attackers and holding down a position.  They lay traps, set up turrets, snipe from a distance, and stop opponents in their tracks.



Junkrat may be listed as a Defense character, but his explosives make him useful just about anywhere.  The grenades he fires off from his grenade launcher do a lot of damage, and you can keep enemies away from a specific point by spamming them; just make sure not to be in the blast radius, or else you’ll take damage as well.  Junkrat has two types of traps he can lay on the ground: a Concussion Mine and a Steel Trap.  The Concussion Mine can be detonated remotely to blast enemies or to send Junkrat himself flying through the air (and this explosion won’t hurt him, unlike the grenades); the Steel Trap, meanwhile, will pin an enemy to the spot, leaving him/her vulnerable for a few seconds.  Junkrat's Ultimate is one of the most powerful in the game; when you send out the Rip Tire you can control its movements and trigger it to explode, killing any opponents nearby.  Just be aware that the Tire can be shot down by enemies, and that you yourself are vulnerable while remotely controlling it.



As Overwatch's tinkering engineer, Torbjorn thrives in environments where a defensive strategy can be employed to hold a choke point. His Rivet gun fires either single bullets of molten lava, or a scatter shot similar to a shotgun. He's definitely not a sniper, and relies on medium to short range skirmishes to finish off his foes. Torbjorn’s most valuable asset, however, is the turret he can build that automatically targets and attacks enemies.  When a turret is placed Torbjorn can swing his hammer to upgrade the turret to level 2, which increases it's damage and health.  When Torbjorn has his ultimate fully charged, he unleashes a furious battle cry (“Molten Core!”) and his turret temporarily upgrades to a level 3 turret with significantly increased damage, rate of fire, and health. For an enemy team besieging a choke point, the battle cry of Torbjorn spells doom.



Bastion is the mobile artillery of Overwatch. He is very vulnerable while moving around on foot, but when he locks himself into a defensive position, he can fire up to 200 rounds from his machine gun. For choke points and applying pressure to a particular location, there is no better choice for a damage dealing character. In either mobile or rooted mode, Bastion can repair himself, momentarily ceasing the ability to fire for the sake of regaining health. When Bastion has charged up his ultimate he becomes a tank for a short period of time, allowing him to rumble around the map firing massive rockets that rival all other damage sources in Overwatch.



Widowmaker is one of several snipers in the game.  She does extra damage with headshots, meaning that in skilled hands she can bring down most heroes in the game with one hit.  Her grappling hook lets her reach high vantage points quickly, and her Venom Mine can alert her to enemies trying to sneak up on her (and catch them off guard in the process).  When not zoomed in her sniper rifle acts as an assault rifle, which helps her fend off anyone who gets too close, but her slow foot speed means she’s still at a disadvantage in those situations.  Widowmaker’s ultimate will highlight all enemies on the screen for you and your teammates, even through walls, giving your team a temporary tactical advantage.


Another one of the game’s snipers, Hanzo specializes in taking out enemies from afar rather than close up.  In addition to his standard arrows, the Scatter Arrow will ricochet off walls and hit multiple targets, and the Sonic Arrow will highlight any enemies near the point of the arrow’s impact (similar to the effect of Widowmaker’s ultimate).  Hanzo also has the ability to climb walls, helping him reach higher ground.  His ultimate can be a real gamechanger: Dragonstrike sends a pair of dragons that pass in a straight line across the map (and through walls), wiping out any enemies in their path.



Mei thrives as an irritant against opposing forces. In a way, Mei is similar to insect repellent: you don’t keep her around because she’s helpful or fun for you, you keep her around because she’s a deterrent to others you don’t want around. Her endothermic blaster freezes opponents in place momentarily. She has an ice wall that can be used to block off doorways, hallways, or window entrances. Mei also has the ability encase herself in a block of ice, making her temporarily invulnerable and restoring a portion of her health. Her Ultimate is a blizzard which freezes all enemies within an area-of-effect. Put it all together, and you have the ultimate annoying crowd control hero.



Tank characters are good at soaking up damage that would eliminate teammates.  They all have more health than other character types in the game, and have various ways of dealing with enemy attacks.  They may or may not be able to deal a lot of damage themselves, but they can lead a charge and take one for the team.



Reinhardt is a versatile tank capable of playing for both aggressive or defensive objectives. One of his most important tools is his large rectangular shield which blocks incoming damage, and is big enough to cover an entire team as they move forward or hold a choke point. When playing more aggressively, Reinhardt can charge into opposing teams with a huge burst of speed that can pin, stun or even knock enemies off a map. While most of his offensive capabilities involve melee strikes with his giant hammer, Reinhardt does have a single significant ranged ability: his Fire Strike, which can travel through (and thus deal damage to) multiple enemies in a straight line. Finally, this tanky-tank's ultimate ability is a massive area-of-effect knockdown that leaves foes who are hit by it unable to take any actions for a few seconds. With this ultimate Reinhardt can hold a point for a last minute win, set up his team for an offensive push, or stop a particularly annoying foe.



Winston doesn’t have a lot of raw firepower, but in the right circumstances he can be a huge help to the team.  He can leap great distances in a single bound, and his sizeable health pool makes him tough to bring down, especially when he deploys his Barrier Projector, which is basically a bubble-shaped shield for himself and allies.  His gun, the Tesla Cannon, hits enemies in close range with an electric shock.  It doesn’t do a ton of damage, but it targets multiple enemies automatically, making it useful against slippery characters like Tracer who try to zip around you.  Winston’s ultimate temporarily puts him into a rage, giving him increased melee damage and providing a huge boost to health.  This is good to activate when he’s running low on health or when trying to get enemies away from an objective, as his hits will also knock enemies away when he is in this state.



Zarya doesn’t have quite as much health as other Tanks, but half of her health is a regenerating shield, making her a lot tougher to bring down than it may seem at first.  Her key method of damage absorption is through her barrier abilities; she can temporarily add an impenetrable barrier to herself as well as to one other ally, and all damage absorbed by those barriers increases the damage she deals herself with her particle cannon.  This is an important aspect to her gameplay, as she isn’t much of a threat offensively at first, but can become a real powerhouse if she absorbs enough damage.  Finally, her ultimate creates a black hole that pulls enemies in, leaving them exposed.  By itself it doesn’t do much damage, but using this in combination with other allies’ abilities can turn the tide of battle in an instant.



Like the other tank characters in the game, Roadhog’s larger health pool makes him tough to kill (especially when combined with his healing ability, which allows him to restore half his max health in just a couple seconds).  Unlike the other tanks, however, he lacks any type of barrier or other way to absorb damage directed at himself or his teammates.  To make up for that, Roadhog can dish out a lot more damage than the other characters in his class.  His Scrap Gun can fire nasty shotgun blasts at close range, and can alternatively be fired as a longer projectile that explodes at a further distance.  His Chain Hook is his signature tool; with it he can snag an enemy from a distance, pulling them up close and setting them up for a shotgun blast at point blank range.  Roadhog’s ultimate is also quite deadly; he unleashes a continuous spray of bullets from his gun, dealing a lot of damage and pushing away any enemies caught in the line of fire.

Roadhog has slow movement speed, so it’s best to stick fairly close to your teammates so that you don’t get flanked or outnumbered.  A good strategy is to use the Chain Hook to pull enemies away from their teammates and finish them off in a single blow; picking off an enemy healer or offensive specialist can turn things around quickly in a firefight.



D.Va is one of the more agile and versatile Tank characters in Overwatch.  While she can help lead a charge by absorbing damage (she has a pretty big health pool, and her alternate fire mode will block all incoming damage as long as you have meter), her mech’s jet boosters allow her to get in and out of battle quickly.  Her automatic guns don’t do much damage, even when at close range, but her mobility and survivability means she can flank, harass enemies, and take out turrets, giving her teammates an opportunity to come in and deal bigger damage.  Her Ultimate sees her mech become a huge bomb; D.Va hops out of her mech, and after a few seconds the mech will explode, killing just about any enemy that can’t find cover.  Once it blows up, D.Va can call down a new one and hop right back into the action.

If D.Va’s mech is otherwise destroyed in combat, she will eject and run around on foot with a single automatic pistol.  This is not an ideal situation for the player, as D.Va has low health, no special powers to help her, and has to charge up a new mech as if she were charging up her ultimate. D.Va isn’t completely helpless or useless here, though; her quick foot speed and surprisingly powerful and accurate pistol means she can still make an impact on the battlefield, and her new mech charges quickly.  Just don’t stray too far from your teammates or you’ll get finished off quickly.



Support characters are designed to boost their teammates, most often through either healing or through increasing damage output.  They don’t have a lot of health themselves and you won’t see them on them on the frontlines of the fight, but if you don’t find a way to eliminate them, you’ll have a tough time bringing down some of your tougher opponents.



Mercy’s specialty is healing and boosting damage.  Using her staff, she can target an ally to provide one of those buffs (which can be switched with the click of a button).  If any allies are in range, she can use her wings to fly directly to them, which is her best method of mobility since her footspeed isn’t that great (and she can’t fly if there are no teammates nearby).  She does have a pistol that she can whip out in emergencies, but the best way for her to deal damage is through the damage boost she gives her teammates.  Just remember you can only target one ally at a time.

Mercy’s ultimate allows her to resurrect nearby allies who have died but have not yet respawned.  This can be a game changer if used at the right moment, especially if the opposing team spent their Ultimates killing your teammates in the first place.  The challenge for Mercy is staying alive long enough to make it happen.  Be sure to stay close to your teammates at all times, as you’ll be a high priority target for the enemy team.



Lucio is a versatile and easy-to-use support character with a lot of ways to help out the team.  The main way Lucio supports his teammates is through his passive ability to either heal or give a speed boost to himself and those close to him.  He can switch healing and speed at any time, and the Amp It Up ability lets him increase temporarily increase the effect of those buffs at key moments.  The speed boost can make a big difference when you coordinate with your teammates and rush to an objective together.  His gun can pester enemies from a distance, and the Soundwave ability can knock enemies away from the objective.  Lucio’s Ultimate, Sound Barrier, adds a temporarily shield to himself and all nearby allies, which can make it much easier to secure a point or survive a heavy enemy assault.  Combine all of that with his quick footspeed and his ability to run on walls, and Lucio is a good all-around pick for those who want to play support.



Like most support characters, Zenyatta has abilities to heal his teammates; his Orb of Harmony can attach to one ally and slowly restore health as long as Zenyatta retains line of sight (the orb will return to Zenyatta after a few seconds if line of sight is not maintained).  His Ultimate is his best healing ability, as it renders him invulnerable and rapidly restores health to all allies near him for a few seconds.

What differentiates Zenyatta from other support heroes is that he is capable of dealing a fair amount of damage.  The orbs he fires at enemies are rather powerful, and if he attaches an Orb of Discord to an enemy (which, like the Orb of Harmony, stays as long as line-of-sight is maintained), that enemy will receive increased damage.  He can also charge up his attack orbs and fire them all at once.  Altogether, Zenyatta isn’t quite as effective a healer as some other characters, but he can be just as lethal on the battlefield as an Offense hero.



Ana is a rather unique support character because of the range provided by her sniper rifle; shooting allies with the rifle will heal them, while shooting enemies will hurt them (using the same button).  Her Biotic grenade will heal also heal allies, as well as temporarily stop enemies from healing, and her Sleep Dart knocks out enemies for several seconds.  Lastly, Ana’s Ultimate boosts one ally’s attack and defense for a brief time; when used properly, this can allow a teammate do charge into an objective and do a lot of damage to the enemy team quickly.

Ana’s biggest weakness is her mobility.  She doesn’t have any special abilities that help her climb walls or grapple to high ledges, so she is stuck using the normal pathways.  On top of that, she has no quick way of escape, meaning that while she can stay at some distance from her teammates, she shouldn’t get too far away, lest someone like Tracer isolates her and takes her out.  If you’re in a jam, use the sleep dart to knock out your attacker and make your escape; don’t try to attack the sleeping opponent, because they’ll wake up as soon as they take damage.



Symmetra may be listed as a support character, but in many ways she acts more as a defensive character.  Unlike the other support characters, she doesn’t have any healing ability; her specialty is map control.  Symmetra has the ability to place small turrets on walls and floors; each individual turret doesn’t do much damage, but placing several in range of the same choke point on a map can make a big difference, especially against heroes with less health.  When properly hidden around corners they can also catch enemies off guard and distract them while your teammates move in for the kill.  Just be aware that your turrets are destroyed as soon as they take any damage.

Symmetra’s turrets are the main way she hurts enemies (though she does have a small beam gun that can deal of damage), but one of the best ways she can help her team is with her Ultimate, which is a teleporter.  Placing a teleporter anywhere on the map will create another in your team’s spawn room, so putting a teleporter near the objective you are trying to defend will help get your teammates back into the fight quickly after respawning.  Just be sure to place the teleporter out of sight, as your opponents will try to track it down and destroy it.


Click here for part 2, covering the different game types in Overwatch.