Playing to the comp: Flanking and Teamfighting

Wed 22nd Jun 2016 - 7:39am Gaming

Flanking is a poor strategy in competitive environments. That’s a general statement, but nevertheless true: when both teams are in organized voice comms, once one of the members spots the flanker, the entire team is aware of their position, they are hunted down, and now the team that sacrificed a player slot on a flanker has to fight under numbers disadvantage. In Phase 1 of the Overwatch beta, a lot of competitive teams tried to make single Genji/Tracer flanks work, with limited results. Devoting the entire composition to the Reinhardt line and overpowering the opposition was the preferred and most successful tactic.

When the flanking metagames finally emerged they weren’t about single flankers on otherwise standard comps, but dedicated offensive flanking compositions where everyone was either a flanker or gave invisible power to them. For Genji, pre-nerf Harmony orb gave him a healing battery. For Tracer, Symmetra’s shield kept her out of Widowmaker’s bodyshot range and gave her extra health on Recall. We even saw offensive Torbjorn as a support for a while, since everything that could give extra stats to the flankers was valuable.

How did this ever work? Teamfighting was (still is) the bread and butter of competitive Overwatch. Teams had a stable core, and built their compositions around it. What are the win conditions for flanking setups, either spliced in or built around the idea? There are a thousand reasons for their emergence (Genji with Harmony on being the single most impactful hero the game has seen so far) but it ultimately has to do with what kill patterns the supports in the game can deal with.

Every kill in an Overwatch match fits, in very broad strokes, into two categories. People either get picked off, or fall as part of a wipe. For a pick I mean a single hero that dies without a full blown teamfight breaking out and retaliation from the opposition, for a wipe I mean 3+ heroes from a single team falling in rapid succession. When teams draft their compositions, they do so toward one of these two scenarios; every hero in a comp is picked for their tools to prevent, enable, or cause one of these kill patterns. For example, a dedicated flanking comp with several Tracer/Genjis and Symmetra/Lúcio/Zen as supports is almost all pick potential without any tools that could enable a teamfight wipe but SpeedBoost+Sound Barrier+Dragonblade.

The thing that still keeps flanking alive is that the supports in Overwatch have excellent tools for wipe prevention and nullification. If not dealt with before the teamfight actually starts they are rarely caught in the avalanche, and a single support ultimate used optimally weighs for a lot of power, ultimates, and time from the opposition. The reaction Sound Barrier/Transcendences, or holding the TP/Res charge while hiding from the fight are impactful enough if used at maximum value to make the idea of running some pick tools tempting.

Mercy’s Res is by far the greatest offender here, in the flanking metagames she’s nowhere to be seen (because her beams telegraphs her position at all times, she gives no power unless tethered, and the pick “trickle down” kill pattern makes for suboptimal and dispersed ults), but on every teamfighting metagame we see 3+ man res’es regularly, on both sides. Phase 1 competitive was basically a game of “who can hunt down the enemy Mercy before the fight starts”, and now the Mercy players often outright stop healing and hide away from the fight once they have full charge, waiting for a good res.

So picking off the enemy supports before the fight starts gives teams a free objective, yet devoting slots on the team to get that pick is risky and backfires terribly if the strat fumbles. The compromise a lot of teams reached was running teamfight centric heroes with “some” pick potential outside of their normal play pattern, in the off chance a poorly positioned Mercy leaves herself open before the fight. Slipping Junkrat/Pharah projectiles over the enemy Rein screen, well aimed headshots from 76/McRee, or flanking crouching (no footsteps) McRees trying to get a lucky Flash&Fan (Mc’Creeping).

That, and running Widowmaker, basically the only pick-centric hero that doesn’t put herself in a high risk position to kill people. She’s map dependant and can be checked by aerial control or an opposing Widowmaker player, but getting what are essentially free fights was still well worth the risk.

It is a delicate balance, and teams still toy with dedicated flankers from time to time and on certain maps. The McRee/Widow nerf and the advent of One Hero Limit in the tournament rulesets might free up enough slots to encourage some of the Tracer/Genji players to take up the mantle again. And then Mercys have low life expectancies, and since their team is also flankers the hero isn’t that valuable anymore, and things shift again. Like always, time will tell.

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Miquel Olivé

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