Fighting on two planes. Vertical play in Overwatch.
Overwatch clashes happen mostly in the objective, but there are a lot of secondary areas along the path of the payload/around the capture to skirmish in. Rooms, roofs, hallways, balconies, flanking routes; and a lot of those are harder or impossible to access without vertical mobility heroes.
This has always been a conundrum for compbuilding: if the defense is taking advantage of high ground that can’t be accessed easily, teams have to devote slots to contest that high ground without compromising the ground line. Maps like Hollywood streets, the first point in Numbani, or the pre-hangar stage of Gibraltar (and to a lesser degree, the rest of the map) reward climbing and flying comps. And in that limited comp-within-the-comp, each hero has a role and a use.
Winston is the go-to solution for clearing balconies and rooftops. Once he’s jumped onto the defenders there are few heroes with vertical mobility that can contest him, he has the staying power to keep the area long enough for the ground line to advance, the melee for the spot favours his optimal range, he gets a vantage point to jump and assassinate the backline on the ground if left unchecked, and he’s good enough in standard comps to justify his slot even if the team weren’t to contest the high ground.
He does have some limitations though. He can be harrassed by Pharah, kited, and most importantly, he has little kill potential. He often drives heroes off the high ground but rarely kills them while doing so; he has no mid-long range options so he secures space but his potential is limited unless the team drafts around using that space, which requires another slot.
D.Va fulfills a similar purpose. While she is mostly relegated to desperation holds (running out of last point defense spawn to prolong overtime blocking the payload) D.Va has seen some play as a tool for roof control. Since HeroLimit was introduced, some teams have been running D.Va+Winston instead of double monkey when rushing from offense if vertical mobility is needed.
Her optimal melee range and excellent mobility are similar to Winston’s, but she is much worse at dive assassination of the backline and overall disruption, and better at nullifying ultimate windows or against the elusive defensive Bastion (which usually shreds Winston). She even saw play defending the roofs of Hollywood streets for MiG; and after her much-needed buffs she might have, like Winston, some use in standard compbuilding.
Pharah is in a very odd spot, in that she does not need control of the high ground to opperate, but how she plays is affected by who controls it. For starters, she is great at harrassing and clearing rooftops but she can’t actually fight for the melee there, and it is hard for a Pharah to operate when the opposition is devoting 2+ picks to roof control and has a hitscan hero on the ground. On that note, the successive nerfs to hitscan heroes created a vacuum where Pharah basically had no check other than 76 or an opposing Pharah that airshots consistently (which is a rarity even in competitive environments); but the McCree changes will most likely bring her down again.
Genji is another staple when teams draft vertical mobility, and for good reason. He has amazing kill potential on whoever is set up on the high ground and can still harrass the ground level from the vantage point after he’s driven off or killed the opposition. He can’t outduel Winston, but in most maps he has other options and objectives aside from the high ground, it’s more a route for him to abuse than an objective.
On top of all that, he actually has a teamfight wipe ultimate: Dragonblade+Sound Barrier+Speed Boost is one of the best ultimate combos in the game, with the added bonus of burst mobility that allows the pick on Mercy at the start, preventing the counter-Resurrect. Neither Winston or the snipers can force a wipe on their ults alone, and Pharah’s usually requires setup.
And finally there’s Hanzo and Widowmaker. This is more about the latter since despite Hanzo’s recent rise as a first point hero, Widow was for months the go-to sniper in Overwatch. Neither of them are good at taking or holding high ground, but they can make the most use of it once set up. A lot of battles over high ground are fought (or were, before the Widow bodyshot nerfs) over the space for your sniper to operate, and on some maps a skilled sniper can shut down a team by itself if given the space.
There are a lot of tools to dislodge a sniper but few that will not take up slots from the main offense. Teams either field their own Widow and resort to sniper duels or attempt to retake the high ground with their own vertical tools, but in any case Widowmaker can not be left unchecked and asks for resources and attention. Hook Shot is also such a fast repositioning tool that even when teams secure the vantage point they rarely kill Widow while doing so. However, the bodyshot damage nerf left few players sticking with her, and ultimately her use is tied to the viability of her enablers.
So yeah, vertical play is a core concept in competitive Overwatch. Some heroes can secure the space, some have trouble climbing but can hold well, some can make use of the high ground advantage, and some can to a little of everything. With the D.Va changes (and if Pharah phases out of the metagame) this side of compbuilding might go in an entirely new direction. As always, time will tell.
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