A few months back I tried to get one of my good friends into Overwatch (Z), and I failed miserably. Last week Z gave it another shot, and not only is she now into the game, she’s also playing on my level already, which is impressive given the massive disparity in play time. What’s the cause for the change? Overwatch, in particular, rewards people for choosing a character whose play style matches what a player wants to be doing. Getting into Overwatch is all about finding the right entry character, and then building your experience with that character while you learn the rules of the game.


My entry character was Mercy, as I have mentioned before. I love playing Mercy. When I was focusing on trying to kill other players, I faced frustration. My reflexes weren’t yet honed, my competitive nature was egging me on into an aggressive pose which got me killed far more than I ever like to die, and many of the characters I tried lacked movement abilities. Considering one of the things I like most in Overwatch is flitting across a map, I was never going to be able to fall for the game until I got set up with a character who could do the things that I didn’t even realize I would want.


But watching this process in a friend has given me perspective on the broader phenomenon. It was a revelation when she picked up Lucio. Before that she had tried some of the offense characters, like when she played a couple of rounds with Reaper. There you could see her potential; Z has great shooter fundamentals from playing Destiny and the like, but it seemed like there was something missing. She had given it another shot, and this time I suggested she try support. Of them, Lucio seemed like the best entry option. Lucio’s heal is passive line of sight, and Lucio has an improved movement capacity between his speed boost and his wall grind.



(For those unfamiliar with the character, he is basically stolen from Jet Set Radio, and it’s awesome.)


There’s a lot there, but I suggested it because I just thought Lucio would prove tough to kill and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Lucio didn’t get all that many kills. Of course, Z clicked with the character almost immediately, and it wasn’t long before I realized that she was probably better at him than I was. And I’m pretty good with Lucio. Z was doing things, though, that reflected her strong fundamentals: staying behind the line of scrimmage, using the speed boost to escape hostile situations, and getting a piece of a lot of kills with Lucio’s dubstep gun. I don’t think she’s ready to wall grind around the inside of the Well at Ilos yet, but I found that I didn’t need to carry her when we played together, and that was incredibly gratifying to see.


Because again, I have like 150 hours on her when it comes to playtime in-game. And while I don’t tend to play Competitive a ton (my rating is stabilizing around 2150, but I find the whole thing to be a touch more pressure than I enjoy), I get a card at the end of about 50% of my Quick Play games these days (or at least I did before they changed the frequency with the last patch; we’ll see if my streak continues). What this means is that in any given game I’m pretty likely to do something to such an outlying degree that it gives my friends and enemies a chance to laud me for it. Initially this was just true of when I was playing support, but these days it’s pretty true independent of character role. I am straight up good with about half the characters in the game at this point, and decent with another quarter.


This is why it was such a gratifying surprise to see Z keeping up with me.


Another fun thing about Quick Play games (vs competitive ones) is that there’s less pressure to be good, which allows me to play around with characters I am bad with in an attempt to learn their beats. I don’t know that I’ll ever be a great sniper. (I lack the reflexes for PvP sniping.) But I’m slowly becoming a servicable Hanzo, thanks to some talents picked up in the Elder Scrolls games. When I get into the flow with Zarya, I can survive and thrive, though I don’t have the intuition yet to really get her reliably charged to high-energy state. But you have to suck at a character for a number of rounds before you get good at them. That process is way less frustrating when you’re in Quick Play, where you might get away with sucking, as opposed to Competitive, where someone will be there to capitalize on your mistakes.


Sucking isn’t the only part of learning, though, and it can be frustrating to suck and not know why. That’s why it’s so important to get a toe-hold with one character before you figure out the others. Take Roadhog, for example. When I started, I tried playing Roadhog a couple of times. In theory I should have loved that big goof from the start; an apocalyptic, Mad Max-themed, fat hero in a hazmat mask? Yes please! But when I tried him before I had a sense of the game, I kept messing up. I couldn’t get a handle on the range of his hook, his gun seemed weak, and I didn’t know the flow of how he should be self-healing. After an extended period healing and being murdered by Roadhog, I learned that the hook was a mid-range thing, that its stun effect is more important than the “get over here” aspect, that you should heal whenever you’re out of combat, and should get out of combat more to allow for time to heal. Now I’m pretty nasty with Roadhog; like Soldier 76, he’s a character that allows me to medal in every category.


It takes time learning the way the different characters play, and that’s frustrating if you’re not having fun. When you’ve found the character that works for you, though, you’ll have fun while you learn the overarching grammar of Overwatch, those things which make it more than just another shooter. For Z, that meant grooving around in the background; for me, it meant bouncing from person to person around the map. So if you’re looking to get into Overwatch, try a bunch of characters before you give up. You never know with whom you’re going to flow.


Jess Stirba is Mercy main, Symmetra second, and Soldier 76 third these days.

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