Overwatch: The fight for and against hero stacking

By Paul Davies, Tuesday, 21 June 2016 13:03 GMT

If you can choose whichever hero you want in Overwatch, why not have everyone choose the exact same one?

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A quick anecdote: my son got an awesome Lego helicopter for his birthday. It took about 40 minutes to construct from three manuals. I found the helicopter fuselage dumped in a box just before he proudly presented the “Rockets Bitch”, a crude assembly of two rotor blades with undercarriage. He meant Rocket Ship, but the point is Rockets Bitch is way more fun.

“The depressing reality could be that heavily stacked teams always have clear-cut, reliable counters. There will no longer be fluid selections but identikit solutions for every map, and key sections of each map, that serious players just rehearse.”

There are presently no restrictions in how you set up your team of heroes in Overwatch. And, as comments sections attest, knowing how and when to counter-pick is essential. Increasingly in Quick Play, more teams are turning up with teams comprising stacked compositions (two or more of the same hero) to overpower unsuspecting all-diverse teams.

Stacking was becoming a thing even prior to launch, prompting many Beta players to post, for example: “I see the double/triple Tracer/Mercy/Torbj/DVA becoming a thing and that’s really NOT fun to play against those comps, to a point that I’m wondering if this will become a standard. To be honest, I’m worried”. Similar threads are born almost weekly, and there now appears to be firm arguments on both sides of the fence.

In the true spirit of play, which Jeff Kaplan’s team surely intended, assembling your best gambit to swiftly seize or robustly segregate an objective point should not be a restricted exercise. However, in the interests of everyone having fun, which usually means that it feels right and fair, maybe there is something that needs looking at here.

So, does stacking heroes flat out suck?

Conveniently for this article, my team recently faced a clan (shout out to SOW_Scouts whoever and wherever you are) that first threw four Bastions, Mercy and Junkrat at Hanamura temple. They later bowled in through the gates of Volskaya Industries with five Winstons and one Mercy. It was hilarious, hectic and almost worked out for them – the distraction caused by a room full of Tanks left Mercy free to resurrect the moment these giants fell. Genius… almost. Luckily our Zarya was over-performing last night, thanks to a plucky Torbjörn, superb Roadhog and our own impeccable Mercy. We clutched Hanamura with a last ditch team revive and a Zarya ultimate, dismantling SOW_Scouts’ drive in seconds.

They beat us a couple of times too, but let’s not get into that. There are two things worth pointing out before looking at synergies that fly or fall flat on their face. First, it was intense fun for both sides of the fight. There was no sign of either side playing sloppily out of pure boredom, this was relentless speed-chess on our part. Second, and most important of all, there was a clear counter to everything taking place on the map.

Evidently, when the balance swings heavily in favour of one stacked team (whether using 3×2, 4+2 or 6+1) the counter argument is to find the keystone that brings it crashing down.

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It is worrying though. As we are soon to welcome Competitive Play mode, the depressing reality could be that heavily stacked teams always have clear-cut, reliable counters. Which means from a sporting point of view, there will no longer be fluid selections but identikit solutions for every map, and key sections of each map, that serious players just rehearse.

There’s an excellent post by reddit/rawflax here that offers convincing counters to heavily stacked heroes of any sort. On the one hand it proves the above point that there is danger of Overwatch becoming rigid at high-level play, harming the game’s potential for eventful eSports tournaments. Who’s going to tune in for the same head-to-heads over and over?

However, taking rawflax’ example of 6x Reaper to reverse a 6x Symmetra turret-fest, once the tables have turned, the situation is now how to counter a dominating 6x Reaper composition (/rawflax then inadvertently reveals that 6x Bastion is the most joyless experience of all).

Whichever way you look at it, the counter-picking nature of Overwatch, and Blizzard’s constant monitoring of what’s balanced and fair on a per-hero basis (Both McCree and Widowmaker received adjustments recently) should keep competition not just in good shape, but unpredictable shape. The meta game could easily involve deliberately keeping rival teams on their feet, out of reach of the objective, to avoid last minute counter-selections that could Team Wipe your heroic efforts up until that point.

Finally, optimistically speaking, the introduction of just one new hero alone will affect the entire Overwatch game.

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