Overwatch Team Fights 101

Jan 22, 2017 · 8 min read

I’ve recently been tasked with coaching an Overwatch team. Instead of sharing my insight with that team alone, and also to help me codify and make less ephemeral my thoughts on the game I decided to try to write it down and share it here. Ok, with the background out of the way I want to jump into the first topic: Describing the basics of the most atomic unit of competitive Overwatch: Team Fights.

For the sake of the following discussion we’re going to consider vanilla team fighting. Specifically team fights where an ultimate ability is not used. What follows will occasionally sound rudimentary but I think that its important to start with base principles from which we can start to build more complex strategy and decision making.

What is a team fight?

While Overwatch is a continuous game play is often broken up into discrete engagements where the entire team engages with the other team. Team fights usually follow 3 major phases:

Poke is the time in which teams are throwing damage at one another. Probing each other for weakness. Throwing damage into the enemy shields. Looking for big hooks or snipes. Flankers like Genji or a Pharah are usually positioning themselves in their flanking position to allow them to poke into or attack the back-line (healers or exposed dps) of the enemy when the engagement starts.

In this phase one team will often take an offensive position into the other team. Trying to invade their space. This need not be the team on “offense” as a defense might do an offensive engagement on a team to delay a capture, or to stop progress on a cart.

Often after a failed engagement players on the losing team will attempt to end the engagement and back away to safety to minimize the time until the next fight can happen, and to prevent giving ultimate charge to the enemy team. It is the responsibility of the victorious team to finish their plate and try to chase down and kill the straggling enemies as they attempt to flee the battle.

Ok, when does it end?

These fights can be a domination by one team over the other, or can be a very narrow victory. Usually, the reward is the same. Winning by one hero will yield close to the same progress on objectives that winning with your whole team up will. There are exceptions to this such as when the spawn distances are massively asymmetric, or if the remaining hero is particularly fragile such as a damaged Mccree or a Zenyatta who has no self heal and weak escape. There is one other negative effect of losing most of your heroes in a team fight, which is that you’ll have fed at least 5 health bars to the other teams ult charge which will have strong implications for the upcoming fight.

Ultimate abilities of heroes provide the ability to drastically swing fights into the favor of the user. However, barring their usage, team fights are often won through a series of small victories early in the fight which cascade into advantages later in the fight. Like with most competitive games (Starcraft, DoTA, LoL) this is known as “pressing your advantage”. This is also known as the Artosis Principle where “when you’re ahead, get more ahead”. Getting a small advantage in a fight affords you the ability to “press” that advantage into a bigger advantage and hopefully cascade that into a team fight victory.

Relative Health Pools During a Team Fight

In the above team fight. Team 1 is getting more damage into Team 2, until Team 2 makes a small play to apparently swing it slightly back into their favor before Team 1 reclaims their small advantage and proceeds to press it into a convincing victory.

So, do more damage than I take and I win?

Not quite. It should be noted that HP is not uniform. Doing the last bit of damage to finish an enemy is significantly more value than doing the first 10 damage into an untouched tank hero. Finishing an enemy hero is a huge boon towards pressing your advantage because not only have you done additional damage into your opponent but you’ve taken away the ability for that adversary to block damage, do damage your team, or heal theirs. The Kill Feed is a valuable tool for tracking the relative strength of your team. Since it keeps you abreast of these extreme inflection points of the flow of battle. For example: a graph annotating the same fight above, including the deaths on each team, gives a stronger feel for the sorry state of Team 2.

Once an advantage is established towards one team its very difficult to swing it back in your direction.

By having the Ana die early in the fight, their potential recovery is significantly hampered as they’re left with a Zenyatta as their solo healer. While Team 2 manages to kill the Roadhog and Soldier from Team 1 they’re fighting from an extremely weak position and end up feeding their entire health pool into the enemy team.

Speaking statistically, I assert if you were to make a graph like this for every team fight that has ever happened in Overwatch where no ults were used the bulk of them would have very few x-intercepts. Meaning that once an advantage is established towards one team its very difficult to swing it back in your direction. The further away from the center you move, the less likely you are to swing it back your direction. Any major swing of the fight back your team’s direction is likely the result of a big play which by definition is a rare occurrence.

Losing a few seconds of damage on your current target to put damage into the right target can mean getting your team an advantage quick

What does this mean for me as a player?

Death is a big deal. Playing conservative to avoid being the early death in a fight allows your team to keep fighting. Continuing to be in a fight allows you to contribute and establish the early advantage. Sprinting forward as a soldier is fun, but it puts you at risk of throwing the starting team fight by feeding a kill during the poking phase of the fight. D.va’s should look to protect their low players with their defense matrix. Hide behind your Rein’s shield. Have an escape route to a medpack ready when flanking as Genji or Tracer. Don’t wallride ahead of your team as Lucio and count on the enemy Roadhog to miss his hooks. During this poking phase you should be looking to put damage into enemies that are not playing as conservative as you are. At the same time you should be looking to finish enemies that get low. To do this it means calling low health targets on voice comms “Ana low at the bottom of stairs!”. Secondly be ready to drop your tunnel vision and respond to callouts from your team. Again, damage done is not uniform, losing a few seconds of damage on your current target to put damage into the right target can mean getting your team an advantage quick.

Once you’ve established an advantage it is your responsibility to safely press that advantage. This is often the burden of your tank heroes to transition the center of mass of your team into an offensive stance of attacking into the enemy. The point is to not let the other team disengage or delay, and to not let them catch up. The trick here and honestly the crux of Overwatch is finding the right balance of offense and defense to make sure that you can safely engage and clean up the enemy. For instance some Reinhardt’s might hear the call “We have the advantage, push in!” and respond by dropping their shield and charging the first red hero they see. This is an extremely aggressive response and should be chosen with care (or not chosen at all). But holding W with your shield or charging the enemy shielding Reinhardt with a short distance behind him allows your team to engage in a low risk way. You have the advantage now, assuming you play conservatively it is your fight to lose.

Finally after you’ve done enough damage and your enemy starts looking to disengage, it is your responsibility to chase them down. Lucio, swap to speed and everyone move forward. Punish your enemy, don’t let them get refunds on fights. Finish your plate. As we’ve seen, being down a hero is a huge disadvantage, which means that a sane team will have to wait for the last hero that dies to respawn and run back in order to take the next team fight safely. This means by chasing down and killing an enemy you’re buying your team that much more time to push the cart, or tick up score while the other team has to regroup or risk making a push a man down which impatient players will do.

If you give up the advantage you’re going to want to try to play extra tight. This means having your tanks stay stationary or move back. Again be looking for a pick of your own to stabilize and start a 5v5 team fight. Essentially this means positioning yourself in such a way that you try to extend the poke phase until your teammate returns to the fold. If the other team tries to push their advantage it means moving back, conceding ground instead conceding the team fight. Look to punish the overzealous aggressors on their side while constantly keeping a foot in the door so you can get out.

If they get a solid engagement off, or you had a failed rush. As soon as you’ve found yourself at a unrecoverable disadvantage you should seek to escape the engagement and not let them finish you off. Prevent them from getting free ult charge. Stay hidden, don’t let them extend the time until your team can mount an effective counter engagement.

Sounds straight forward… Let me at ‘em!

It is. Again these are the basics and you’re probably doing a lot of this stuff already. Hopefully this simply codifies the framework for thinking about your engagements in the future. If you’re finding yourself losing many team fights maybe its because your team is giving up the advantage early and then still committing. Or perhaps you’re spreading your damage too thin and not ever gaining the advantage yourselves. Perhaps you’re getting early picks but not pressing your advantage and instead you’re staying passive but letting them engage on you when they get the advantage. Hopefully by understanding your responsibility as a team during the phases of your team’s fights you can objectively assess where you are lacking.

What’s next?

Great question!

I’ve written a couple follow ups that look at the various roles that can be found on competitive teams.


There are a bunch of other topics I’m looking to cover moving forward. Including:

A deeper dive into positioning and decision making in a role by role basis. When to take engagements, and exceptions to the rules we learned today.

This is a natural extension of what we discussed today. In it I wish to cover managing your ultimates and how they impact the outcome curve of a team fight.

Not all players contribute equally and even the best players have off days. Identifying prime targets and countering them with lineup changes and positioning can make your early contributions have more impact through a team fight.

Lineups, lineups lineups… Force multiplying heroes and the opportunity cost of playing heroes you’re less comfortable with.


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Overwatch player and competitive team coach. Lets play and talk some Overwatch.