This is a continuation of my series on defining terms and roles for how to think about fighting as a team in Overwatch. You can find my previous article on Tanks and an introduction to role play or you can start at the beginning to get the basics of the phases of a team fight, and how a team wins or loses a fight.
What I want to cover here is the roles a support might take and what they should be focusing on. Its important to determine what services you offer your team and how to position yourself to accept the protection and damage services of your teammates.
What is “Support” why not “Healer”?
So its simple right, just keep everyone’s health topped off and try to charge ults as fast as possible?
Yes, and no.
Healing is merely one service that you offer as support. Other services can be:
Movement: Lucio’s ability to have his team rapidly re-position to disengage, or chase down a team at the end of a fight is insanely powerful.
Setting up Picks: Ana getting a hero out of position with a sleep dart, or Zenyatta helping to secure a hook kill or a fleeing diver with a discord orb.
Increasing damage potential: Damage boosting an ulting Soldier is very strong, but so is helping a reaper burn down enemy shields or letting your Winston lay down some painful lightening into a team that’s not ready for it.
Of course you also keep health bars full, and turn your team into a unkillable juggernaut.
Supports can also through awareness shutdown plays made by the other team. Ana sleep darting a ulting Winston or charging Reinhardt. Lucio speed boosting to get everyone clear of a Genji’s blade or D.va’s nuclear mech. Zenyatta’s orb and Mercy’s beam can be infuriating to a Winston who wonders if he even charged his lightning gun that morning.
When looking to make plays as a support you should often target the most at risk player. This means ignoring the Genji behind you spamming for heals until the soldier taking fire down range is topped up. Certainly you don’t want to let people die, but you are an overworked nurse at a very busy ER: if they’re not about to die they’re gonna have to wait.
Ultimates as the ultimate…
… show of force
Ultimates are appropriately named. They are the ultimate ways for you to flex your power and position. As a support your ultimate abilities often match your role in that they are multipliers for other people. Often times you’ll want to pair your ultimate with another player to dominate the fight in a swift stroke. The z key is your friend. If you’re unfamiliar it lets you share your ultimate percentage with your teammates with the touch of a button. Often you’ll find if you hit it in down time you’ll get teammates sharing their ultimate percentages with you. This is a good habit to get into, as well as checking for ult checkmarks on the score screen by hitting tab.
This key information lets you plan accordingly, does the Genji have 80% of his way to a blade and I should sit on Nano until he’s ready to go off? Does the soldier have theirs already and I can hit him in a pinch? Ana’s ultimate is clearly the most benefited from this information, but a protective beat drop on a bladed Genji, visoring Soldier or barraging Pharah can mean the difference between a shutdown ultimate and that sweet sweet “Team Kill” horn.
… safety net
Lucio can shutdown enemy aggression with one bass drop. Zenyatta’s ultimate is the ultimate “thanks but no thanks” to a Genji, Pharah or Zarya that’s looking to go on a kill streak. Mercy can undo literally an entire barrage of enemy ults. The key to all of these insanely strong plays… awareness of the enemy’s ultimate state. When I’m playing Zenyatta I usually have at least one hero on the other team whose day I decide I’m going to ruin. I try to keep track of their ultimate and its my job to make sure they get nothing out of it. This is often a Genji, Pharah or Reinhardt. There’s few things as great as experiencing tranquility into the face of a hammer down.
These counter ultimates can be easily done on reaction, if you are prepared when going into the fight. If you know what sounds or visual cues you’re looking for you should be able to quickly make them regret hitting their Q key. This means getting ready to hear the rocket impact of a Pharah repositioning herself over your team. Watching and listening for a Reaper port above you, or Genji unsheathing his dragon blade. You need to decide what you’re going to shut down before you have to shut it down and that means knowing what your enemy has available.
Keep track of what ults you haven’t seen in a while. Look for weird positioning such as a Zarya walking forward after her bubble has worn off or a Rein extending to the side of your team. Have you not seen a Reaper, Soldier or Mccree for a while? When in doubt… talk it out: list the ults you saw in the last fight and make guesses about whats coming up. Coordinate with the other support about what you’re looking to nullify so that they can allocate their power elsewhere.
Once you’ve decided how you’re going to run the next fight the key is to make sure you’re in place to make sure the plan gets executed…
Mind your footing…
Positioning is huge, being in the right spot to offer these services when they’re needed and to respond to the threats of the enemy is most of the battle. Too far back and your team doesn’t benefit from your services, too close and you risk giving a high value pick to the other team. Positioning varies wildly depending on the hero you’re playing. Mercy benefits strongly from flying to and fro on the edges of the team. Always having an escape plan both on foot, or flying to other players. Lucio often sits in the middle of things pulling those from the back forward, or pushing the front line into a chase, occasionally flying out of the pocket for a wild sound burst to try to boop someone to their death. Ana despite being a sniper is also often suited towards the middle of the group: ready to nano a diving Genji or a high ground situated Soldier. Awareness of where your team is and where the enemies are is important for all these roles.
Escape to where you are strong
Even if your positioning is great… you’re with your team… you’re in position to help and support… there are still cases when you’ll be staring down the glasses of a diving Winston being supported by his main robo-ninja pal Genji. That is not a fight you win, and its not a fight you easily escape. Your strength lies, as I’ve been repeating, in grouping up and enhancing the strengths of your team. So instead of instantly throwing your Ana grenade at your own feet and running back to spawn or around a corner, you should be looking to get back to your team.
Call that you’ve been targeted, opportunistically look for sleeps, and advantageous grenades or Lucio jams. Do *not* spend your ult simply for self preservation. As you miss out on all the team benefits mentioned above. Getting a zen to blow his ult on just saving himself can be better for a dive comp than getting the kill as it lets them keep momentum and continuous disruption instead of the hard reset that you want.
Stay calm, focus on supporting your team, and re-evaluate your positioning. Its important to note that just because you are attacked doesn’t mean that you’re a DPS main now. Yes, you should opportunistically put damage out to defend yourself, or secure a kill. However I’ve seen (and been the culprit a few times) of being the target of a dive, and trying to DPS the enemy down instead of supporting my team that was trying to help me. The best way to encourage a DPS teammate like a Mccree or Soldier to keep turning to help is to make sure they do not let them die for the effort. You want your team to want you with them, and you certainly want them to be with you.
Occasionally you might find yourself in a tricky position of being the only support on your team, or being on a team with only one support. If you find yourself in the latter situation you might consider swapping to help out the team, but a solo healer isn’t necessarily a death sentence. What it means is that you’re trading sustain for a higher damage potential. If you’re not the support that means not relying on the support for top offs, and instead getting health packs (remember your supports are often overworked when there are two of them). If you are the support your priority shifts far more towards self preservation than it was before. Ana should be sure to save her grenade for herself, mercy should have many escape options. If you die your team’s odds of success fall considerably. This means playing a little further back, making the other team have to over extend to get you. You should be able to draw the other team out, or have to really dive and focus to take you down (which good teams will try their best to do).
Solo support is hard work and requires you to actively change how you think about the field, but with the appropriate team picks for self preservation, and with proper protection it *can* be an effective composition.
Sombra is notoriously a hero who is largely a support role hero despite being in the offense category. The reason that she is considered a support hero and why you’ll often see her matched with only a single “true” support on her team is due to her abilities being force multipliers for her team, and that her ultimate is derived most quickly and effectively from healing her team through hacked health packs. Her hacked health packs can drastically increase the consistent pressure that a Tracer or Genji can put on, as well as allowing her to quickly build up to a huge support ultimate in the form of her EMP. It like many other support ults can completely nullify attacking combos as well as set your team up for their own combos or simple attacks.
Being effective in the support role involves a lot of awareness and tactical thinking. Often times your abilities are all about enhancing the performance of someone else, and it can feel somewhat thankless. A great support elevates their whole team, and nullifies the enemy. But as we’ve seen this means accounting for what your teammates are going to do, keeping track of what your enemies might do, and also having the technical skill and reaction to execute your tactics. Its not an easy job, so if you’re filling the support role for your team you shouldn’t feel like you’re relegated to being “just the healer” and instead put thought into what is tearing you down, and put a strategy in place to de-fang your enemies completely.