Overwatch Beginners Guide – Heroes, Modes, Tips, and Basics

This is a great time to jump into Overwatch. The game has a ton of heroes to choose from, a ton of maps to play on, and a lot of different game modes to participate in. Blizzard’s multiplayer shooter is complex and highly competitive. Because of that, it can be extremely overwhelming to start. This guide will do what the game doesn’t, and give you some tips and guidelines to make the learning process a lot easier.

A Better Tutorial

The game has a tutorial that you can play through as Soldier: 76. It teaches you about health and ultimate charge in the UI. Other than that, though, it’s not very helpful. There’s no shame in entering a Play Vs. AI match (which the game itself recommends after the tutorial) to get used to how everything moves, what the UI elements actually mean, and how the maps are structured. You can also drop into the Practice Range to mess around with your settings and keybindings without pressure from other players.

Keep in mind that Play Vs. AI doesn’t feature every hero from the game. Blizzard only implemented a handful of them as enemy bots. To get a real feel for the game, you need to enter Quick Play, or one of the arcade modes like Mystery Heroes, to witness every single character.

Overwatch New Player

How Overwatch Works

Overwatch is a six-versus-six team-based shooter. You play as a variety of heroes and try to capture, escort, or defend objectives. Some of those objectives are outlined sections of the map. Some are slow-moving vehicles (a.k.a. payloads). The game is heavily team-based, which means you have to work together to win.

Each game has a preliminary “Assemble Your Team” phase. Then you’re either locked in an attacking spawn room (attackers) or instructed to set up your defenses on the objective (defenders). Neither team can see see what their opponents’ chose until around 15 seconds into the game, so there’s a tiny element of surprise in every match.

For the most part, you win and lose objectives by killing or dying. It’s pretty simple: if your team is taken out, you can’t be there to defend or attack the objective. You’re forced to respawn several seconds away from the goal when you die, too. So it goes without saying that you don’t want to die. You can survive by using your hero abilities in combination with your team. Some heroes heal, some protect, and others simply deal lots of damage. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Most games are a cycle of vaguely shooting at each other from afar (which sometimes leads to early kills, or “picks”), then initiating a proper, close-range team fight where the victor cleans up the rest of the enemy players. Teams use ultimate abilities to secure an early win or turn a losing fight into a winning one.

There are two primary modes that people play. Quick Play lets you fight across all the maps for a single round. It will also fill in random players if anyone leaves. Competitive mode is similar to Quick Play, except you must attack and defend, then tiebreak accordingly. Wins and losses affect your skill rating. Competitive also matches players of equal skill rating. The goal is to play semi-seriously and move up in rank, from Bronze to Grand Master. If players leave in this mode, they won’t be replaced and will be restricted from queuing up for several minutes.

Overwatch New Player

How the Maps Work

Each map is tied to a corresponding game type. For example: if you load into Hanamura, you know it’s an Assault map instead of a Control map. This helps tell you what hero to pick beforehand.

Here’s all the available game types you can expect to play in Quick Play and Competitive.

Assault – In this game type, you attack or defend two points on the map. After the attackers capture the first point, their team’s spawn point relocates deeper into the map and they receive more time on the clock to capture the second point. If time runs out, and the area is still being contested by attackers, the game enters Overtime. That initiates a fast countdown timer that resets when the attacking team touches the point. If it ends, the round is over. It also increases the respawn timer for both teams—making death more costly. Victory comes when the attackers capture the second objective or the defenders successfully defend one of them until the timer runs out.

Escort – The Escort game type sees attackers try to slowly move a payload to three checkpoints throughout the map. As you reach each checkpoint, attackers get more time and their spawn is moved forward into the map. Like Assault, if the timer runs out while attackers contest the objective, Overtime begins.

Hybrid – Hybrid maps combine Assault and Escort into one. These maps force attackers to capture a marked space on the map and then move a payload to the end. Overtime happens here, too.

Control – Most players will recognize the Control game type as a “King of the Hill” mode from other games. Both teams have opposite spawns on the map. They then try to seize and control an objective until a progress counter reaches 100 percent. You have to clear the enemy team off of the objective to capture it in your favor. So you want to make fights as quick as possible to keep the timer in your favor, or to swap it to your side. It’s best of three rounds to win. Overtime happens in Control at 99 percent if the opposing team contests it.

Overwatch New Player

Choosing a Hero

Overwatch has a huge variety of heroes to choose from. But they’re all broken up into three roles: Tank, Damage, and Support. You’ll see them at the “Assemble Your Team” screen before the start of most game modes. As you and your five teammates choose heroes, the game provides composition tips like “No tank” and “Only one healer.” The game sticks to what’s known as the “2-2-2 composition”: two tanks, two supports, and two damage heroes. Just remember that’s a guideline, not a rule.

Some heroes simply can’t function well without others to aid them. A tank has a high health pool, but can’t eliminate enemy heroes as fast as more fragile damage heroes. Meanwhile, damage heroes need support, or healing, to perform well.

On top of that, you have ultimate abilities that can change the outcome of a team fight. Some ultimates are devastating when combined like—Zarya’s Graviton Surge and Hanzo’s Dragonstrike. These kinds of ultimates will secure kills that can help you win the fight. Others are important to protect and heal your allies, like Zenyatta’s Transcendence.

These abilities take time to understand and learn, so don’t let them stymie you. Pick heroes that look cool to you, or ones that are in the role that the game suggests. Typically, supports like Mercy and tanks like D.Va are good beginner picks. They allow you to step back and observe how a match unfolds. And don’t be afraid to switch if your pick isn’t working. In fact, you should get into the habit. This game rewards countering enemy heroes and finding weaknesses in team composition.

Check out our tier list if you want to know some heroes to practice in the long run.

General Tips

Here are some tips that should help you understand the game and what to focus on.

Pick the hero you want to play immediately and swap later. Flexing to different roles is a good skill, but if you want to improve at the game, you need to have a specialty and stick to it. You can learn a lot of heroes by playing Mystery Heroes in the Arcade.

Pay attention to your team! Then help them, if you can. If someone on your team pushes toward the enemy, go with them to turn a risky play into a solid one. If your healers are getting harassed by Tracer, consider turning around and helping them. It’s a team game after all.

Try out a lot of different heroes. It helps you learn which heroes are better against others, or on certain maps. Some heroes, like Pharah, are easily countered by long-range snipers like Widowmaker—something you can put together after playing them separately. The ability to counter someone on the enemy team, or to help your allies can is the key to victory.

Watch the kill feed. The kill feed is king in this game. It tells you when you have a numbers advantage, what abilities were used, and when a fight is lost. Take a glance at it during downtime to assess the situation.

Try to predict when enemies will use their ultimates. A lot of team fights are won by knowing your enemy’s next move. Start by tracking the ultimate of an enemy that is playing the same hero as you, or your specific counter.

Medals don’t mean a whole lot. In some cases, having gold or silver medals in things like eliminations and objective time means your teammates need to pick up some slack. But some heroes naturally gain gold medals for staying alive, or slightly damaging most enemies. Don’t focus on medals; focus on winning fights and matches.

Stay alive. This sounds like an obvious tip, but most matches are lost when your team consistently drops a player early in a fight. Understand your limits and practice playing aggressive when you have clear advantages—like being on high ground or having more live teammates than the enemy.

Don’t just sprint to the objective. A lot of team fights happen off of the objective. It can be disadvantageous to simply run toward the on-screen marker and try to capture it if the enemy team is still alive. Take fights in the most advantageous position you can. Then worry about the objective. That is unless it’s Overtime, or you want to distract the enemy team.

Think about how many ultimates you use to win a fight. If you expect your Reinhardt to Earthshatter and your Genji to Dragonblade, try your best not to ult yourself. Ideally, you want to win fights with the least number of ultimates possible. That way you can keep those resources for the next fight. Likewise, if the enemy team uses all six of their ultimates to win a fight, you have an advantage going into the next one.

Recognize when you’re frustrated or not in the mood to play well. Your Competitive skill rating will thank you. Considering that your frustration and mood are heavily affected by stuff like team and match chat, don’t hesitate to report people for saying inappropriate things.

Above all, have fun and be open to learning. Play with friends to make the whole experience less stressful. Don’t worry about individual deaths and losses. You’ll improve over time as long as you stay observant and flexible. Overwatch is a game with a diverse set of heroes, cool stories, and beautiful locations. Pick a hero, do some amazing stuff, and enjoy yourself. Now, welcome to Overwatch!


Tyler Colp

Tyler Colp is a writer, podcaster, and streamer. He's been writing about games and pop culture for years. Ask him anything about Dark Souls.

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