Redefining Roles: Tanks in Overwatch

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There is an issue with Blizzard’s class descriptors. They do not function in a way that successfully simplifies a team’s composition. The classes are too fluid, particularly for aggressive and defensive heroes. Can a team succeed on defense without any defense heroes? Yes. Can a team succeed on attack with no attack heroes? Yes. The design of those heroes is much better suited when thinking of them as DPS roles with different specializations.

With that in mind, the Redefining Roles series will go through each of the characters and refine them into more specialized and easier to understand roles.  This can allow players to better understand how a hero may be used strategically and break some of the stigmas against particular roles. Hopefully,this will bring some nuance to those two more easily understood playstyles.

Today, I am going to outline and define the two current play styles and roles concerning the tank heroes and detail how those roles can be defined.

The Tank:

It is commonly known that most team compositions need a tank; however, it is difficult to understand how those tanks should be operating in regards to map layouts and opposing team compositions. Blizzard has given the game a number of tanks – each with their own specialty – which fulfill different roles depending on what is needed. While the tanks are all different, they can be split into two major roles: static tanks and mobile tanks. The two roles differentiate how the team should play and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

( Before we go further; a note about Roadhog: Roadhog is a difficult tank to define. His high health and sustainability make him very strong at holding a point; however, his toolkit seems more fitting toward picking as opposed to tanking; especially because he does not provide the team the protection of the other tank classes.)

Static Tanks — Reinhardt and Zarya (and arguably Mei)

A common adage in the objective based shooter genre is, “stand on the point.” These guys are the best at it. 

Static tanks are the frontline of the team. They do not offer much mobility, but they make up for it by making it more difficult for ranged attackers to successfully pick off your squishier teammates. Static tanks want to stay on the frontlines. They want to push forward when the team gains an advantage; they are especially powerful at pushing the payload or holding a capture point. What they lack for in mobility they make up for in sheer longevity. They specialize in controlling space and their ultimates are built to punish groups bunched together.

Strategically, static tanks create and hold space on the map and they exert influence through that action. Consider the choke when attacking on the first point in Anubis. If a Reinhardt can move past the choke and place his shield up, the rest of his team can set up flanks through the many routes that the Reinhardt has opened up.

They also particularly thrive when holding objectives. These are the heroes who should stand on the point when necessary, as they can take a beating and return it in kind, as opposed to Winston or D.Va, whose defensive abilities are significantly weaker both in the amount of damage absorbed and in the length of their cooldowns.

Playing a static tank requires a specific kind of game sense, primarily related to the position of your team and how to leverage your strengths as a composition. Static tanks want to move forward to gain as much space for their team as possible, but if played too aggressively they can just be surrounded by the opposing team and killed. Their kits do not usually provide much opportunity for escape.

The questions a static tank must ask themselves are: What do I need to secure? Who do I need to protect? What is the opposing team capable of? Can we afford to retreat? Can we afford to push forward? 

(A note about Mei: While she is not necessarily a tank class, her toolkit allows her to stand on the point particularly effective manner. She does not want to push forward very much, but the ability to use an ice wall in a similar fashion to Reinhardt’s shield combined with her ability to outlast people on the point with proper use of her ice block and her strength in close combat, makes her very strong on the point.  However, her low health pool can become a liability when dealing with pick heroes. We will cover Mei more in depth in the Utility class category.)

Mobile Tanks — D.Va and Winston

Where the static tanks hold ground and create space slowly, the mobile tanks function in a much more disruptive capacity. Where Reinhardt and Zarya try to protect the team from pickers like Widow and DPS like Pharah; D.Va and Winston are much more interested in just straight-up killing the threats to the team. The main playstyle for both of these heroes rotates around the ability to move over large portions of the maps to engage enemies behind the opponent’s frontline and disrupt the heroes playing at the back.

Mobile tanks are particularly important heroes in their ability to disrupt and dislodge powerful backliners such as Widowmaker or the opposing supports. Both tanks play a riskier game than their static counterparts, but the rewards can be much higher, as a successful kill on a key hero can swing a game.

There are two fundamental ways of playing the mobile tank. Firstly, the tank can be played primarily by using their mobility ability to directly engage the enemy. This is particularly effective if there is a key threat that needs to be killed ASAP, or if there are no good flanking routes to close the gap (like on the first point on Route 66). The problem with this way of attack is that it is suicidal, as the tank’s primary escape ability is used to engage the opposing team

The second method of play involves engaging without using the mobility skill which requires an increased time commitment and some sneaky play, but makes up for that by giving the mobile tank an increased chance of surviving the engagement.

The difficulty of playing the mobile tank (particularly in pubs) is that mobile tanks are not the ideal candidates to stand on the point, but if they are the only tank in a team’s composition, the tank player may feel need to fulfill that role (or the tank player may be actively harassed for playing forward). There is no easy solution to this problem if no one is willing to switch roles, and it is one of the main reasons to play a two tank composition pubs.

When playing a mobile tank one must ask themselves: Who are the targets I can most easily harass or kill? How should I engage those targets? Should I jump in, or can I find a flank? Can I engage with the team right now or I wait? Can I afford to push forward? Will my team be at a disadvantage if I do?

Select the Tank for the Job

Both styles of tank can be extremely successful but it is dependant on a team’s playstyle and the opposing team’s composition. Since the most common team composition is 2 DPS/2 Tanks/2 Supports, it stands to reason that a team might want a 1/1 split between the pair of tanks; however, consider for example a situation attacking the final point of Hanamura. On this map, there is very little use for flanking because the spawn is so close – so having a pair of static tanks push onto the point can be more helpful.

Some tanks counter different strategies. Winston tears apart Widowmaker and Zarya is good against Junkrat and Pharah. More specifically though, some compositions want to engage as a clumped-up unit (where the static tanks will excel) and others want to pick at a range or just be more scattered across the map (where mobile tanks will excel).

Not all tanks are made equal, but each can excel in their own way.

Content Writer - Overwatch
I am a longtime gamer, first playing Magic: The Gathering, then World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, Dota 2 and now Overwatch.

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