One of my favorite games to play these days is Overwatch. I don’t normally go for player-versus-player games since I dislike that toxicity that PVP environments usually generate, but Overwatch is just so much fun that I’m willing to deal with the toxicity when it comes up. I love those moments when a team comes together, communicates, and winds up kicking some serious ass because everyone is exactly where they need to be.
Unlike a lot of other online PVP games, Overwatch lets you change your character as often as you like, provided you return to your base to do so. That means that a good team can play fluidly, adapting to the changing demands of the match and picking characters to suit. In most games, this does not happen for one of two reasons. The most common reason is that people aren’t very interested in playing strategically and are either messing around, learning a new character, or unwilling to accept the fact that they are the one who needs to change (most commonly seen in players who are either snipers or regular DPS). The other reason, much less common, is that you’ve got a strategy that works and the other team isn’t adapting to it.
I had an amazing match that fell into the second category the other day. I, as I often do, played a Tank. Reinhardt, specifically. For those who do not know, Reinhardt wields a giant hammer, has a massive shield that his allies can fire through, and has an AoE stun as his ultimate ability. The main problem I usually run into when I play him is that I rarely have the support and DPS I need to make him a viable attack tank. The other problem is that I need my teammates to know what I’m going to do and to commit to doing it with me. People rarely use voice chat outside of ranked games unless you’re a part of a group and a lot of players will either ignore or make fun of people using the text chat to communicate. Not because its archaic or slow, but because trying to make plans shows you actually care about winning and the only people who care are the loners who try to carry the whole team by myself.
I still like to try, though. It is easy to ignore the typed replies, report the people who get abusive, and always worth it the time it works out. Like this time. I told everyone that I planned to march right through the first choke point, take out as many of the enemy tanks as I could, and then soften up the enemy DPS before I died so they could sweep in behind and clean up. After I got a DPS and a healer to back me up, I marched out the door and did exactly what I said. I was the only person to die on that push and we swept the enemy team right past the first capture point. It was everything I ever wanted as a tank.
Further on, as we escorted the payload through the map, I managed to stay in front of all of the enemy damage and one of the DPS characters on my team just danced through enemy lines as a high-mobility character, Genji, killing them as the rest of the team pressured them to stay facing us. Just when it looked like they were going to stall us, I managed to use my ultimate ability to stun four of them, three of which were killed by the Genji. Between my tanking on the payload, the Genji’s constant damage behind enemy lines, and the unwavering support and additional damage of the rest of the team behind my shield, we managed to push all the way to the end of the route in what was the fasted Overwatch match I’d ever played. I wish I’d recorded the whole thing so I could post it and show you all exactly what it was like.
I like this match, and the video I shared, because it highlights the power of a good team playing alongside a decently skilled Reinhardt. There are a lot of applications of Reinhardt’s ultimate, all of which look the same in initial execution, but all of which have different goals. There is the denial ultimate, which is supposed to either negate someone else’s ultimate or prevent the enemy team from killing allies. There is the straight attack ultimate, meant just to stun and hold a bunch of easily killed DPS characters while I kill them. There is the hold-the-point/payload ultimate that is supposed to chase enemies away from the point or punish them for sticking to it when they should have left.
Generally speaking, Reinhardt is one of the better team-player tanks, since his shield and high HP pool allow him to act as an excellent defender to any DPS or support characters that follow him into the fray. Alternatively, once the largest group of the enemy team is occupied, his massive hammer swings can steadily damage everyone in front of him rather than just one person. Flipping between shielding your allies and hammer swings is integral to any kind of group fight and there are no tanks do it better without using their ultimate abilities. There is an artistry, almost, to knowing when to change between defense and attack. I like to describe them as tipping points. A good Reinhardt can charge into a battle and, at the right moment, change a grinding fight into a route. A good Reinhardt can also turn what is starting to be a route into a grinding fight or a slow retreat.
One of the reasons Reinhardt gets a bad reputation and why DPS and support players don’t like to stick with a Reinhardt is that most Reinhardt players couldn’t see a tipping point if it hit them in the head with an over-sized rocket-powered hammer. They charge in or focus on attacking. Others just walk around with their shield up all the time and immediately hide as soon as it is gone or they stick to one spot like moving away is going to get them immediately killed. Neither one of these styles plays to Reinhardt’s strengths and both usually wind up getting the Reinhardt’s team killed. Reinhardt is never defensive or offensive, he is always both. He has an ability that shoots a slow projectile through everything, barriers and players both. This is his only ranged ability and most Reinhardt players couldn’t hit anyone with it to save their life.
A good Reinhardt can nail a fleeing foe with a Flamestrike. They can use a charge not just to pick off the most troublesome enemy, but also to scatter a group that’s threatening to overwhelm their team. They know when to keep the shield up or jump in front of the bullets and when to just wade into the fray, hammer swinging. They know when to use their ultimate for greatest effect, even if it doesn’t get any kills. They’re the team babysitting, protector, and the last line of defense in a route. They also know when to throw convention to the wind, swing around the back, and come charging in so they can take down the whole back line as the tanks turn and get shredded by the rest of their team. A good Reinhardt knows what the team needs from their primary tank and can deliver it with an extra side of pain for the enemy team.
There are any number of things I could say to help people learn how to play Reinhardt, but most of these things are best learned for yourself, by playing him. Trying him out as your next tank and keep in mind the dual nature of a good Reinhardt. Attacking and defending, each in their own time. Keep trying long enough and you’ll start to see exactly what those times are. Once you can see that, you’re 80% of the way there.