The Overwatch League Finals Approach!

Tomorrow evening, at 6pm local time, the team I’ve supported since their very first game, the Philadelphia Fusion, are going to be facing off against the London Spitfire in the first of three possible matches for the title of Season 1 champions of the Overwatch League. After an unexpected strong first round and a shocking sweep of the top-rated team in the league in the second round, the Fusion are facing against the next-lowest ranked team in the championship. That’s right. The two lowest seeded teams, Fusion and Spitfire, are facing off in the championship. I’d say it was a surprising turn of events, but such upset are honestly kind of common place in season 1 of the Overwatch League.

Time and time again, the general perception of the best teams, the favorites to win each stage of the season, has been thrown aside as some underdog or another rises up to shake up the top ranks. The only exception to that has been New York, who has sat at the top of the league for the entire season and has made it into the stage finals every time. It got to the point where I stopped watching because there was no longer any consistency. Every match was a giant ball of suspense because almost every team had a surprising victory or record-altering streak of victories. In fact, the only thing about the league that has been consistent is that New York wins a dumbly high number of matches and that the Shanghai Dragons never won a single match. For instance, the initial favorite to carry the league was the Seoul Dynasty. That expectation ended rather abruptly in the first stage and they never even made it into the playoffs. Even my favorite team, the Fusion, couldn’t manage to do more than jog up and down the standings as they won against fearsome foes like New York (they were the first team to actually beat New York) and then lose to some of the lowest ranked teams in the league who have only a handful more victories than the Shanghai Dragons.

It has been an intense and harrowing journey, let me tell you! Sure, the reason we watch sports is because it gets us fired up about something we care about. Suspense is good! We love it when we see our team land a win that could have easily been a loss. But most sports don’t occur with as much frequency as e-sports do and even then we have certain general expectations about our teams performance that help us set our expectations for what we’ll see. No one expects the Browns to go to the Super Bowl and so their fans don’t really feel as beaten down when they eventually lose. In the Overwatch League, a high-performing team can wind up sitting at the bottom of the roster from one stage to another. They can absolutely kick butt against one team and then get absolutely destroyed by another team despite there not being much of a shift strategy. There’s not even a consistency in their wins and losses. Players change all the time as certain people are bench so a new approach can be tried, but that’s still a poor indicator of success or failure. An individual player’s stats don’t even mean that much because they could carry their team to victory on one map and then wind up holding them back on the next one. There are too many factors at play to spot patterns.

I really hope the league gets a little more consistent in the future. And I’m not talking about places in the rankings so much as overall performance. If a team starts rising, they should get to a point where they’re more or less bumping up against similarly skilled teams on the rankings. The best teams should rise to the top and the teams who can’t get it together should sink.

That being said, e-sports are relatively new and it would be kind of foolish to expect the same analytics, predictors, and measures of strength to apply to Overwatch that people would used to measure baseball. I prefer consistency and dependability, but that’s not really the point of video games. Since they’re still so new and rely on every-changing physics, rules, and worlds, any team that can figure out an edge first can get an upper hand against their opponents. Any team can go from the bottom of the rankings to the top because there’s just so much that changes from time to time. Imagine how crazy baseball would get if one team figured out how to double the speed of their runners or how to identify when the pitcher was throwing a slider every single time without fail. That team would probably rise up before people figure out what they were doing an either adopted their skills or found a way to negate them.

I expect that, given time, the Overwatch League will eventually sort itself out. As more teams are added and the e-sport grows, I’m sure it’ll fall into a comfortable groove with reasonable expectations that still allow for surprise upsets and some teams occasionally shifting ranks around. That, or I hope they wind up spacing the matches out so I’m not committing six hours a night, four nights a week to trying to watch them. I wouldn’t have minded as much if they’d done a total of six or even eight matches a week instead of the current twelve. There’s just so much constant suspense and surprise that I can’t really stand it. Even when I watched more closely, I usually just had it on the background as I worked on something else. It’s so exhausting to get caught up in the energy of a match only to have it suddenly reversed when a team that should be winning suddenly loses with no clear reason as to why. As someone who has watched a lot of Overwatch, played a lot of Overwatch, and is really good at finding patterns, I can say that sometimes teams just lose and it isn’t necessarily because they’re performing poorly or their opponents are performing well. That’s usually the reason, but not always. Sometimes, they just do one dumb thing and they lose momentum. Or their tank dives in only to die instantly (literally a thing that used to happen to the Fusion more frequently than I could stand).

I like the way the championship competitions have been organized. Fewer matches a day and often with skips in between the days. I’ve been able to enjoy it a lot more when I don’t have another entire 3 match set, at two hours per match, to watch the next day. I’ve been able to focus more on the strategies the teams have used, what tricks have worked for them and what daring ploys did not. You can really learn a lot if you watch the pros play and know enough to really grasp what they’re doing. I know I do.

Regardless, I’m super excited to watch my team take a shot at the title and million-dollar prize that comes with it. I’d love to see them win after all the hard work they’ve put in to get this far into the championship. If they do, I might finally spend some tokens and get a second Philadelphia Fusion skin in Overwatch. They look kinda gross because they’re a deep, glossy orange, but I gotta show my love for the team that’s come way further than I ever expected them to.

The Return to Overwatch

I’ve been taking a break from Overwatch for a while. I got to a point where my favorite teammate, my roommate, wasn’t playing very much, so I was mostly playing solo or with other friends. Unfortunately, most of the time, I got placed with people below my skill level or who weren’t trying to play well, and so I got trounced repeatedly. I’d often wind up with the most kills, the most damage-dealt, the most time on the objectives, and the most kills around the objective, four out of five of the measures of individual player achievement in Overwatch, all despite playing a tank character who is supposed to focus on keeping people alive. One or two out of the possible four (the fifth is healing and all the tanks I’m best with don’t do healing) is not a problem, but consistently getting all four is frustrating, especially when we wind up losing because I’m the only person contesting the objectives or trying to coordinate the team.

I’m no savant. I’m not even an amazing player. I’ve got a good grasp of team strategy, character dynamics, and how to figure out people. I have a few skills I’ve polished very well and I’ve got an excellent sense of timing and battle flow. As a shot-caller, I’m pretty good at figuring out where my team needs to be and what we need to be doing. As a tank, I’m good at being where I need to be. Unfortunately, as I’ve said before but with a different take-away, Overwatch is a team game. I can’t win the match on my own. I can do everything right and still lose. I can call every shot with perfection and lead every charge perfectly, but my strategies are doomed to fail if all the people who were behind me when I started peeled away to do who knows what on their, leaving me to get shredded by an enemy team that stuck together.

It can be incredibly frustrating to lose because my teammates either aren’t trying to win (“it’s just Quickplay, quit trying so hard” is a common refrain when I try to communicate with my team) or everyone is trying to play Call of Duty. I don’t might losing if the other team is just better than we are. It can be incredibly frustrating, just like any loss, but at least I know I lost because they were just better or smarter or faster than my team. Losing because my team is a pile of idiots who pick the worst possible characters or refuse to play healers or tanks doesn’t feel good at all.

A common response to this sort of behavior in matches is to just stop caring. Most of my friends don’t really care or can just shut it off when they started to get bummed by dumb Overwatch matches. They’ll lean into whatever dumb thing the rest of the team is doing and laugh as it inevitably collapses. I can enjoy that. Some of the most fun matches I’ve played have been when we did something dumb that would up working in the silliest way possible, or failing in a huge but hilarious way. The thing is, those matches aren’t super fulfilling to me. The matches I enjoy the most, that I get the most from, are the ones where we execute brilliantly timed plays, where the entire team operates in sync, where we manage to just barely scrape a win because we were slightly better or managed to combine our abilities perfectly. Those feel amazing and they’re the reason I play Overwatch.

I want those games because I feel like I’m learning something new or improving myself. I like forward progress and that’s difficult (if not impossible) to get when you can’t actually play at your current skill level. I don’t like re-treading the same ground again and again because I’m being held back.

I’m sure I’ve screwed up matches for other people. I’m not some poor victim of the twists of randomly assigned teammates, I’m also one of the perpetrators. I can get a little tilted (playing aggressively and unwisely because I’m angry) when I get frustrated. I’m good at keeping my cool and playing consistently, but I occasionally mess up horribly because I’ve misread the situation or made a terrible guess at what the enemy team was going to do. I get that most people aren’t doing it maliciously and I’d probably benefit from trying to help other people play well than lamenting that they play terribly, but there was little incentive for people to actually care during most matches or to try to be a team player beyond winning or losing the match (which people don’t always care about).

That might be different now. Recently, Overwatch added an “endorsements” feature. You can endorse allies for sportsmanship, shot calling, or being a good teammate. You can endorse enemies for sportsmanship. If you get endorsed frequently, you get rewards and a little ranking thing next to your name. It also shows what you get endorsed for by coloring each endorsement differently and showing the percentage via color around the endorsement level in your name. Now, players are rewarded for actually working as a team beyond a win or loss. You can also spot when people just get endorsed because people see no drawback to endorsing as many people as possible after a match. If they are heavily endorsed for sportsmanship and very rarely endorsed for anything else, there’s a really good chance their opponents are just auto-endorsing them at the end of matches. If their teammates like them, there should be a higher percentage of “teammate” or “shot calling” endorsements.

I’m cautiously optimistic (like always), so I’m willing to get back into the game. I’ll give constructive leadership and shot calling a try again. I’ll do my best to make my teams the best we can be, try to reward good teamwork with endorsements, and hope positive reinforcement is going to be enough to change my experience with the game. If I can get back to a year ago, when I just loved playing the game whenever I had the time, I’ll be ecstatic. If I can stop feeling frustrated every time I play, I’ll count this as a rousing success. The internet is aglow with praise for the endorsements feature, so maybe it really will mean a shift in the game’s culture.

Overwatch Strategy: A Primer

While the individual maps and various play modes make it difficult to have a general discussion about strategy in Overwatch, there is a common element to most of the normal and competitive game types. Throughout the match, each team is going to attempt to kill everyone on the opposite team. While each team has their own objectives (defend this location, conquer that location, guide a payload, stall a payload, hold on to this location for a certain amount of time), the opposing team stands in the way of achieving those objectives. The best way to get your opponents out of your way in this game, at least in the most basic terms, is to kill them or hurt them so much that they run away.

Beyond the basic terms, strategy splits into two useful levels: professional and amateur. If you really want to nitpick, there are a few more, such as “amateurs who imitate the pros,” “people who have no idea what they’re doing,” and “people who get super salty and play like there’s a berserker mode that makes them harder to kill.” I’m going to stick to pro and amateur for now because there really isn’t a lot of actual strategy that goes into playing those three levels.

Amateur strategy is probably the simplest to discuss because it relies on the same basic principles that professional strategy does, but leans on them almost entirely instead of using them as a trunk from which they can then branch out. In an amateur team fight, your tanks are going to be at the front of the line, the DPS will either be with them or trying to out-maneuver your opponents, your supports should be near the tanks to help keep them alive, and your defense characters should be either pushing the enemy tanks around or preventing your tanks from being pushed around. While it is entirely possibly to play out a team fight without much strategy, relying on the skill of the players as they clash in a giant muddle, it will quickly turn into a horrible grind where either everyone dies or one team just gets completely wiped out.

Because of the variety off characters that people use in the amateur scene, there isn’t really a strict guideline of how to play each level. There are particular strategies that work more often than not, but the deciding factor is often the skill of the individual players. As a result, a good strategy for an amateur match tends to be focused around playing to the strengths of your particular character. DPS should focus on their specialized type of damage (ranged accuracy, flanking, or pure numbers). Tanks should focus on taking or preventing damage using shields, picking out solo targets in mid-range, or living for a really long time despite taking tons of damage. Supports should heal, peal enemies off of tanks, and control the area around where their own team is located. Defense characters often wind up playing to the one of the strengths I’ve already listed, since most of their job consists of either teaming up with the tanks or taking down enemy tanks.

If everyone plays to their strengths and works as a team, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t win unless the other team is just better than they are. If they can communicate well, it is possible for them to play into some of the basic strategies successfully. Without the consistent skill of the pro or high-tier scenes, they aren’t as reliable as just playing well. Dive-composition is relatively easy to do, since it is just a very mobile way of playing and consists of playing characters to their strengths. The “standard” composition of two tanks, two DPS, and two healers is hard to go wrong with. The old “triple-tank” composition doesn’t work as well as it used to, but it has its niches. It requires consistent skill and good communication to pull off, though, so it rarely gets used in the amateur scene.

In the professional scene, at least right now, the overwhelming majority of matches use the dive composition with some slight variation in the second DPS and second healer depending on how the team plans to play after the moment of first contact. Usually a DPS and a tank from Team A will dive in, trying to take out the supports of Team B, and the tanks of Team B will fall back to counter the dive. At that point, if the diving components of Team A are still alive, which they usually are, the other DPS, tank, and one of the supports from Team A will start attacking the back of the tanks of Team B. If Team A’s dive works, then at least one of the supports for team B is dead, the tanks of Team B have taken heavy damage, and Team A is an advantageous position for achieving their objective.

There is some variety that happens in matches, given that a daring shift to a different strategy can upset the balance of a match and start the ball rolling for the team that changed things up. Since the level of skill is relatively level, the deciding factor is often what maneuvers each team tries and when they try them. Good timing and shot-calling is often what decides a match. Individual players can still tip the balance, but generally not in as decisive a manner as they can for amateur matches.

All that being said, there is one style of play that can completely shift everything. Though the basic strategy is the same, putting one of the DPS players on the Widowmaker character can shift the entire game. While having a single-shot, high-damage character means a big grind fight can turn against you, being able to quickly take characters from the opposing team out of the battle means that your team can commit more strongly without as much fear of being countered. Taking out an enemy support instantly means your team can focus on the one other support when you dive and quickly wrap up a fight that would have otherwise been drawn out and slow. Taking out their DPS means you have some room to breathe and take a few risks that would otherwise be way too dangerous to consider.

One of the biggest differences between amateur and pro matches is the way partial teams commit to fights. In a pro match, if they have time and are missing a character due to a snipe kill from a Widowmaker or because someone got trapped and killed quickly, they will simply wait until the full team is there before trying again. If a defending team is getting routed, they will often retreat, give the attacking team their objective, and gather to try to take out the attacking team in a quick counter attack. In amateur matches, generally players stick around until they are killed. This can work out, sometimes, because not all players are skilled enough to quickly kill their opponents in an uneven team fight, but it generally does not because the skill disparity required for this to work out is very high.

Pro players are much more cautious. They tend to back out more readily, take fewer unnecessary risks, and wait for their team before acting unless they’re specifically playing a character who is supposed to act alone. In amateur play, you often see tanks trying to go it alone when they very much should not be. A tank without any DPS or support will die super quickly unless they somehow manage to catch the entire enemy team unaware. Which can, of course, happen. Amateur matches are super inconsistent and anything cam happen in them. A lot of players, myself included, take stupid risks because we know that no one will expect it and the surprise itself is something that can be exploited. One of my best plays as a tank was when I snuck around the side, flanked the enemy team with a charging attack, and got the entire team focused on killing me (which they did), so the rest of my team could close the gap and murder them. I got one kill to make sure it was an even fight and my team would up winning because they knew what I was doing and I managed to shake up the enemy team. I wouldn’t recommend trying it yourself because it was more luck than good shot-calling that made it work out.

One of the most exciting parts of playing and watching Overwatch is that changing the composition of your team and using the element of surprise can tip a match decidedly in your favor. While there is a basic strategy used in almost all competitive matches, one change to the balance of a key hero or the introduction of a new hero can cause the old strategy to no longer work. I am excited to see how professional play evolves once they start incorporating the newest hero, a support character whose skills seem designed to counter the standard dive composition that all professional teams use.

Talking to Strangers on the Internet

When I was growing up and first got to use the internet, one of the biggest rules I was given was that I could not talk to strangers on the internet. Around that time, tales of child abductions, predators, and catfishing had started to gain prominence, so my parents’ concern makes sense. It made sense back then, too, because I wasn’t supposed to talk to real-life strangers, so why should I be able to talk to internet strangers?

The funny thing is, now there are entire platforms for talking to strangers. Randomly-paired video and/or text chat, Twitter, Imgur, Reddit, Facebook… Pretty much everywhere you can go to on the internet, it will have an endless stream of strangers you can talk to. Sometimes, you even wind up making friends. One of my closest friends in my freshman year of college was someone who was a friend of a friend of a friend, that I’d maybe seen in person once. In the entire time we talked and were close friends, we met in person once, when I was back from college for winter break and we wanted to be able to stop making jokes about either one of us being a fat old man in a fake mustache.

Hell, even most video games pair you with strangers these days and all the team-based ones require some degree of communication, even if you only ever use emotes/macros to ask for healing or to show off your character’s mighty muscles. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when I started getting more involved on Twitter, most of my interaction with strangers came from playing Overwatch. I’d queue up for a match by myself or with a friend and we’d get stuck on a team with random strangers. For the most part, communication with them stay in the realm of healing requests and indications that we need to group up.

Sometimes, though, people start using text chat. Sometimes, people even use the team-wide voice chat. While myself and the friend I usually queue up with don’t generally join the team voice chat unless the team asks us to, there have been a few times when we have and it went well. One time, we did so well with two other groups of two that we all teamed up to make a group of six and went on to win another four matches. Another time, one guy spent the whole match whining into the team chat about how no one was playing well or helping him and it created such a thoroughly toxic atmosphere that no one would work together.

Most of the time, it’s just normal chatter. People talk about what they’re going to do, call out enemy positions and maneuvers, we coordinate our movements, and trying to work together for a common goal before moving on and never talking to each other again. I’ve had mostly neutral experiences with team voice chat, but the negative ones stand out so much that I generally try to avoid it if I can.

Text chat has been the opposite. There have been a few negative experiences, including one lately that made the match so negative that people on my team started throwing the match, resulting in an embarrassing overtime loss to a team we should have beaten easily. For the most part, though, people are friendly and at least neutral if not positive. If you play as a part of a group, there’s a high chance of playing with other groups and sticking with them for a while, across several matches. As that happens, people start friendly conversations, congratulate each other on good places, and all report/shout-down the one asshole trying to ruin everyone’s good time. Then you inevitably wind up fighting against a long-time ally and tears are shed on both sides as you ruthlessly exploit your experiences with each other to try to beat each other.

Good times.

I always kind of marvel at the casual nature of human connection via video games. You can meet someone new, bond over your shared enjoyment of a game, and then part ways without ever expecting to meet or talk again. If you do, that’s great! If not, then you’ve lost nothing. Or have you? It is so easy to connect over the internet, but we’re still so guarded with most of our personal information. Games all use usernames, most social media allows the restriction of personal information so only friends can see it, and most people who know anything about internet/identity safety recommend keeping most personal information completely private.

This attitude (which is still entirely sensible because the people who want to exploit personal information are ruthless and entirely too common) keeps us from connecting with friendly strangers. We don’t even share our names. We keep ourselves hidden behind the masks of our characters and our usernames. We connect with people, make friends, and them go our separate ways. It always makes me kind of sad when it happens, even if I’m not really willing to be the one to try to break the pattern. For the most part, anyway. I use my real name here, and on my Twitter. Those aren’t terribly brave, though, since most people also do that.

 

To Single Play or to Multi Play

Despite my love for the almost entirely single-player Legend of Zelda franchise, I generally prefer multiplayer games over single-player games. My Steam account is full of single-player games I have never played or haven’t completed. I never actually finished most of my single-player console games, either. I just eventually lose interest or focus, getting distracted by some other video game or a new book, and never get back to finishing the game. If it is a multiplayer game that I’m playing with friends, I’m a lot more likely to stay interested and finish it.  There are exceptions, of course. I’ve played tons of games of Borderlands with friends and by myself, but I’ve only ever finished it once with a friend. It’s a longer game, so it is difficult to get someone to commit to the entire thing and then actually follow-through over the several sessions it’ll take to beat it.

I never finished all of the really cool extra content for Hyrule Warriors because I got bored doing the daily grind of beating thousands of enemies on my own. For the few missions I could do it, I enjoyed the multiplayer option much more. I started playing and loved Shadow of War last fall, but I never finished because Destiny 2, with its multitude of problems, came out. Destiny encourages cooperative multiplayer while Shadow of War’s multiplayer is only ever competitive.

I prefer cooperative multiplayer to competitive. Competitive games like Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers are fun, but I prefer any game where I’m working with my friends rather than against them. Halo Co-Op was my preferred way to play with my friends in high school. I never really got into League of Legends because it was so competitive. Even the cooperative aspect of being on a team with your friends or strangers got competitive because people took the game so seriously. That, plus the toxicity, drove me away. Overwatch, on the other hand, is a competitive game but it encourages a lot more cooperation than I feel League of Legends did. Even when queuing for Quickplay and playing with random strangers feels better because not everyone is toxic and most people agree to a basic level of cooperation. Some of my best cooperative moments and matches have been with strangers. All it takes there is communication and willingness to participate.

I’m not a terribly competitive person. I don’t really care about winning or losing, I just want to play well. I want to play a game skillfully and improve, not worry about who has the most kills or whether or not I’m consistently better than my friends. I get frustrated, sure, but only when I know we’re under-performing or one of my allies is deliberately messing us up. I generally won’t try to force people to cooperate with me in games, but I have little patience for people who find pleasure in throwing games or betraying their allies.

I like to improve myself. Daily blog entries here, figuring out how to add novel-writing to my schedule, and then trying to work out between work and writing is all my attempts to make myself the best me I can be. That includes being good at my chosen recreations. I like to play video games and the part of me that is what I identify as the most core part of me also wants to be good at video games. Not so I can go pro in some competitive e-sports league or so I can rule over my friends, but for my own personal satisfaction. I want to be good to see just how good I can be.

Communication and Teamwork in Overwatch

Watching the Overwatch League has made me want to play the game more than ever. Watching teams pull off these amazingly well-coordinated plays makes me want to assemble my own team. Not in order to compete at even the amateur level, but to play with that level of communication and trust. That being said, the league is still rife with examples of people doing their own thing, including both times that it pays off and times that it does not. Single DPS players have, with minimal support from their teammates, either crippled or halted an entire enemy advance. In juxtaposition, tanks have recklessly charged and players of all kinds have wasted ultimate abilities that would have been more useful if they’d saved them for a minute or less later. Often, the reckless tank and wasted support ultimate ability have led to the team collapsing. Interestingly, half of the team collapses I’ve seen have turned into times when a single DPS found the right moment and help the enemy team off.

The best teams, though, are the most coordinated ones. New York Excelsior, Seoul Dynasty, and London Spitfire are all the most coordinated on average and they’re all the best teams in the league in a general sense. Having actually tried to build a 6-player team in Overwatch, I can definitely say that team coordination matters. To be fair, you don’t need to have six people in order to see that, it just makes it easier to see. I love playing with one of my roommates the most because we’ve played together long enough that our play styles complement each other, we trust each other to know what we’re doing, and we can anticipate each other’s needs and movements in a way the really streamlines communication. He also plays DPS (damage per second) characters and I play tanks, supports, and filler characters (swapping around to meet the team’s current needs rather than sticking to one character in particular). Comparing our play to me playing with only one of most of my other friends highlights just how important that almost unspoken communication is to our success as a team.

I’m hopeful that, if the 6 of us play together often enough, we’ll eventually figure out the communication stuff. I have a hard time verbalizing my thoughts in generic specifics because I’m so focused on what is going on in front of me, so my ability to call shots and direct the team is at its best when I can either get the words out properly or when my teammates are aware enough of what is happening in the battle as a whole to interpret what I’m trying to say correctly. It can be annoying, to have a shot-caller who has trouble saying the right names for characters and coming up with the right word while it is still relevant, but I’ve got the best battlefield awareness of the group right now so working on communication is out top priority. For now, I am grateful that my roommate is one of the six people and that I can count on him to interpret and then translate what I’m trying to say.

As much as I try to relax and have a good time when I’m with a large group that isn’t communicating, it is incredibly frustrating. As a tank, a lot of my ability to do anything effectively, aside from soaking up bullets, is contingent on having the rest of my team performing their duties and following the called shots. The other day, I kept telling everyone to group up with me since I was using the other team’s expectations against them, by setting up patterns that I’d subsequently break. It was working great except that most of my team wasn’t following me. I’d call them over to me, see them around me, start moving into position, and then they’d all be gone, getting cut down somewhere else because their tank is off trying to set up a flanking team-fight that would pick off the enemy sniper and supports before the enemy DPS could be brought to bear against us. We were so close to winning so many times that match and we had no good reason for losing, only that we were never all together and focused on figuring out how to circumvent the enemy traps and defenses. That was kind of the theme of the night, really. Knowing we should have won and being unable to say that we just got outplayed is frustrating to me because I’m trying to become a better player than I currently am and those kind of losses don’t do anyone any good.

It isn’t all of my teammate’s faults either. If I’d followed them in and stuck with the grind-y team-fights they kept running into, we might have won. We might have come out on top with enough ultimate abilities left to hold off the inevitable second wave when they re-spawned and pushed to retake the final point they were defending. I played a little more aggressively than I strictly needed to, winding up with all of the gold medals for enemy kills, enemy kills around the objective, enemy damage, and time spent on the objective(s). No tank should ever have all of those. A good tank can often wind up with gold medals in objective time and objective kills, but the DPS should always have the other two.

I’m going to focus on trying to be a better communicator when I’m playing with less experienced players and people who don’t know how to interpret my non-specific exclamations. That is something I can work to improve in every match, regardless of whether or not I’ve got a team skilled enough to help me improve as a tank. As long as I’m improving, I think I’ll be able to accept and number of wins or losses.

I thought I was Overwatch-ing Sports on TV

I’ve never really been one for watching sports. Sure, I’ll keep up with the big-deal games and news, but more as a desire to participate in society than from actual interest. I’ve got nothing against sports or people who enjoy watching them, I just only really enjoy them as a way to interact with people. Watching the game with some friends is fun, but mostly because I’m with my friends. This has held true during the rise of e-sports, which have captured the attention of many of my friends who generally shared my apathy toward professional sports. Only this year has that changed. With the advent of the Overwatch League, I’ve finally started taking an interest in a professional sport.

Which it totally is at this point. There’s a league, a code of conduct, privately owned teams, merchandise, specialty merchandise, and publicly broadcast matches you can watch. Heck, you can ever get into twitter arguments about whether or not you think a team should have won. Thankfully, there are fewer moments where a loss can be blamed on a referee since software is the final arbiter of truth and anything you disagree with is a result of the tiny bit of lag between the server and your computer/display. The players make a bunch of money and the popular ones make even more, there are licensing deals in the works, and we’ve already had a few scandals that temporarily disqualified people. Finally, the most important part of determining whether or not something is a sport, ridiculously young people have already aged out of the professional scene. For e-sports, that seems to be somewhere in the early to mid twenties.

Every time I go to watch an Overwatch League match on Twitch, I remark to my roommate (who watches them all with me) that the players are all babies. I mean, sure, they’re required to be at least 18, but that’s still practically baby age. I recognize that I’m getting older and I don’t have to go back that far in my Facebook photos to find pictures of me looking like a baby, but it still feels ridiculous to see how young they all look as they sit on top of the world. Well, as they sit on top of this particular portion of the world. I feel kind of bad for them, honestly. They spend their teenage years getting good enough to qualify, lose their early adult years to professional gaming, and then age out by the time most people are graduating from college. That’s gotta be rough, you know? I don’t envy them their positions or problems. I doubt I’d do that even for the amount of money they’re making from streaming and merchandise. I want to enjoy my gaming.

Honestly, though, even for a first-year sports league, Overwatch is a lot of fun to watch. I’m a good enough player to recognize the flow of the game, key tipping points, and what a player did that resulted in their death or a big kill-streak. It is a lot of fun to sit on my couch with my roommate and discuss the matches as they’re going. I’ll admit I still maintain a certain degree of apathy, but I prefer to watch and dissect when I can. My roommate watches all of the old matches on YouTube once they’re over, if he misses a broadcast, but I’m content to just look for highlights and cool plays. I don’t have a favorite team yet, since I don’t really follow any of the streamers, but it has been really cool to see how much some of the strong solo-players have shined. I prefer my tanks, and really enjoy seeing a good tank play, but those are relatively rare given the current accepted strategy for the professional scene. I’ve still gotten to watch a few nice tank plays, though.

The popularity of the Overwatch League has brought a lot of players back to the game and I’ve enjoyed the wider variety of players. I’ve also enjoyed that pretty much everyone is trying to emulate the professional team compositions and play styles, because it makes it easy for me to work around them or take them down. Professional-style play only really works if you’ve got the skills to back it up. One person who knows what they’re doing can easily disrupt an entire group of people who are trying to emulate something they saw on Twitch and don’t have the skills to do. I was able to place in the top 45% of players, world-wide, for the current competitive season by almost solely playing to counter professional team compositions. Backup from a group of competent players who knew what I was doing was integral, of course, since it was up to them to actually do something with a disrupted and disorganized team.

I think I enjoy the professional e-sports league so much because I enjoy playing Overwatch. I don’t really enjoy playing most sports and most other games in e-sports, so I’ve never really had the chance to see something I’m good at and enjoy on my TV like this. I’m looking forward to how the Overwatch League grows and develops over the next few years. Maybe we’ll even start to see our first e-sports bars pop up around town! I’m willing to bet one already exists somewhere. An Overwatch-themed one would be a lot of fun!

Saturday Morning (Evening) Musing

Today was a nice day. Tomorrow marks three months with my girlfriend. That’s not a whole lot, objectively speaking, but it’s longer than most of my relationships have lasted so it feels nice to reach and mark it. Since we’re both busy tomorrow, we met up for a bit today to just spend some time together and we wound up spending most of it grocery shopping. We both love to cook, so it was preparation for both of us to spend the afternoon cooking. She was cooking meals for a friend who just had a baby. I was cooking because I wanted stew, my bean dip, and cider.

I, of course, had to clean the entire kitchen before I could start. It was too dirty and covered in dishes to cook, so I had to make some space and clean my surfaces. At the same time, it feels very good to get something visibly clean and I find it mentally refreshing. Part of cooking is, for me, imposing order on disorder. Taking several disparate things, my own knowledge and culinary senses, and bringing it all together to make something better than all the parts on their own.

Right now, my dip is made, my stew is simmering (to thicken), and my cider is delicious. It feels good to sit back and lent the scent of all of my creations wash over me as I watch the Overwatch League matches I missed during the day. I’ve got friends coming over to help eat the food I’ve made, and a nice warm house to enjoy during this cold weather. I’ve got no chores that need doing, no errands that need running, and no pressing business to attend to other than my writing and stirring the stew.

I catch myself thinking of the future a lot, of when I’ve finished paying off my student loans and finally settled down to live comfortably as I try to make ends meet as a novelist. I think about how quiet and peaceful my life could be, how idyllic my life would become. On days like today, I feel like I catch a glimpse of this future. Like I’ve gotten to look through a window into the eventual life I’d like to live. The problem with that idea, though, is that it does a disservice to my life right now. Sure, I have student loans and a good job that I don’t hate, but are those really reasons that I can’t build the life I want today?

There’s a reason we use words or phrases like that when we talk about the future. There isn’t one part that just magically makes it all come together, just like there isn’t a “right time” to start. We have to work on the life we want one step at a time, one thing at a time. I think I’m going to try to focus on that idea a little more often and let myself enjoy days like today as a solid step toward the life I want to lead.

“Ich Bin Euer Schild:” How to Reinhardt in Overwatch

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 babysitter, 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.

NaNoWriMo Day 28 (11/28)

I’m a little ahead of schedule so far. I had to write 2500 words last night in order to finish on time, but I wrote 3200. That isn’t very far ahead of schedule, but doing it twice more means I only need to write 400 words on Thursday to finish. Which means I’d be able to start my recovery period and early nights on Thursday instead of Friday. I’m all for that, so we’ll see how it goes. Maybe I can do even more writing tonight so that I can just take Thursday entirely off. Nothing wrong with Finishing early, you know?

I also noticed that the “schedule your post” functionality of WordPress isn’t very precise. I had yesterday’s post all set to go up at 9 am, since I was going to be at work, and it didn’t actually post until I’d pulled up my website and logged in (of course it posted immediately when I logged in). I’m thinking I might be able to schedule the post, but I’ll need to actually still check every day if only make sure WordPress is doing what I told it to. It feels rather silly to have a schedule function that doesn’t really work, though. Maybe I should write up a bug report and submit it to the WordPress team. I do it for Google and video games all the time now, since I’ve become a professional software tester and all.

I haven’t gotten any comments on my post asking for suggestions of what to do with my blog after this month has ended, but I’m think it’ll probably be something a little more focused on creativity since my last blog before this one had focused on that and did much better in terms of views and followers even after I’d stopped updating it. The exact schedule it yet to be determined, but I’m pretty sure my first days of recovery are going to be spent creating a buffer of scheduled posts for me to fall back on while the actual recovery is happening this coming weekend.

A year of daily posts seems like a tall-order, but I’d have said the same thing before I decided to update this blog daily, so I suspect it’ll be a bit more achievable than I think it is right now. I might need to get an editor, though, since I’m clearly not that great at editing all of my posts before they go up. I’ve re-read some of the earlier ones and been horrified by the things I’ve missed.

I actually spent some time tonight playing one of my current favorite video games, Overwatch. I tend to prefer playing Tanks and Supports since I prefer the more strategic style of playing the game and playing a good tank is all about timing, situational awareness, and knowing where the tipping points are. Feeling the pressure building means you can anticipate when to drop your defense and attack with your DPS, while feeling it fall means you can be ready to cover the retreat of your supports and DPS when you need to get to a more defensible position or risk being torn apart. Those are my particular skills. I’m not great at soloing or flanking, but I am one of the best tanks I’ve played with at seeing the tipping points and being ready to take advantage of them. My main problem is that most of the people I play with online don’t even know that these tipping points happen, much less how to actually group around a tank. Tonight, though, I got to play with my friends and I cleaned house. It was wonderful. I’ll look into uploading some of the videos in the future, since I feel like they’re classic examples of the tipping points I’m talking about.

Hey! Talking about video games like that would make an excellent weekly feature! This content practically writes itself.

 

Daily Prompt

For those of us who spend a lot of time working on projects or doing things we’re not particularly good at, failure becomes a familiar face. One of the most important aspects of learning to create or improve is to accept that failure is going to be much more common than success, no matter how long you’ve been doing it or how good you get. If you aren’t risking failure, then you likely don’t have much to gain from what you’re doing. For today’s prompt, write a scene in which your character comes face to face with repeated failure as they try to learn something new or create something.  Show how your character responds to this failure and what happens as a result of them recognizing it.

 

Sharing Inspiration

Sometimes, you stumble across something that can only be a labor of love. Someone, at some point, wanted something and then took an incredibly long stretch of time to create something that perfectly fulfilled it before putting it up on the internet for everyone to see. One of my favorite examples is this list of 1000 totally random magical effects. I found it when working with a D&D player on a character concept that revolved around them causing random magical effects whenever they were frightened. I found a way to simulate rolling a d1000 and then would take whatever magical effect I got on the table. Examples include her character and the source of her fright had to pay 20% of their character’s total worth in the form of taxes. Another one was that the nearest tree (or, in this case, the mast of their airship) turned into a fully decorate Christmas tree complete with presents for everyone around underneath it. She also grew wings once. That was fun. This sort of dedication to an idea is something that always inspires me to keep working on my own crazy ideas and stories because someday, someone I don’t expect at all will find them and appreciate them.

 

Helpful Tips

Like I wrote in the prompt, failure is something you’re going to encounter a lot if you take any risks and trying to create something without taking any risks is not really worth doing. One of the books I’ve been reading for work, as my boss tries to encourage a creative and adventurous atmosphere in our R&D department, suggests that failing early and failing often is the best way to approach any task. If you spend all of your time planning, you’re still going to come up with one or more failures later in the process but you’ll have less time to correct those failures than if you’d just dived right in and started failing immediately.

Writing and NaNoWriMo are hard. I’ve failed NaNoWriMo twice. The first time, I failed so hard I didn’t even sign up to participate. I tried to pretend I didn’t need the accountability and that I’d be able to succeed on my own because I wanted to be able to hide any failure. Last year, I failed because I wasn’t willing to put the energy I had into writing every day or writing enough on my weekends to make up for not writing every day. Sure, I had my reasons, but there will always be reasons to not do something. Better to try and fail rather than not try and fail anyway. You always get something out of it when you try, even if you still wind up having failed just as much as if you hadn’t done anything.

Even if you know you won’t finish in time, don’t give up. Keep trying. Make your failure the best failure you can because the lessons you take out of this, the writing you’ve done when it is over, that will all still be there whether you succeed or fail. Every attempt is a learning experience and the ones that teach us the most are almost always the failures.