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Opening Thoughts

What’s up guys and gals, CaptainPlanet here to present the Overwatch Hero Tier List and Meta Report: East vs. West Edition. For some time now, many of my readers have been asking the same question: “What about the Asian Meta??” Until now, my Meta Reports have been decidedly western-skewed: I only included data from Asian teams when they appeared in western tournaments like the Gosugamers weeklies. This week, it’s time to change that.

Immediately following the Overwatch Open, several western teams flew halfway across the world to compete the Asian region’s largest* Overwatch tournaments to date – the APAC Premier Invitational and OGN’s Apex Season 1, staking their claim as Overwatch’s “best” against an entire continent of Asian players. As it turns out, Korean teams were ready to compete immediately and demonstrated this fact by taking matches off both Rogue and Reunited. It’s obvious that this cross section of Overwatch’s playerbase can no longer be ignored. I invite you to join me in this trip across the Pacific to see what strategy and Meta Asia has to offer. Let’s start with this week’s tiers.

*I’m actually not sure if larger tournaments have occurred in the past for Overwatch, but these two are certainly the ones with the most global exposure

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THE TIERS

S Tier (>=95% Usage Rate*): No one!

A Tier (>80% Usage Rate): Zarya, Lucio

B Tier (>50% Usage Rate): Ana, Reinhardt

C Tier (>20% Usage Rate): Reaper, Winston, Mei, McCree, Zenyatta, Tracer, Genji, Roadhog

D Tier (>5% Usage Rate): Hanzo, D.Va, Pharah (kind of), Mercy (kind of)

F Tier (<5% Usage Rate): Bastion, Symmetra, Torbjorn, Junkrat, Widowmaker, Soldier 76

*What is Usage Rate? For every match, I record the time spent on each hero and divide it by that match’s total time duration. Each of these Data points (a number from 0-1) are then summed across all sides of all matches, then divided by the total number of sides and converted to a percentage to produce a hero’s overall Usage Rate.

The Tier Ranges I’ve chosen** reflect different states of “Balance” in the Meta.


S Tier: “The Possibly Overwpowered Heroes”

What’s this? No overpowered heroes in the East? The lack of S Tier heroes in this week’s report reveals that Asian teams do not find Lucio quite so as essential as he’s perceived in the west. In fact, a chunk of Lucio’s usage instead went to Asian teams tended to run Zenyatta + Ana support compositions on defense – opting for the pick-off potential and Zenyatta’s superior Transcendence ultimate to bolster their setup. This willingness to play the lower mobility Zenyatta on defense may also explain the relative increase in non-completed maps in APAC and Apex. The East seems to have a leg up on defensive strategies.

A Tier: “The Core Heroes”

The strength of Zarya and Lucio crosses all borders. Rarely dropping below the B Tier historically, the most consistent hero duo in Overwatch can now be considered a global phenomenon. It was no surprise to see these two rise to the top of the tier list in a very eastern-biased dataset either – many pros and esports veterans alike love to wax poetic about the strength of Korean teamwork in particular. Look no further than this clip demonstrating the mental fortitude and team play that’s possible when a Zarya, Lucio, and Ana put their heads together:

https://clips.twitch.tv/bananaculture/UgliestKangarooDeIlluminati

It’s the kind of play we all dream of. Backs against the wall and with a Graviton Surge and Nanoboost to burn, Snake’s Izaya Amped Up speed with his Lucio, Fate Nanoboosted the 700’s Zarya for extra speed, and got him to the point just fast enough to drop the Graviton surge before the point cap – the Speed Boost carrying the rest of the team behind in his wake. This massive play eventually lead to a successful defense, and serves as a microcosm of this week’s A Tier.

B Tier: “The Semi-Core Heroes”

Blizzard has just released its Halloween patch which included a nerf to Ana’s ultimate charge, and a buff to her Biotic Grenade radius. While the effects of these changes remain to be seen in the coming weeks, the meta has been centered around Ana ever since season 2’s release. If we look to the East, their pros agree: Ana is pretttty good. However, Asian teams do not limit their Ana usage to tank-based 3x3 strats, or to Beyblade comps – they use her in all situations. There are many extremely skilled Genji players in the Asian scene who transform into monsters when Nanoboosted – so much so that entire lineups will be constructed to support a Genji ringer just like western Beyblade lineups. In a Meta dominated from all angles by Ana, Reinhardt receives a sympathetic boost from being one of the stronger options for cashing in a Nanoboost. He falls short of Zarya primarily due to her equally high usage on king of the hill maps, but Reinhardt does still see some usage in Ana-based KotH lineups.

C Tier “The Balanced Heroes”

The C Tier was bloated this week, a result of the many different lineups utilized by Asian teams in these tourneys. There was a noticeable willingness to try to play to their individual players’ strengths and to swap heroes if an attacking composition was not effective. Whenever there is fluidity in compositions throughout a single match, or several viable strategies employed by teams, a crowded tier of balanced heroes can be expected.

That’s exactly what we see here in the C Tier: a grouping of solid, viable heroes. Reaper nearly reached the 50% B Tier cutoff because of his synergy with the recently nerfed Nanoboost. Winston was carried by his king of the hill usage and viability in triple tank lineups. Mei was not just played on final point defenses, but on several map areas on both attack and defense by players who seem to be Mei “mains”, or at least consider her in their top played hero pool. McCree and Zenyatta were up next: often paired to combine McCree’s high poke damage with Zenyatta’s Discord Orb damage boost. Tracer’s numbers were boosted by her 75+% usage on king of the hill maps, but she did see non-trivial usage on payload maps as well. Genji, as stated before, has some absolute monsters playing him in Korea who have developed lineups to abuse Dragonblade+Nanoboost team wipes. Roadhog brought up the rear of the C Tier and like Genji has some extremely skilled individuals playing him who hit crazy hooks with consistency. Roadhog’s Ultimate, Whole Hog, also provides one of the few counters to a Nanoboosted hero by simply pushing them away from the action and also pairs well with Nanoboost for crazy damage potential.

D Tier “Meta Dependent Heroes”

The D Tier was particularly interesting this week, because all four heroes that arrived in its range fell within 1% usage of each other. This is why Pharah and Mercy received honorary membership cards to the D Tier – they missed the 5% usage cutoff by .01% and .05% respectively. I figured it was time to let the girls escape the F Tier…if only for a week. Eastern teams love their Pharah-Mercy combos, which is often to their detriment. These teams were not shy about swapping heroes mid-map, so the appearance of Pharah-Mercy often lead to an instant swap to McCree by the opposing team, causing the Pharah-Mercy to be shelved. I’m not exactly sure why these teams continued trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Perhaps their Pharah players are adamant about their ability to play through an unfavorable meta, or maybe they were trying to surprise their opponents. Hanzo and D.Va also ended up in the D Tier this week, D.Va primarily for her stalling capabilities on final points, and Hanzo for his oddly effective offensive (not defensive) usage on some maps.

F Tier “Even Asians don’t play these Heroes”

Moving from west to east, not much changed in terms of what heroes were “non-viable” at the highest levels of play. All of the “Defense” heroes save Hanzo and Mei continue to languish in the current meta on both sides of the Pacific. One interesting thing to note, however, is that eastern teams could often be seen swapping to Bastion for last point defenses to pair with their Tracer and D.Va picks, but these swaps did not usually lead to fruitful outcomes.

As usual I will caution you to take the F Tier with a grain of salt…it only represents present usage at the top levels of Overwatch, it is not meant to tell you that your favorite Hero is garbage or for you to use as ammo to flame people in ranked play. Let’s be nice to each other ;3

** I do not chose the placement of heroes in a Tier, only the Range which defines the Tier. By determining Usage Rate directly from hero Time Played in Tournament Matches, my data is Objectively determined, and not subjective at all.


East vs. West

What happens when the best teams of the West do battle with the top teams of the East? Leading into the APAC Invitational and OGN’s Apex league, the prevailing opinion of the western scene at large was that the eastern teams were cute and not too be worried about. Sure, there is an understanding that they are harder working. Sure, they have a better history of taking esports more ‘seriously’. Sure, in many other esports the Koreans have dominated “foreigners” when that game captures their country’s zeitgeist. But Overwatch was supposed to be different! Western players supposedly had a leg up in shooting games – drawing their pros from many FPS games that never caught on in the East. The western professional scene believed that the eastern threat, while very real, was still several months or even years from being relevant. There was a perception that their understanding of the meta and their individual mechanics were lagging behind the western scene. We all clapped and cheered, but also laughed at their Genjis and their Pharah-Mercys.

Boy, were we wrong.

Rumblings of the Eastern Giant: NRG vs. Vici Gaming & Snake

The first evidence of Asia’s strength emerged in the first match of NRG vs. China’s Vici Gaming. While NRG won their opening Hollywood match, they failed to prevent VG from pushing the payload the entire length of the map – eventually winning via time bank. NRG also showed signs of weakness in their next match, a four-map Nepal set. NRG started out playing VG “cute”, and rolled out of the gates with a non-Beyblade team composition with Seagull on Genji. In fact, when VG appeared with a mirror comp of Zarya/Genji/Zenyatta/Tracer/Lucio/Winston, they took the point back after NRG’s first cap and eventually won the match. The next map started with a VG point cap and NRG quickly realized they could not best VG’s mirror. A couple quick swaps later, and NRG transformed to a Beyblade team comp and rolled over VG’s Genji-based lineup, securing the point. The next two matches also fell towards the NRG Beyblade lineup, despite VG’s swaps to a Mei and Reaper to counter – perhaps speaking to the western team’s familiarity with their composition. NRG would also go on to sweep another Chinese team, Snake, in two maps to win their group – assuaging the West’s fears for a time.

The Giant Awakens: Rogue vs. Lunatic Hai

When Rogue met Lunatic Hai in APAC’s opening group stages, the West knew it was in trouble. LH started off with a blisteringly fast pace on King’s Row, setting a 4 minute time and utilizing an offensive Mei/Roadhog, Ana-based comp that outplayed Rogue’s Mei/Reaper defensive setup. As the sides flipped, Rogue chose an offensive Hanzo paired with a Reaper in their Ana lineup, while LH opted to stick with the same team composition on defense. Tviq would eventually swap off the Hanzo to a McCree during the streets phase near their own 4 minute mark, the better to pick off the close-range Mei and Reaper. Unfortunately for Rogue, they barely completed the map in overtime with a time exceeding 8 minutes. Lunatic Hai thus only had to take the first point during time bank to win and they did so easily with their same Ana/Lucio/Mei/Reinhardt/Roadhog/Zarya lineup from the prior two sides.

Was this cause for alarm, or just a rusty start by Rogue? At first, it seemed like it was the latter. In their second match, Rogue went on to easily full-hold Lunatic Hai on Dorado in their second map. However as Rogue and Lunatic Hai dialed up their third map, Route 66, the East vs. West debate came to a head. Lunatic Hai - undeterred by their Dorado loss - played their tried and true Ana/Mei/Roadhog lineup from King’s Row and stomped Rogue, stopping them before pushing the payload to even the first point.

At this point, it definitely looked like LH had superior intelligence prior to heading into their matches against Rogue. Rogue played a Genji + McCree on their Route 66 offense that matched up extremely poorly against LH’s Mei and Roadhog – especially in the Big Earl’s Diner area of Route 66. The combination of the composition and the map position made Lunatic Hai’s Mei and Roadhog almost unkillable, and their Ana un-pickable. There are many options for an Ana to have line of sight of her team while not being in the enemy’s line of sight, and Roadhog and Mei both have the defensive capability to survive most burst damage that a McCree/Genji pair dish out. Lunatic Hai definitely knew what they were doing ahead of time.

Lunatic Hai would then go on to easily win their attacking side, opting to swap their Mei for a Hanzo and keeping the core of their comp. Both teams would then go undefeated through the rest of their group matches, ending with Rogue losing again to Lunatic Hai in the Group B finals – once again on Route 66. Rogue chose to play defense first and prevented Lunatic Hai from reaching the final checkpoint, but were once again stomped on the first point on their own attack by the same defensive lineup that sunk them in their opening matchup. Rogue even chose to play a counter-mirror comp to LH: swapping the Roadhog for a tank-shredding Reaper and playing an offensive Mei, but were unable to break through the more-practiced team’s defenses.

Is it time to panic? Reunited vs. RunAway

As soon as Reunited matched up against Korean team RunAway in OGN’s Apex tourney, it was clear that the western teams had not had time to properly research their opponents. Reunited had prepared for teams running 3x3 Ana strats and Beyblade comps, but RunAway had a completely different strategy in mind. The plan was simple: make room for Haksal on Genji and let him do his thing. According to RunAway’s Lucio player, Runner, Haksal is among the top four Genji players in Korea and despite the obvious bias in this source it was hard not to agree with his assessment. If you’re still skeptical, check out this Haksal highlight reel that AskJoshy (@askjoshy on Twitter) put together:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5LdPF-vbew

Reunited, not expecting a Genji ringer instead of a Beyblade lineup, somehow forgot to play a Reinhardt for most of their games. This allowed Haksal to build his Dragonblade extremely quickly by spamming unprotected poke damage – at times charging even as fast as his Ana’s Nanoboost. Understandably, RunAway ran…away with this Bo5 in three straight games. However, this is not the full story. As I worked through editing this report, Reunited managed to win 3-1 versus KongDoo Pathera – a match that is not included in this data set but must be mentioned. For all the doom and gloom of my assessment of the East vs. West debate, not all is yet lost.


The Importance of Support Structure

Before you ask – this does not refer to literal Overwatch supports. The common thread in all of these West vs. East matches was that the eastern teams – the Koreans in particular – had superior practice and had done better pre-game research than their western opponents. It’s hard to describe this in a nice-sounding way, but eastern teams simply “take the game more seriously”. This means that non-player positions of a team are more highly regarded and often better compensated than western teams. A typical western team will have 6 players and a manager or two – who may also act as analyst/coach for the team but are usually more occupied with typical manager duties. Eastern teams will have 6 players, a manager, a team mom, a team analyst or team of analysts, a coach, and sometimes even two separate teams with substitutes that can scrim against each other. This is all before we factor in the rumors of Korean/Chinese work ethic of all the members involved, putting in 16 hour days of practice, analyzing, and planning Overwatch strategies. It’s not hard to see why these Korean teams are beating up on our western favorites. I have heard unconfirmed reports that Korean coaches had multiple-page dossiers on western teams for every map played, while all of the western teams were essentially flying blind.

The problem is at least partly cultural and at the present moment there is not much that can be done about it. Potential western coaches / analysts / other support positions cannot compete with their eastern counterparts because

A. The positions often do not pay a living wage, if they pay at all. B. Due to A, the quality of the people willing to fill such a position is very poor. C. Due to B, the players on western teams do not respect their coaches. D. Due to C, the coaches on western teams cannot enforce strict practice regimens and expectations on their players. E. Eastern coaches / support positions are more willing to sacrifice their time / money / passion to a team.

Basically, to be a top quality coach in Overwatch you have to know what the hell you’re talking about, but to no western team can afford to pay someone enough for them to dedicate the time needed to get to that point. Unless the western Overwatch esports scene blows up in a very monetary way in the coming months (hint hint, BlizzCon, cough cough NBA teams buying Overwatch orgs), I do not see the same sort of support structures suddenly appearing for our western teams. The time of Asian dominance is nigh.


Deep Dives!

Last week, I posted to Reddit asking for my readers to ask me questions regarding the Overwatch Open, the meta, and trends that they wanted to see explored this week. This week, I decided to revisit some of these questions to see if any of the answers have changed for the eastern meta.


What about the F Tier Heroes?

While the eastern teams were much more willing to use Pharah, Mercy, and Bastion their usage still was not technically high enough for them to clear the 5% usage rate cutoff to escape the F Tier. This chart details exactly who used an F Tier hero, where they used it, where they swapped to it, how long they used it for, and what percentage of the match that time represents. Pretty thorough, if I do say so myself!

Sample image:

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Direct Link


I was confused about how quickly teams dropped Zenyatta, and what the deal is with Mercy. Is she just bad?

Last week this question was posed to me, and I filtered my main historical tracking sheet to track the rising and falling heroes in the current meta. This week, we have one more column of data to work with to see if these trends continue in a primarily Asian dataset.

Sample image:

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Heroes: Overall

Heroes: Rising

Heroes: Falling

Even taking APAC and Apex’s data into account, there was not much movement in the rising and falling heroes. The only standout was Tracer, who saw a dip of slightly over 15% this week, but this can be attributed to a lower amount of king of the hill maps played.


What’s the story with Mei? Is she better on certain maps?

Last week, the answer to this question was decidedly yes! Mei was the only hero out of the 22 heroes that had a mostly positive correlation between map completion / defense, but this week the tables have turned:

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In this chart, more blue = more likely a hero results in a win, more red = more likely a hero results in a loss, and grey is 50-50. This week, Mei was actually more likely to be played in an unsuccessful defense or offense than a successful one – on King’s Row and Hollywood in particular. She’s joined by Genji, D.Va, Roadhog, and Winston as heroes more likely to be played in losses, but as we’ll see in the next section this may be part of a more global hero usage trend.

Two heroes did stand out for correlating usage to success however: Hanzo and McCree. Hanzo’s successful matches can be attributed almost entirely to Seagull and Tviq, our western Hanzo players who enjoy using the defense hero offensively on payload maps. McCree saw much more variance in who was using him, so perhaps teams should start playing more McCree in general.


Are there any egregious imbalances in map win/loss rates?

The answer to this question is still yes! Although there were a bit less imbalances in the Asian map pool – likely because very little Eichenwalde was played.

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Just like last week, Temple of Anubis remains extremely offense-favored regardless of the region it’s played in. Dorado was decidedly more offense favored as well, while Hollywood was slightly favored towards defense.


What were the key differences between the East and West Meta?

Unfortunately, since very little western teams played APAC + Apex and I did not have time to collect data from the Alienware Monthly Melee, we cannot consider the western part of this chart significant.

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This is not to say that there isn’t something interesting going on with the eastern meta – far from it. A trend I noticed while watching the matches that this chart confirms is that Asian teams are much more likely to successfully defend on maps than their western counterparts. Time and time again, teams would full hold on the first point or even in strange spots that I have never seen western teams end matches before like the Hollywood Roofs phase. Eastern teams must be doing something right on defense, or something dreadfully wrong on offense…


How often does winning the point first on King of the Hill lead to winning the map?

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The X axis of this chart lists the “capture point first” rate, then the Y axis lists how often the team then goes on to win the whole map. The size of the dots indicates how many matches were played, for some semblance of the significance of the results. There were not a great deal of King of the Hill maps played in either of these tourneys, but two teams stood out to me: Flash Lx and Afreeca Freecs Blue. The Freecs were able to capture the point first only 50% of the time, yet converted 75% of those captures to wins. Similarly, Flash Lux captured the point first half of the time, but converted 100% of these captures to wins.


What Map Locations were most likely to lead to lineup swaps? What swaps occurred at these locations?

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In case you haven’t had enough swaps, I made another chart! This one ranks the total amount of swaps that occurred this week across APAC and Apex, broken down by rough map area in which they occurred. If you click on any of the bars, the window to the right will display each individual hero swap that occurred at that location. I encourage you to explore!


Final thoughts and shoutouts

Shoutout to all of the hard working Asian teams and the eastern Overwatch scene. Not only are their teams skilled and fun to watch, but the production value of the APAC and Apex tournaments are something strive for as Overwatch grows. There’s so much that all three regions can learn from each other, and it looks like the future is bright for this budding esport.

Until next time,

CaptainPlanet