Overwatch Hero Tier List and Meta Report: A Meta Divided
What’s up guys and gals, CaptainPlanet here to present the Overwatch Hero Tier List and Meta Report: A Meta Divided. The APAC Invitational concluded in spectacular fashion last week with Rogue defeating their Korean foes in Lunatic Hai in a thrilling 4-1 grand finals. Celebration aside, I now had to migrate back across the pacific in my search for Overwatch tournament data. Luckily, Alienware’s Monthly Melee had just begun – providing valuable western data to supplement the still on-going Apex group stages. However, what I saw in the Alienware Monthly Melee surprised me. Western teams have always been seen as the innovators of the Overatch meta, and after two weeks’ break from the western scene I returned to Roadhogs – Roadhogs everywhere. While the eastern meta was stuck using their pre-tournament practiced lineups the West had moved on to bigger (literally) and better heroes. With that in mind, let’s see the damage in this week’s tiers:
S Tier (>=95% Usage Rate*): No one!
A Tier (>80% Usage Rate): Lucio, Zarya, Reinhardt, Ana
B Tier (>50% Usage Rate): No one!
C Tier (>20% Usage Rate): Reaper, Roadhog, McCree, Winston, Genji, Tracer, Zenyatta (honorary), Mei (honorary)
D Tier (>5% Usage Rate): Mercy, D.Va, Hanzo, Pharah
F Tier (<5% Usage Rate): Bastion, Widowmaker, Soldier 76, Junkrat, Torbjorn, Symmetra
*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”
No heroes exceeded 95% usage rate this week, but this arbitrary cutoff is meant to function as an alarm bell for heroes that absolutely need to be monitored by the balance team. In previous weeks, Ana and Lucio have both flirted with this tier, but we will see in the coming groupings the meta has reached a very usual state without the help of a super-obvious overpowered scapegoat.
A Tier: “The Core Heroes”
The A Tier is the most crowded it’s ever been – at least in my memory. I am prepared to state with confidence that if you are a high-level Overwatch player with a solid stack of friends to play with, you should absolutely be playing these four heroes in all of your matches if you wish to climb. These heroes – Zarya, Lucio, Reinhardt, and Ana – comprise the “Core Four” of the current build of Overwatch for reasons many of you all already know. Last week, I ranted about Lucio and Ana, so this week let’s focus a bit on Reinhardt and Zarya.
Zarya does too many things. I tried writing all the things that Zarya can do in a nice list separated by commas – you know the whole “proper grammar” thing – but the list grew out of control. Instead, here’s bullet-points of all the things Zarya can do:
Save a teammate from a Roadhog Hook
Save a teammate from a Tracer Stickybomb
Save a teammate from a D.Va ultimate
Save a teammate from a Flashbang + Fan the Hammer combo
Save a teammate from being frozen by Mei
Dispel a Discord Orb
Do all of the above, but to herself
By doing all of the above, boost her damage to greater-than-DPS-hero levels
Increase the AOE of her alt-fire along with her damage boost
Consistently wipe an entire team whenever she uses her ultimate
Have an odd-shaped head hitbox
Regenerate her 200, shield-based health when not in combat – half her total health
That’s a lot of things. Blizzard designed Zarya to be a fun, versatile hero by allowing her bubbles – a relatively simple mechanic – to perform so many different functions. When these bubbles then feed into her own personal damage output, that’s when Zarya becomes a bit overpowered. However, there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit overpowered from time to time: it is Zarya’s consistency in reaching and maintaining high energy that has driven her over the top at professional levels of play. Blizzard seems to have come to the same conclusion and in the “new-look” PTR has reduced the amount of time it takes for her energy reserves to decay. This will hopefully have the effect of maintaining Zarya’s status as an insane, mid-fight monster but make her a bit less effective between large engagements.
Reinhardt….poor Reinhardt is a bystander who has been dragged along with Ana in her rise to prominence. In terms of raw damage output and effectiveness of Nanoboost usage, you cannot go wrong with dumping your Ana ultimate onto your friendly neighborhood Reinhardt. Reinhardt will and should be floating somewhere around the A and B tiers of usage simply because he enables so many other heroes to function at their optimal level. Put a McCree against another McCree, but put one of them behind a giant transparent 2000HP wall that they can shoot through and the other McCree cannot and see which wins the wild west duel. You get the picture.
C Tier “The Balanced Heroes”
The East and the West have come to a consensus on this patch’s “Core Four”, but that still leaves two spots to fill. Thus, the C Tier. The heroes chosen from this tier represent the “flavor” of your Ana-based lineup. Want to go all-in on the Beyblade composition? Pick Reaper plus Mei or McCree. Want to create a dive comp? Grab two of Genji, Tracer, and Winston. Want to set up a strong first point defense? Drop your Lucio, add a Zenyatta, then fill out with Mei and Roadhog or Reaper.
Roadhog gets special mention this week because he may represent the beginning of a new meta shift – one that passed by these past two weeks as I turned my attention to Asia. I will get into this a bit more in the meat of the report, but as a teaser – western teams played Roadhog in 45% of their matches while eastern teams only used him in 25% of their matches. Something…large…was afoot.
D Tier “Meta-dependent Heroes”
This week’s D Tier was a “who’s who” of out-of-meta, but still strong heroes. Besides D.Va – the D Tier regular for her consistent final point defense usage – the rest of the heroes in this tier owe their usage rates to american teams instead of asian teams. Pharah-Mercy is making a slight comeback in the West, but only ever so slight. Out of 211 distinct sides played this week, Pharah appeared in only 17 of them, most of which can be attributed to Cloud9 and FaZe’s deep runs to the finals of the Alienware Monthly Melee. Mercy unsurprisingly demonstrated a similar appearance total at 13. Hanzo clocked in at 16 appearances, again with a western bias but also saw some play from Korean player Recry. When several western teams are willing to pick up their old rocket boosters and caduceus staffs, it serves as decent evidence that Pharah and Mercy are close to breaking their way back into regular lineup slots. This week, teams were more more willing to gamble that their opponents would utilize short/midrange, Mei/Reaper compositions without a McCree that can be blown up from above. Given the dominance of the Beyblade lineups dating back to the Overwatch Open, I cannot blame them.
F Tier “Very few viable scenarios exist for these Heroes in tournament play”
Despite their low usage, I actually have a couple things to say about the F Tier heroes this week. Rogue once again pulled out their Nepal Village Bastion strategy: this time against unsuspecting Afreeca Freecs Blue. Rogue easily won the match behind Tviq and the team’s “cheese” composition – AFB had no idea it was coming. Perhaps the legendary Korean research and preparation was not so legendary after all. I tweeted as I was recording this week’s data that I was noticing a bit of an uptick in Widowmaker picks this week among the NA teams, however it turned out that this did not translate to a large amount of overall usage. The sniper was chosen on a couple opening offense lineups – Route 66, Dorado, and Temple of Anubis to name a few – but the players who chose her tended to swap after their first death. Finally, Symmetra sadly saw 0 usage and 0 picks once again: another chapter in the story of a hero that has not been tournament-relevant since closed beta. Changes are on the horizon, however, so let’s wait to see what BlizzCon and teased Symmetra rework brings.
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.
A Meta Divided
Since closed beta, Overwatch’s pro community has operated on the assumption that the West are the true innovators of the meta. As far as I am personally aware, this rings true: the Western teams discover new synergies and lineups faster than their eastern counterparts and this information takes time to trickle overseas. This perception could simply have been the result of huge gap in information-sharing in this budding esport, as we have only recently been introduced to the best teams in the East through the recent APAC and Apex tourneys.
Regardless of these two region’s history, we now stand with a global meta that is actually represented by two subtly different regional metas. This can be attributed to two factors: distance and time. Distance in that it takes time for strategies from the West to reach the East due to different servers of competitive play, language barriers, and time zone differences. Time in that many of the top eastern teams are currently still slogging it out in the group stages of the Apex tournament and do not have time to experiment with and learn new lineups. Keep these factors in mind as I deconstruct the regional Meta differences of the four map types – starting with Assault maps.
A Meta Divided - Assault Maps
Despite the low sample size of Assault Maps (a maximum of 3 matches of the same map was played – Temple of Anubis), we can see a hint of an eastern vs. western difference in hero choices. For example, the West used Pharah in a single instance – but without a Mercy. The West also used Zenyatta slightly more often than the East. Zenyatta can prove to be a very solid pick for second point defense of Temple of Anubis simply because the spawn point is so close to the point itself, and Zenyatta’s ultimate can often nullify the comboed ultimates required to take this point on offense.
Roadhog was the main difference-defining hero of Assault maps, as well as the rest of the map pool as we will soon see. Western teams utilized Roadhog on every side of every Assault map, compared to just four instances of Roadhog by their eastern counterparts on Temple of Anubis only. The only other standout is D.Va who was picked more by the West than the East surprisingly, given her “Korean SC2 Pro” lore background that has catapulted her to fan-favorite status in this region. D.Va was picked three separate times by the West and played for an average time exceeding a full minute, pointing to some success utilizing her as a stall mechanic on the final points of these maps.
A Meta Divided - Escort Maps
Only two escort maps were played by eastern teams this week, but that was more than enough to notice some regional trends. First off, there were once again more Pharah picks coming from western teams – five total on Route 66 and Dorado offense. Some of these picks once again occurred without a Mercy babysitter – speaking to the confidence of the players choosing Pharah (Surefour, Mendokusaii, Talespin, and Shadowburn) and the lack of confidence in Mercy as a support. Zenyatta saw very heavy usage by the West on escort maps, while the East did not choose him at all. A little over half of these picks came from Cloud 9 trial member, Roolf, indicating that this was a team-specific lineup rather than a meta-defining composition. Adding to the list of West-only hero picks was D.Va, Hanzo, Bastion, and Widowmaker – heroes that saw most of their usage on Route 66. Roadhog and Zarya saw significantly increased usage on the west side as well.
Taking the escort map type as a whole in mind, the West also played significantly more escort maps than the East – likely due to the differences in map-drafting rules for each tournament. Apex’s system requires teams to play one assault, one payload (either escort or hybrid), and one capture point (King of the Hill) map per best of 5, while Alienware Monthly Melee was a free ban system until 3-4 maps remained. It seems like western teams must have preferred playing on payload maps and used their additional freedom to make payload-heavy pools.
A Meta Divided - Hybrid Maps
Starting off the Hybrid maps was what has now become a trend: western Pharah usage. This time around, however, she was accompanied by Mercy in all situations. The West also upheld the continuing trend of more Roadhog and Hanzo picks, valuing these two heroes for their ability to one-shot many of Overwatch’s cast. Like their escort map cousins, the hybrid maps also saw more play in the West thanks to Apex’s map pool system. Finally, the first evidence of a positive trend towards the eastern region emerged in the form of a preference for using Tracer on Eichenwalde offense for extended periods of time: a single game out of Conbox T6’s Liz logged over six minutes of Tracer time.
A Meta Divided - Control Maps (KotH)
Control Maps – commonly known as King of the Hill – represented where the eastern and western metas most noticeably diverged. These maps are far more centered around the teams’ ability to kill each other rather than controlling objectives or defensive positions. With this in mind, teams must build around their individual members’ strengths as well as develop team compositions that lead to consistent kills. When these two regions devised their most deadly lineups, their biases and differences in style emerged.
This time, the East and West were split on their Pharah usage – the East brought her out on Nepal Village and Lijiang Tower Market, while the West (Shadowburn, that is) used her on all points of Ilios. If Ilios had been played in Apex I expect she would have seen some play by the East. Pharah has a wealth of deadly pits and edges to knock her enemies into on all of Ilios’ sub-maps. Pharah can also duck behind the tall buildings of these sub-maps while maintaining view of their points – arguably a more important factor to her success on the map. The East additionally spent a significant amount of time on D.Va on certain sub-maps of Lijiang and Nepal compared to the West. These four instances of play can be attributed to two specific players – Fatal and Kuki – so perhaps this played into individual player strength rather than an overall meta strategy. D.Va does provide one very powerful, very influential, but somewhat luck-based counter to one of this map type’s mainstays however: her Defense Matrix can delete Zarya’s Graviton Surge projectile from existence. A single devoured Graviton Surge can change the course of an entire match, but this phenomenon happens so rarely that casters still have not reliably noticed when it happens.
Finally, we once again see the curious emergence of Roadhog in the western scene compared to the East. Often seen as an “ultimate battery”, Roadhog is still an extremely powerful hero when he can consistently hit his hooks – which represent a 6-second, instant-kill cooldown if an supporting teammate does not intervene. Something must have changed in how western teams view this big, slow, meaty tank to drive his usage up. What could it be?
Well I’ll tell you. The first thing to realize is that the teams not competing in Apex have a bit more freedom in their lineup choices. The Alienware Monthly Melee is a great tournament for teams to stay fresh against each other, but in terms of prize pool it hardly compares to the stakes of the tournament across the Pacific. Western teams thus have had the freedom to evolve their meta as teams experiment with new lineups rather than having to choose a specific few to practice religiously with a singular goal in mind. While the teams invited to Apex continued to slug it out with their practiced Ana-based lineups, the West stumbled upon a new, different way to counter her kit: Roadhog.
When designing an Ana-countering lineup, the top priority is how to deal with Nanoboost. Nanoboost and the hero attached to it have come to define the various meta lineups of Season 2, but by now a few specific abilities have been unearthed as somewhat effective counters. I made them into tiers:
Mei, in general
Roadhog Hook, Reinhardt Charge
Everything else (flashbangs, discord orbs, running away)
Notice how Roadhog abilities appear twice in this list, despite him seeing significantly less play time than Mei, Reinhardt, and Zarya only a week ago. My theory is that at some time in the past few weeks, the pros noticed this too. Consider Whole Hog: the next best thing to locking/stunning a Nanoboosted Reinhardt or Reaper is simply pushing them away from your team. Patrick explains it better:
I would even argue that saving Whole Hog to counter every Nanoboost possible is by far and away the best use of this ability in the current meta. As we move down the “Nanoboost Counter Tier List”, we start to get into non-ultimate counters to Nanoboost. In many – perhaps most – cases it makes sense to sacrifice yourself to the the “Nanoboost-ee” to shave precious seconds off their boosted time. Enter: Hook and Charge. In last week’s APAC Grand Finals, Reinforce demonstrated this concept in a spectacular fashion by charging to his doom off the final point of King’s Row, taking Dean’s Nanoboosted Reinhardt along with him.
Hooking a Nanoboosted target accomplishes a similar goal. First and foremost, it is a stun: hooking a Nanoboosted Reaper who is Deathblossom-ing will end the ultimate channel. Second, it can remove the Nanoboosted target from close proximity to your squishier teammates. Third, hooking a Nanoboosted Reinhardt, Reaper, or Genji will very likely piss them off and lead to your death. This death will not be in vain, however: the cost-benefit of the play comes out positive in most cases.
There are plenty other positives to Roadhog to consider that are Ana-agnostic in their upside. When used to its full potential, the Chain Hook + shotgun + melee combo can one-shot over half of Overwatch’s cast every six seconds. Chain Hook additionally still has wonky ideas about what is considered a successful “hook”, so professional Roadhog players can become extremely consistent at picking people off. Just watch Harbleu:
You might be wondering: why now? Was anything keeping Roadhog down in previous weeks? I would not be asking this hypothetical question if the answer was not yes. The answer to Roahog’s spike in usage lies in one of the other members of the Nanoboost Counter Tier List: Mei.
Roadhog and Mei have an anti-synergistic relationship in Overwatch: as one falls, the other climbs. Both Heroes can accomplish similar goals (mainly, deal with Nanoboost), but in vastly different ways. Roadhog deals with Nanoboost by stunning and pushing away the target, Mei deals with it by blocking off their movement with Ice Walls and freezing them. Both strategies are effective, but there’s a reason why these heroes are at odds with each other and it has to do with Roadhog’s ultimate battery status. Mei absolutely feasts on Roadhog. In this 22-element Rock-Paper-Scissors game, Mei is by far and away the Paper to Roadhog’s Rock. Mei has one of the fastest-charging ultimates in Overwatch, and Roadhog’s large fleshy body provides a consistent target for long-range icicles and impossible-to-miss close-range freezes. Additionally, Mei can save herself from a Hook combo without the aid of a Zarya bubble. She’s the perfect counter to excessive Hog usage.
This brings us to this week, where Mei’s usage dropped for the first time since the Overwatch Open, from above 30% to below 20%. This opened the door for Roadhog, and the western teams jumped at the chance to play the Hero. Will the meta now ping pong back in the other direction in response? It is hard to tell. Part of the reason Mei may (hah) have decreased in usage is that western teams are not as confident in her kill potential as Roadhog, or are simply sick of playing her. I predict that teams that have a solid Mei player will perform very well against their Roadhog counterparts, but this is Overwatch: both teams can switch at any time.
Quick, but Deep Dives
I wanted to keep this week’s Report a little shorter after dumping an 8000+ word monster on you all last week, so I’ll simply provide links to the ongoing Deep Dive tableau dashboards I’ve created so far.
Click on each individual box to display the players who played each hero in each situation. Size of the box correlates to # of map sides played, color of the box correlates to map completion / defense rate.
Click on each player to filter the chart to display their pool and usage
Chart is pretty self-explanatory
Click on the bar to filter the right side to display individual hero swaps
Final thoughts and shoutouts
Shoutout this week to Blizzard! Thanks to their generosity, I’ll be heading to BlizzCon as Media this year! If you have any questions you’d like me to torture out of an Overwatch Pro that I can stalk and corner, let me know on Reddit or Twitter :)
Until next time,