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This isn’t your average guide where you’ll leave with a few neat tricks. I am going to teach you how to fundamentally become a better gamer with a special focus on Blizzard’s Overwatch.
You will learn valuable skills such as decision making, game sense/awareness, aiming and more. These topics are largely shied away from and disregarded as only being improved by practice and time, which is true in a sense, but a very inefficient method of elevating your play.
Who am I? For what it’s worth I completed a degree in Psychological Science which is where my interest in observing the behaviours of high tier players compared to low tier stems from. I am also fascinated in how people learn and on a personal level finding the fastest and most effective ways to learn.
Gaming is a huge hobby of mine and I hang around at the top level of pub play. I also happen to be that annoying friend who is frustratingly good at video games. End of the day, it isn’t as simple as “He’s just good at video games”, I employ different techniques to learn as fast as possible, and can clearly observe the difference in learning when my friends and I try out a new game.
In this guide you will learn how to learn. Sounds a bit silly, right? But that’s what it comes down to. You can continue playing middle of the pack and if you’re having fun and are content with it, that’s totally fine. If you truly want to be better and become a standout player, you need to read this guide.
The first skill we are going to address is what we will refer to as The Schematic. Your Schematic is something you will build as you play more games and every time it grows, your ability to make correct tactical decisions increases.
Imagine an enormous grid filled with dots, and every dot represents a unique situation. For example, you might end up as Reaper against Mei. If you get frozen by Mei and killed with her right click and then verse her again and have the same thing happen, you have not learned this dot. But if you die, then think to yourself, “How could I have won that duel”? You may realize you could have used Wraith Form to remove the ramp up of her freeze, then finish her off.
Situations that represent an opportunity for schematic development are everywhere. To make the task more manageable try to focus on positioning, ability/ultimate usage and team composition which are arguably the most important elements to add to your schematic.
Once you come to these realizations, that dot lights up and you’ve just added to your schematic. Not all of these solutions will be obvious, and sometimes you will have to try out things that won’t work, or ask other players for input.
A poor, or average player will slowly build up their schematic over time and so will the rest of the poor and average players, meaning you will likely plateau or barely progress up the ladder. The mark of a great player is their ability to learn from every situation they come across. If you watch competitive streamers you may notice when they die or make a mistake they will often say something like “I should have done X", or "I knew they had X so I should have done Y”. They aren’t trying to make excuses, they’re lighting up that dot to add to their schematic should the situation arise again.
Schematic building extends beyond strategical decisions like teamfighting, ultimate management and hero matchups - it can even be used for aiming. If you lose a fight because you missed your shots you can still consider this while you are dead and walking back. Were you over/under aiming, firing too quickly, firing at the wrong time? Every facet of your play can be self-critiqued and corrected if you utilise death timers, walks back, queue times, post game etc to learn what went wrong and how you might improve next time.
You can also speed up your schematic growth by looking at other players. A powerful way to quickly develop your schematic is by watching a high level streamer or Youtuber play competitive and imagine you are playing in that game. Try to predict what the player will do next, this can range from positioning, targeting, ability and ultimate usage and much more. If you considered doing something different than they did, use that opportunity to learn and add to your schematic. They won't always make the right choices, but as a top tier player you can assume it's right or at least good the majority of the time.
Learn from your team and the enemy team too, not everything about your growth is on a personal level. Why did your team have such a great defensive hold? What did you do right? What did the enemy do wrong?
Focus vs Autopilot
An interesting phenomenon in gaming is the way in which people unknowingly play games on autopilot. What I mean by this is that it’s extremely easy to go through the motions instead of focusing on what you’re doing. Even in competitive games you might think you’re getting serious and concentrating but there’s another level above that which I will refer to as Focus.
The best example I can give would be when playing a prediction projectile hero like Pharah. Hopefully most of the time you will be able to hit or get close to enemies with your shots, because you instinctively know you need to lead your aim and you have experience with the weapon (this applies to all weapons, not just projectiles). It will work out to some degree, but imagine if you thought about every shot you fired? It may sound exhausting but it becomes seamless when you get the hang of it. Fair warning though, it may not be sustainable for long sessions.
Let’s step into Pharah’s shoes and imagine you’re about to fire at your target. In the brief moments before you click, you can see the enemy, how far away they are, the direction they are moving or the pattern of their strafing. If you are Focusing you can then make an educated decision on where to aim before firing. Even after this calculation, let’s say you under-aimed and your rocket landed behind them, you can now contribute that info to your schematic so your following shots, or next lives as Pharah compensate for this and are more accurate.
Projectile-based heroes are an easy example, but the same goes for all weapon types and personally I can notice huge differences in my ability to track as Soldier 76 when I am focusing.
If you are a player that regularly clutches out games, you should be aware of what focus feels like (by clutch I mean performing very well individually against all odds, such as being the last person alive and winning). When the pressure is on as the team’s last hope people can discard their autopilot and really focus on the enemy team, cooldowns, positioning and aim to pull out a play that really shouldn’t happen. What if these players always played at their clutch level?
That might all seem quite obvious, and in reality it kind of is, as our brains are making these calculations even when on autopilot. The difference is in the effectiveness between subconsciously aiming and actually thinking about it. If you drive a car, you have probably experienced those times where you suddenly snap back into reality and noticed you’ve been driving for 5~ mins without mentally being there. Now imagine you’re a race car driver and you want to win your race. A driver focusing and in the moment is going to perform far better than someone on autopilot. The same goes for playing Overwatch. If your competitive match suddenly paused and your monitor was turned off, could you tell me what 6 heroes the enemy team are running, their probable ultimate percentages and their position on the map?
This will tie into the next topic, but being aware and thinking about the 6 enemies, who they are, where they are, their ultimate charge and ability cooldowns can all be tracked through focus, substantially improving your decision making within the match.
Players with great awareness have an incredible advantage over the average player. They can know exactly where the enemies are, when they will ultimate, who they will target and much more. It almost sounds like cheating, and if you master this skill it will certainly feel like it. I’ll start off with describing awareness in-game, and then move onto techniques you can use to learn this skill.
The basic premise of awareness is that there are 6 enemies and 5 allies all doing something somewhere within the match and with practice you can passively track this information to allow you to make calculated decisions and protect yourself and your team with call-outs. Knowing everything about every player in the game is simply too difficult and would be distracting to monitor; therefore, the trick is filtering out the unimportant info and focusing on several key elements depending on your role in the game.
We’ll start by looking at the enemy team as that will have the most impact. Often you won’t need to be thinking about the whole team, as they will typically have several members grouped up in one location such as a Zenyatta, Ana, McCree behind a Reinhardt shield. Besides tracking their likely ultimate percentages you can largely disregard them (awareness-wise) and start thinking about who isn’t there. Let’s say they have a Reaper who you haven’t seen for a while, chances are he is about to flank your backline and you can call that out to your team who is now ready to instantly shut him down, or change their positioning.
If an enemy Zarya has gone two unsuccessful pushes into your team without ulting, but she was doing decent damage, you can safely assume she now has her ultimate or is very close to it. Now you know not to group up, or instead to trade a Lucio Sound Barrier or a Zenyatta Transcendance with it.
Winning fights in Overwatch is very reliant on ultimates, so if you are able to mitigate the enemy ultimates and capitalise on your own you will find yourself winning far more often.
Depending on your rating and whether you’re in quick play or not, coordinating this information to a team may not be effective, but avoiding or preventing these situations by yourself will still provide great value to the team.
How can I learn awareness? The best method is to work your way up to commanding knowledge of both teams by starting small and tracking only a few important things in your game. I recommend finding a hero you are comfortable with and only play that hero for learning awareness (at first) in Quick Play. The reason for doing this is you need to free up your mind and can’t afford the distractions that come with being unfamiliar with a hero. If you are versing ridiculous team comps on Quick Play try queuing it in a group or simply playing Competitive.
In your first game choose one enemy hero with an important ultimate (Zarya, Reinhardt) and one flanker (Reaper, Genji, Tracer). If the team doesn’t have these heroes simply choose another that you think is important. In this example let’s say you chose Reinhardt and Reaper. You need to play out your game as you normally would, but you must track the Reinhardt ultimate and the position of the Reaper.
You need to be able to successfully guess when the Reinhardt can use his ultimate and when he can’t. Even if he kills your team with it, as long as you knew it was coming at that moment we'll count it as a success. Tracking the flanking Reaper is surprisingly easy and very satisfying to do. If you can’t see him with the team and he didn’t recently die, you know that he is trying to flank your team. Each map will only have a few ways to do this at any given time so you can listen out for his footsteps (if he crouches you won’t hear him though) and visually check areas, while also staying away from positions where he can jump down on top of you and your teammates. If the Reaper is forced to engage the flank from mid-range, you can counter him or avoid him while taking very little damage.
Once you are comfortable tracking the info of two heroes, ramp it up to tracking the ultimates of the enemy support heroes too. Following the flankers quickly becomes second nature and as long as you check the enemy team composition every now and then, you can always know what flanker(s) they are running and watch out for them.
Every time you become comfortable with the information you are tracking, increase the difficulty slightly by adding extra players to the mix, or including your own team. You can also progress to tracking regular ability cooldowns such as McCree's Flashbang or Genji’s Deflect. If you know they don’t have these abilities available you can capitalise on this to take them out.
At the end of the day you don’t need to be a savant and track every piece of information every game. You simply need to be aware of player positioning and ultimates to greatly increase the potency of your decisions. Smaller things like following respawn timers and enemy hero swaps will come naturally as you become more comfortable with your awareness skills.
If you are having trouble improving your awareness in-game with this method, an alternative is to watch streamers and Youtubers play, or view VoD’s from tournaments and try to track the ultimates and positions of heroes in the game without the stress and distraction of physically playing while learning. Once you get more comfortable with the idea, you can then move onto the steps above to master your awareness.
Perfecting Your Aim
Becoming a competent and reliable aimer is essential to your success in Overwatch. It’s a common sentiment to recommend that people use settings they are comfortable with. If you are trying to improve, this is unfortunately incorrect. There is a reason almost all competitive players use a similar mouse sensitivity. There is a profound advantage, both physically and cognitively for using a lower sensitivity.
Before we get into it please find your cm/360 for your mouse sensitivity which can be done here.
The common mouse sensitivity range for competitive Overwatch players is between 4-7 in game sensitivity at 800 DPI. Using in-game sensitivity and DPI can be confusing, so we will now focus on using cm/360 (simply convert to inches if that is preferable). Your cm/360 is the amount of centimeters of real life mouse movement needed to make your reticle perform a 360 degree spin. For example, a sensitivity of 7 at 800 DPI is 24.74 cm/360 and a sensitivity of 4 at 800 DPI is 43.3 cm/360.
These settings might seem extremely low and difficult to adjust to, but I assure you it’s very worthwhile. Lower mouse sensitivity allows you to develop muscle memory that will enable you to perform precise movements reliably between games and sessions. No matter how much you practice with a high sensitivity, the muscle movements required for small aim adjustments are too minor to be consistent.
I highly recommend making the switch to a sensitivity between 24cm/360 and 44cm/360. This will require several adjustments if this is a significant sensitivity change for you. Firstly you need ample desk space and a large enough mouse pad to cater for these new movements. I recommend using X because Y. If this is not possible for you due to space or equipment restraints, try to use the lowest sensitivity possible that your desk setup will allow.
I’ve told you the viable sensitivity range, but how do you find your sensitivity? I’ll run you through what I did when I first started playing Overwatch as it lead me to reaching a very comfortable and potent sensitivity. Choose a hero that you like playing (preferably something that is aim intensive and hitscan, so no Mercy or Pharah) and depending on your starting point (assuming it’s higher than the viable range) lower your sensitivity incrementally down into the viable range.
To find my sensitivity I played Reaper in Quick Play to find the point where I was no longer over aiming or under aiming when fighting in close quarters. The same would go for McCree, Soldier etc but you would look at your aiming moreso at mid range (I just happened to enjoy Reaper at the time). Each game, or even at different points during the games, I would incrementally lower my sensitivity. I felt quite comfortable at 7, but lowered to 6 and found it was simply too low for me and I returned to 7 where I have stayed. Fun fact, competitive player Tviq uses 7 in-game with 800 dpi or 24.7cm/360.
While finding your sensitivity you don’t just want to be aiming during fights; whenever you are walking around try snapping to the vertices of corners, small objects or teammates. This is a great way to see if you are over or under aiming.
There are several different techniques for moving your mouse, and they will change depending on your sensitivity.
This technique is comparatively poor, as using your fingers alone to guide your mouse movement is very unreliable and I highly recommend changing to a technique listed below. It is possible that you are using fingertip grip because you have a small mouse, and if that’s the case I advise you look into purchasing a larger mouse like the X.
This method is where the back of the mouse rests against your palm, but the fingers are only in contact with the mouse at the tips. This technique is common and is what I personally use, although I have long skeleton fingers so the alternative Palm Grip doesn’t fit well for me. It typically outperforms the Palm Grip at higher sensitivities (within the viable range) and on heroes that require lots of movement and erratic aiming like Genji and Tracer.
The Palm Grip has your whole hand resting on the mouse and it provides excellent consistency when playing mid to long range heroes. Palm and Claw grip are the two common viable ways of holding the mouse, and as much as I don’t like to say it, it’s largely up to preference. The small mechanical difference between the two is that Claw offers the ability to perform more minor adjustments to aim, but Palm provides more stability when aiming.
Wrist Aiming vs Arm Aiming or Both?
In Overwatch it’s helpful to imagine that arm aiming to wrist aiming isn’t 2 separate entities, or a ‘one or the other’ type situation. It sits on a spectrum from complete arm aiming to complete wrist aiming and where you land on the spectrum depends largely on your mouse sensitivity. If you are using something low like 45cm/360, you are going to be primarily arm aiming with minimal wrist movement. Higher sensitivity like 25/cm/360 will find themselves using a combination of both where aim adjustments can include minor-to-moderate wrist movements with moderate arm movement.
You won’t need to think too hard on these techniques as they will occur naturally as you physically cannot turn around or perform certain aims without using the right combination.
The amount you move your arm or wrist can also depend on whether your wrist sits at the edge of your desk, or if your forearm rests on the desk. If you've watched streamers with mouse-cam or LAN tournaments you may have noticed that they all have their forearm resting on the desk. This technique is optimal, but not always easy to setup with your specific desk and chair.
Personally I have always had my wrist resting on the edge of the table which is sub-optimal and in writing this guide I decided to take some steps in figuring out how I could make the forearm technique work with my setup. Using a combination of tilting my monitor, keyboard, mousepad and angle that I approach my desk, I was able to find the room to use the forearm technique. Despite having no practice or muscle memory developed for this, my aim was instantaneously and significantly more reliable; therefore, I highly recommend finding a way to make this possible if you don't do it already.
Wrist on the edge results in far more wrist aiming which isn't consistent. Forearm resting on table provides stability while minimising wrist movement which results in more reliable aiming.
Once you have landed on a comfortable and effective mouse sensitivity that is hopefully in the viable range, you will want to stick with this. Unless you really think you could benefit from a change because now and for the rest of your time playing Overwatch, you will be building muscle memory for this particular setting.
The more people play, the better their aim gets. Practice makes perfect, right? Yes, but what if you could condense years of first person shooter experience into a few weeks or months? That’s what this is all about remember, you’re here to learn the fastest and most effective ways to become better at Overwatch so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
Let’s break down the time you spend in game. Every time you aim and shoot at someone during a match you’re essentially practicing, combine this with the Schematic and Focus and your time spent aiming compared to skill increase will be excellent. How can we improve this further? Well for one, you aren’t always fighting and aiming during your game. There is the minute of wait time before a game starts, walks back from deaths, gaps between teamfights and more. All of these can be utilised to further fast track your aiming goals.
Take a look at this example. I went on Twitch.tv and searched for a middle of the pack player. I found a Silver McCree player and decided to watch one of his games. It was King’s Row offense, so I started two separate stopwatches, one to time the game, the other to record the amount of time spent aiming and fighting within the game.
Here are the results:
Hero - McCree
Rank - Silver
Total match time - 9:30
Time spent shooting at enemies - 4:30
Time not aiming - 5:00
It was a back and forwards game and I feel that it was a good representation of a close payload game.
In this example over half of the game was spent doing nothing to contribute to aiming skill. That immediately opens up the chance to double the amount of practice you get per game.
There are two great in-game ways to practice aim outside of directly fighting. Firstly you can practice flick shots (rapid movement to snap your reticle from one place to another) by quickly firing at corners, objects or teammates around you. This includes your time in the starting bay before the game, walking back from deaths and waiting for the enemy team to regroup for a push.
Why do pro players use flick shots so often? This is because keeping your reticle over a moving target’s head or body is extremely difficult to do, especially with a non-automatic weapon like McCree’s revolver. Human reaction time simply can’t keep up with erratic strafing and movement if you want your reticle to constantly rest over the enemies head.
A flick shot has your reticle a certain distance from the target and as flick shots are extremely fast, the target will only move a tiny amount in the time it takes for you to flick your aim onto it. The trick is developing the muscle memory to reliably flick the correct distance depending on how far your reticle is from the target. This technique essentially provides a method to bypass the difficulty of aiming at moving targets by taking a snapshot of their position, and shooting at it before that changes.
Secondly you can practice tracking (keeping your reticle on a particular spot or moving target) by picking a spot on a wall or pole and moving around and trying your best to keep it steady on that one spot. You can also practice on allies to mix it up and work on faster paced tracking.
Tracking is great for automatic weapons, or beam attacks that require your aim to stick to the target while firing.
Outside of practicing in multiplayer game modes, you can head into the practice range to work on your snapping and tracking. For the most part you want to be practicing on the moving robots, but the stationary can come in handy for checking your snaps to see if you are under or over-aiming.
Another option is to enter a custom game against an enemy team comprised only of Ana bots and select the setting for headshots only. As Ana cannot headshot, you won’t die and you have multiple moving targets to practice your headshots on.
Play by Sound
Overwatch has incredible in-game sound that allows you to monitor and react to just about everything that happens. This video (1hr long) features Overwatch developers explaining in great detail how the sound works in-game.
It’s quite a long video so I’ll list a few of the key takeaway points.
Enemy sounds are lower pitched and louder.
Allied sounds are higher pitched and softer.
Turn on the Dolby Atmos setting in Sound Settings. This allows you to pinpoint where sounds are coming from without proper surround sound.
Allies have unique ultimate voice lines.
Enemies have a different set of ultimate voice lines (quick tip: if they speak in a language other than English, it’s the enemy using their ultimate).
Crouching eliminates or highly reduces walking sound depending on the hero, so it can be used strategically to move unnoticed.
Heroes in the game will call out pertinent information like an enemy Symmetra teleport being placed, Reinhardt’s shield going down or Torbjorn armor dropped for example.
Become familiar with the sounds of Overwatch and you’ll feel like a psychic. Pre-firing, avoiding flankers, stopping McCree ultimate and much more will be simple if you take the time to learn and trust the sounds in Overwatch.
Your emotional state when gaming can have a significant impact on both your team's and your own performance. Mastering emotional control and fostering healthy emotional intelligence is a topic too vast to cover here, so instead we’ll look at some more specific in-game examples that could help you.
Morale Definition: the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time. Everyone has been on teams with great or terrible morale and we all know which was more enjoyable and which had the best chance of winning.
You want to treat your team’s morale like a separate mini game. Imagine a bar that when full equals ideal morale and when empty equals toxic and poor morale. Praise good plays, even if it’s something simple like a pick off or a support healing you. Console bad plays “All good, let’s regroup and try to focus X instead”. You are teammates, so make sure you’re on the same side.
If you find that bar hitting dangerous levels and your team is busy arguing, the best course of action is to encourage any reasonable teammates to mute the troublesome player if they aren't able to calm down, or to simply leave team chat yourself so you can focus on your game without wasting time arguing, which will get you nowhere.
This is a tricky skill to master as it is all too easy to simply blame the other players, or blame something unfair about the game as an excuse as to why you aren’t performing well. If you find yourself getting upset or angry when you die or your team wipes, rather than lashing out at your team which only lowers the morale further - take this chance to add these scenarios to your schematic. Chances are you didn’t play perfectly and there was something, even if it was very minor, that you could have done better.
Blaming others is a slippery slope to unfocused and autopilot play, where you enter a zone where you can do no wrong and every bad play or death was unavoidable because of some external force.
Averages and Perspective
People love to criticize matchmaking systems as to why they are losing games, but in reality they do a commendable job of putting you into relatively fair games. There is a hard truth that every player has to accept. When you play any multiplayer game, you must be prepared to lose 50% of your games. Take a look at your stats, or your friend’s stats and you will probably see a win rate very close to 50%. High level players and very low experience players are the exception where they can deviate to significant degrees from 50%. If losing outweighs the fun of winning, it's something you need to work on.
If you are performing above the average level for your current rating, you will climb if you play enough games. Imagine every player in a game can play at a level (we'll call it skill score) between 1-10. Let's assume everyone else in the game plays at a 5, but you are playing quite well at a 7. This means your team's total skill score is 32 while the enemy team is 30. This might not be a huge difference but that small edge can make the different in tipping the scales in your favor for more wins.
The issue with averages is you need to play a lot of games for things to balance out. It's very possible to have unlucky streaks of poor teams but you need to acknowledge that you belong at a certain level, so a sudden drop in rating simply means you can expect to have a surge of wins in the near future should your play remain consistent.
Where do I go from here?
We've now covered many different topics that will help you become a better gamer, the trick is putting them into practice. I have put together a cheat sheet to help you recall what to do while you're playing. I recommend printing it off or having it open on another monitor while playing.
Having the right gear provides a considerable advantage so I have created a list of recommended items that can help you reach your potential here.
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