With as busy as school has been for me, I wanted to take some time to write a more relaxed piece for once. In particular, I wanted to talk a little bit about my struggles with Overwatch and what I’ve learned about Elo hell.
Standard Disclaimer: this article was written in early September 2020 and a lot of the meta-related commentary is already invalid.
Table of Contents
My Overwatch History
First things first, I only play competitive Overwatch. That doesn’t necessarily mean I play “competitively” by any stretch, but it does mean that every game matters to some extent.
Also, I should note that I’m a support main for a variety of reasons. First, until 2016, I had never played a PC shooter. While I had played WoW and Heroes of the Storm, I wasn’t exactly prepared to play Overwatch. In fact, when the game came out, I immediately latched onto Symmetra much like her gun latched onto my enemies.
Of course, as much fun as playing Symmetra was, it wasn’t long before I made the shift to healer. That way, I could maximize my awareness from console shooters and other games while limiting my need to aim. This is probably what made me really enjoy Overwatch in the first place—heroes like Lucio and Mercy made the game accessible to people like me who couldn’t aim.
Likewise, I find it deeply satisfying to play support. There is just something about keeping your team within an inch of death to clutch a fight that gives me an adrenaline boost unlike any headshot I could give to the enemy. That said, it’s a lot harder to stand out as a healer, so you don’t really get the same glory as a Rein slam leading to a team kill.
Finally, I’m a career plat player. Sure, I’ve been up and down the ranking system, but I would consider myself a part of plat—the darkest part of the ladder. Could I climb higher? Probably. Would it require more energy than I’m willing to give to a video game? Absolutely.
In the remainder of this section, we’ll look at my entire ranked history to put my Overwatch career into context.
Now, I’ve been all up and down the ranking system. When I picked up the game in 2016, I played quick play for awhile. Then, in season 2, I decided to take a crack at competitive play. At that point, I finished the season in gold.
For a long time, the game was a bit of the wild west, so I used to play flex. In other words, I would fill wherever I was needed. Of course, when role queue finally came along, I was able to specialize a bit more. For example, I peaked Masters in support and dropped down to as low as gold in the other two roles.
To help you get a better idea of what my ranked trajectory looks like, the following sections will include tables with my entire rank history.
Open Queue (< Season 18)
When I first picked up ranked, I found myself very rapidly climbing the ladder. Between seasons two and four, I climbed from bottom gold to bottom plat.
Then, of course, I found myself stuck. Plat was this barrier that I couldn’t surpass. Pretty much every season, I would get just midway through plat (~2750) before losing 12 consecutive games and falling safely into gold. In fact, you can see this with my peak rank in seasons 5-8.
Then, by some miracle, I touched diamond. Over five seasons, all I wanted to do was hit diamond. When I finally did it, I basically gave up the game—only to return in season 12.
Of course, when you take a break and come back, you tend to lose your rank a bit. So, for four more seasons and another break, I found myself back on that gold/plat border. Then, somehow, I cracked diamond again in season 17.
|Season (Open)||Final Rank||Final SR||Season High Rank||Season High SR||Games Won|
Following season 17, ranked implemented role queue which meant that you could no longer run 6 DPS at the enemy or defend from GOATS. Of course, this meant that the dynamic of the game changed quite a bit. As a result, the following sections detail my rank history for each role since season 18.
Tank Queue (>= Season 18)
As you can probably imagine, tank is one of those roles I never really played. Well, I used to play a lot of off-tank, but that’s pretty much DPS-light. In other words, I never really learned how to play main tank, and that’s not really something you can get away with in role queue.
As a result, you can see that I graciously fell from mid-plat to mid-gold over the last few seasons. This doesn’t really bother me because it put me closer to my friend’s rank. That said, I don’t love having to play tank when we play together.
|Season (Tank)||Final Rank||Final SR||Season High Rank||Season High SR||Games Won|
Overall, I’d say the big takeaway from this table is that I have very few games on tank. Maybe some day I’ll figure it out, but it won’t be soon.
DPS Queue (>= Season 18)
One of the more popular roles (and my second favorite) is damage—or as most folks refer to it, DPS (damage-per-second). For anyone who has played a shooter, DPS fulfills that stereotypical role.
For me, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with DPS. For one, I’ve always been a Hanzo player. Unfortunately, for a long time, he was considered a bad pick and a meme because of it. Naturally, I’d get a ton of hate just for playing him, and folks would throw as a result.
That said, I’ve learned to play other heroes over the years like McCree, Reaper, and Pharah, so I’m comfortable changing when necessary. Of course, I feel like I’ve never really gotten good at the role.
|Season (DPS)||Final Rank||Final SR||Season High Rank||Season High SR||Games Won|
If you take a look at the table above, my DPS rank really took a nosedive following the change to role queue. I suppose this makes sense as I’m not really that great. In general, I rely a lot on game sense and that can only get you so far.
Support Queue (>= Season 18)
Finally, we have the support queue which is my bread and butter. When Moira was released, I was instantly hooked. From then on, I used her to climb fairly rapidly until folks realized she was broken.
To this day, I’m still a Moira main, but I don’t mind playing Ana and Bapt as my aim has improved drastically. That said, these days I tend to camp in Masters as I have a bit of Imposter Syndrome. Like I’m not actually that good, right?
|Season (Support)||Final Rank||Final SR||Season High Rank||Season High SR||Games Won|
As you can see, I haven’t really played since season 20. While I wouldn’t mind taking another crack at it, I’ve largely been playing on alts with friends, and that’s been more fun.
If you think my rank history is a bit messy, my hero history is probably worse. Like I said, when I picked up the game, I played a lot of symmetra. Over time, I became more interested in learning to aim. Nowadays, I mostly play hanzo with a dash of hitscan, but I wasn’t always like that. Here’s my hero history:
|Season||Most Played Hero||2nd Most Played Hero||3rd Most Played Hero|
All that said, my overall hero history probably looks a lot different:
|Index||Hero||Hours Played (hours)|
As you can see, I play a lot of Hanzo followed by quite a few hitscans surprisingly. I guess I wasn’t lying when I said I was trying to improve my aim.
Current Mindset in Overwatch
More recently, I’ve been taking the game less seriously. There are a variety of reasons for this. For one, the game is significantly less fun. For a bit there, the meta was double shields which was incredibly boring. Now, it’s a free-for-all which is pure chaos.
Likewise, the game is just so full of smurfs, hackers, throwers, one-tricks, and bronze to GM streamers that it’s not really fun to take seriously. Every time I go on a win streak, Jeff Kaplan of the Overwatch team hand selects one of the folks from above to personally return me to a 50% win rate. Of course, it wouldn’t be so bad if every single one of them didn’t have a god complex.
Regardless, I play a lot more with one of my friends now. Typically, I would solo queue, but the extra company is quite nice. Unfortunately, he’s bronze in all of his roles, so I had to make a smurf as well. Can’t beat em? Join em!
All jokes aside, I do find it alarmingly difficult to carry a team to a victory which is why I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the challenges associated with climbing the ladder in Overwatch. After all, that’s the whole point of this article.
Why Is Climbing So Hard?
At this point, I’d like to take some time to talk about why I think it’s so challenging to climb in Overwatch. Obviously, these are just my observations, so they aren’t grounded in any sort of quantitative analysis. That said, I think a lot of folks will agree with this sentiment.
Overwatch Is a Team-based Game
Perhaps the biggest barrier to climbing is the fact that Overwatch is a team-based game. As a result, you can only fulfill a single role per game which means you can only really outplay the three other people playing the same role. Beyond that, you have to pray that the other two roles do their job.
This reality can be particularly frustrating because you can’t do anything about your tanks going on flanks, your DPS refusing to counter the enemy, and your healers cosplaying as DPS. Hell, even if your teammates are doing the right thing, you can still get outplayed.
Of course, I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone who has been playing a bronze DPS smurf recently. In my experience, carrying is hard because players don’t follow up on your kills. You can get 3 picks, but because your healers are focusing a flanking monkey and your tanks are trying go for a cheeky flank, you die and no progress is made.
That said, what happens more often is that I’ll get chewed out for pushing up to create space and trying to stagger folks that come out of spawn. Then, when I inevitably get a couple picks and die, my team will say “you should have grouped up.” Of course, in the time they spent complaining, they literally wasted 45 seconds on the clock. I’ll never understand why people think the team needs to be a full 6 when you’re up on picks, nor will I ever understand why teams just stand on car the whole game.
Overall, I find the whole team dynamic of Overwatch probably the biggest barrier to being able to carry. Unfortunately, even if everyone does the right thing, carrying is still a challenge. We’ll talk about he intelligence of the playerbase next.
The Playerbase Is Smarter Than It Used to Be
When Overwatch first came out, no one really knew what they were doing. After all, back then, the concept of a MOBA-like shooter was quite novel and very different from the average shooter. As a result, people with experience in shooters had only a marginal advantage over a new player.
That said, if you were particularly good at aiming and managing your cooldowns, you could more or less solo carry as Tracer. This was true for a couple of reasons. For one, teams didn’t really know how to position back then, so it was easy to catch somebody out of position. Likewise, teams really didn’t follow any compositions (comps), so a lot of folks were playing squishy DPS—easy picks for Tracer.
More recently, the playerbase has gotten smarter as a whole. In fact, I’d argue that upper bronze today is probably what gold was when the game came out. Since then, players have begun to understand the game at a more fundamental level. Although, role queue certainly helps.
Unfortunately, because the average player understands the game better on average than four years ago, I have to fall back on my previous argument. In other words, Overwatch is a team-based game. The better a team understands the game, the harder is to take advantage of them.
Ultimately, this means that it’s more difficult for you to have an impact as an individual if teams are more likely to play together. In general, I’d say this is good for the game as a whole, but it does tend to make climbing a bit more challenging. Of course, this depends on how well we assume SR reflects ability. We’ll take a look at this in the next section.
No One Is at Their Exact Placement
Because Overwatch is a team-based game, you’re going to be relying on your team a lot of the time to get wins. I think the best way I’ve heard it put is the “rule of thirds” (not sure of the source). In other words, you only have control over a third of the games you play. In the other two-thirds of cases, you’re either dominating or getting dominated. Ultimately, your SR is a reflection of how well you manage that crucial third of games.
Of course, I find this sort of logic very unhealthy for a game. Not only are you forced to evaluate which third you’re getting each game, but it also means that you really have to exert yourself in that segment of games you can influence. More often, you’ll find yourself trying to win games that you’ll never win. As a result, two-thirds of the time you’re struggling directly into a loss. No wonder the community is so toxic all the time.
That said, even if you subscribe to the “rule of thirds,” you have to grapple with the reality that SR has almost no meaning. I say this for a couple of reasons. For one, as the game has gotten older, there are a ton of folks who have created alts. In general, these are people with higher ranked accounts that want to troll lower ranks. Though, there are people who just want to play with their friends.
Unfortunately, in that latter case, the friends benefit from playing with a smurf. When they stop playing with that smurf, there’s a good chance that they’ve gained a bit of SR out of the deal (assuming the smurf can actually carry—I realize that I’m arguing the opposite). As a result, we consider them “boosted,” and they have a negative effect on any future games they play.
On top of that, there’s a third group of people that render SR meaningless: SR campers. In other words, because SR doesn’t decay, players can literally hit their peak SR and stop playing. When they come back, they can jump right back in at that SR—no questions asked. Hell, I do this exact thing on support, and I suspect a lot of folks do it all along ladder.
Obviously, all three types of people are problematic for ranked play. In fact, I suspect their existence results in other players getting placed outside where they need to be. As a result, you get silver players with plat aim and gold players with zero game sense. It’s very frustrating across the board.
What makes all of this worse is that because it’s so hard to carry, it’s equally as challenging to throw (without doing it on purpose). As a result, wins and losses can feel sort of random—almost as if the outcomes are predetermined by the matchmaker. Thanks “rule of thirds.”
Individual Skill Does Not Factor Into SR
Speaking of the “rule of thirds,” let’s imagine that you’re able to force a win every time you get a game you can influence. In these games, you could argue that you’re actually carrying since your actions have the most impact.
Now, suppose that you have an outstanding game. We’re talking all the gold medals (not that those matter), play of the game, and the top voted card. How much SR do you think you’re going to get?
As far as I can tell, playing well has no effect on your SR. No matter how I play in any Elo, I find myself moving up and down by increments of 18-25. Most of this seems to be based on the relative Elo of the teams and nothing to do with actual performance. Of course, I’ve never tracked it, so I’m not certain.
That said, it would be nice if performance did factor into SR. That way, even if you’re playing one of those games you’re guaranteed to lose, you’d still be rewarded for trying. In other words, rather than losing 18-25 SR, you’d lose 11-18. Likewise, this would be nice on the wins as well. In other words, your individual skill would allow you to move to where you need to go more quickly.
Naturally, I feel this change would fix the previous problem of SR not being reflective of player skill. In other words, that silver widow would finally be able to climb into an Elo where she would be supported. Not only would that be good for her, but it would also be great for all the folks getting stomped by her. Of course, the flip side is also true: boosted players would lose SR rapidly to place them where they need to be.
All that said, I can’t really complain about SR. After all, if we assume player skill is normally distributed, the difference between someone in silver vs. someone in platinum is marginal. Obviously, it doesn’t seem that way when they play against each other, but they’re both average. In fact, they have more in common than the platinum has with someone in GM and vice versa. Perhaps this explains why I can’t carry in silver.
Ranked Allows for a 1000 SR Difference
Clearly, Blizzard is aware that skill is normally distributed because they allow players to queue together with SR that differs by up to 1000 (with the exception of the upper tiers). Unfortunately, this has some frustrating repercussions.
For one, certain roles seem to be more valuable than others. For example, tanks seem to have more “carry” potential than DPS or supports. After all, they have the greatest potential for creating space for everyone else. As a result, if a two-stack has a bronze tank and a gold DPS, you’re in for a bad time.
To even things out, Blizzard tends to place similar two-stacks on both teams. Unfortunately, this can actually increase the disparity. Using the example above, imagine one team has a bronze tank and a gold DPS and the other team has a gold tank and a bronze DPS. Without even looking at comps, I would bet on the latter team winning.
Obviously, I’m thankful that this feature exists because it allows me to play with my friends. However, it does have some pretty annoying consequences on ladder. In the next section, we’ll look at one of those consequences.
Teammate Psychology Is Delicate
At this point, I could probably keep talking about some of the barriers to carrying, but this article is already over 3000 words. As a result, I’ll finish things out with a quick discussion about teammate psychology.
First, we all know that Overwatch players cannot take criticism. Of course, this is generally for good reason. For example, I often get criticized for pushing up. Sure, this can put me in a position where I overextend, but I’d argue that the vast majority of players underextend by chilling on car or point.
As a result, I tend to play the game with my mic off. Some people take offense to this because they think communication is the only way to win games. Surely, it helps, but more often than not communication results in flaming.
That said, I think there is something far more sinister at play in the lower ranks which has nothing to do with communication: the harder you carry, the more likely your team is to throw.
Here me out on this. Let’s say I play widow, and I’m just clicking heads like crazy. What tends to happen is that my team’s confidence begins to climb. After all, if we’re rolling them, they must be bad, right?
The irony of this is that I quickly become public enemy number one for a couple reasons. First, the enemy team identifies me right away as the one carrying, so they’ll usually swap into several counters. Obviously, these counters limit my ability to carry which results in a momentum shift.
While this is happening, our team begins to take really stupid risks. For example, staggering is often directly proportional to confidence. In other words, if I perceive the other team is bad, I can run in and take them all out like the hero. Multiply this belief by five other teammates, and you basically have a suicide squad.
Now, if I continue playing Widow, I can probably still get value. However, since I’m not performing at the same level as I was previously, my team assumes I’m throwing. After all, they’re actually throwing, but it’s my fault because Widow is an easy scapegoat.
Typically, this is how games go for me. First, I’ll get a few picks, we’ll steamroll first point. Then, my team gets overconfident and the enemy team begins to focus me. As I’m smothered to the point of being useless, my team begins to tilt. In the end, I’m blamed for the loss while simultaneously being complimented by the opposing team. It’s wild.
Overall, I find that one of the biggest challenges with Overwatch as a whole is balancing your team’s psychology. If you can keep them from tilting, you’re basically guaranteed to win. Otherwise, enjoy another loss.
Is It Possible to Carry?
Despite all my ranting, I still think it’s possible to carry. Obviously, if you’re GM, playing against anyone is a joke. For someone like me who’s spent their carreer in plat, it’s a bit harder. That said, it’s definitely possible. Here are my tips:
- Play a hero that’s self-sufficient: playing someone like Soldier, Mei, Tracer, or Reaper is great because you can heal yourself to a certain extent. In general, I’ve found it challenging to get heals as a DPS in silver and below, so it’s helpful to have some way to heal yourself.
- Play a hero that’s meta: certainly, it’s not important to play the meta in the lower ranks. After all, teams can’t actually take advantage of the meta heroes. That said, Hog is really, really good right now. It would be silly to play anything else. Also, you’ll tilt your team less if you play a hero that everyone thinks is good.
- Ignore Some of Your Best Practices: what works in the higher ranks works because you’re taking advantage of team dynamics. Pushing up alone to create space is a recipe for disaster. Just stick with the team and try to create value given the circumstances.
- Don’t tilt: the quickest way to throw games is to start making stupid decisions due to frustrations. Yeah, I know the Mercy refuses to heal you. Go for the health pack instead.
In general, I find it pretty easy to climb out of bronze, but it does get harder once you hit silver. At that point, you really have to rely on your team to do the right thing, and it’s often pretty hit-or-miss.
Of course, remember that there’s a lot working against you, so don’t get discouraged. Even as the matchmaking algorithm is trying to force a 50% win rate, you still have the opportunity to make a difference. That said, at the end of the day, your worth isn’t tied to your Elo—despite what mouth breathers might say in ladder. Ignore all the “git gud”s and have some fun!
With that said, thanks for reading this brief rant about my experience with Overwatch ladder. Lately, I’ve been playing on the bronze/silver border with a friend of mine, and it’s a lot fun since the game is taken less seriously. Honestly, you couldn’t pay me to play in plat again. After all, it sort of made me quit gaming for awhile.
While you’re here, I’d appreciate it if you checked out ways to support the site. I don’t normally write about gaming, so apologies! That said, if I get enough support, I wouldn’t mind quitting my job to start streaming.
Alternatively, you can stick around with some of these related posts:
Until next time! Thanks for saying hi.
As we roll into 2023, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate my most recent milestone in academia. I'm a PhD candidate!
Foo, bar, and baz: what do they mean and where do they come from? Let's find out together.