Compatibility Over Proficiency

You should practice for the team you want, not the one you have.

What would it be like to play on a team where everyone was better than you?  How should you play in that context?

What you should seek to do in this case is: to not be a liability, and to help.

 


 

But there’s another part to compatibility.  You should not just “try to be compatible” in your playstyle, but should be looking for a team with which you’ll be compatible.  Look for good people.

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The Spirit Journey of Overwatch

In one way, I’ve kind of quit Overwatch. In another way, I’m playing it more than ever.

When the game was announced, Chris Metzen had this to say:

When we set out to build a shooter, we thought a lot about who are we? We are Blizzard, and I think people expect certain things from us. We have a long legacy of developing multiplayer games; and it kind of came down to like is it really possible to build a shooter that doesn’t feel cynical, that doesn’t feel cruel, or that doesn’t feel nasty? Can you build one that really promotes teamwork, and relationships, and having fun with your friends?

Twenty-something years we have been doing this, building video games, and the world can often look like a damn mess. You know– we are a part of the solution or we are a part of the problem; and so I love the idea that we push ourselves to just embrace that heroic ideal throughout our fiction, through our design and this game really wants to embody that and be a little more hopeful, and I think a little more heroic.

This was music to my ears. I had been playing a lot of DotA 2 at the time, and while DotA is an amazing game, I was just so sick of an environment where people were horrible to each other. I wanted a gaming experience with love and glory—or if that’s too dramatic for you, kindness and victory over competition.

The cinematic shorts aligned perfectly with this. In the cinematic trailer, near the end, we have just been treated to a flashy cartoony combat at the museum, full of quips and excitement, and when it’s over , we wonder: what does it all add up to? And Tracer mildly suggests that it’s this: “You know…the world could always use more heroes.”

But the real character to keep your eye on is Winston, both in his message to the world and Recall.

Winston isn’t just motivated with a vague desire to be altruistic. He wants Overwatch to return and be doing good; but he also misses the camaraderie, trust, and love of a tight-knit team.

He has a beautiful hideout in the Mediterranean, a jetpack, a shield generator, and a lightning gun. Also he’s a gorilla. This makes him very different from players. He’s lonely and disconnected in a failing world. This makes him very similar to players.

Winston doesn’t care about his SR, of all things. He has a much, much more ambitious goal: to connect with the world, and help it save itself. In turn, perhaps it will help save him.


Overwatch is a team game. In fact it is more of a team game than any game I can think of. Character diversity means specialization; specialization means interdependence. But it also means different kinds of interdependence—what’s good on one team will be bad on another. There is no “good at Overwatch” or “bad at Overwatch” on an individual level—the real question is always: “Is it good in the context of that particular team?”

The primary skill of Overwatch is cooperation and navigation of relationships. Getting on or forming the right team, and playing in a manner compatible with that team, will do much more for your rank than any amount of aim practice.

Forming, or finding, or building a team, and making it gel, is hard work. It’s not something you can do all at once. You have to talk to a lot of people, without an agenda. You have to not need a team, while being open to one. And then you have to be patient and flexible, yet not a doormat, in getting that team to actually work together, to be selfless themselves, and start paddling in the same rhythm.

It’s no coincidence that many of the shorts (Recall, Dragons, Honor and Glory, Rise and Shine, and Reunion are good examples) focus on this slow, gradual process of the team starting to get back together, spread out in parallel over many disparate characters. No one can do everything alone—but everyone has something they need to do.

And this is what I mean when I title this post the “Spirit Journey” of Overwatch. WASD + some other keys + the mouse is not the hard part of the game. That’s the payoff. But the actual work of the game, the part that leads to what people actually want, is in other people, away from the screen.

In practice, this looks like: talking to people, online or in person.  Listening.  Asking questions.  Describing a vision.  And patience, and kindness.

Non-2-2-2 Schelling Points

Here is the answer to your first question:

In game theory, a focal point (also called Schelling point) is a solution that people will tend to use in the absence of communication.

We will now turn the time over to Caveman Calm, the lesser-known, second author of this blog:

Calm: Caveman Calm, what are your thoughts on hero selection?

Caveman Calm: EASY.  DOOMFIST AND REINHARDT BEST HEROES.  BECAUSE SMASH.

Calm: Truly, a man after my own heart.  How do you coordinate those picks with your team?

Caveman Calm: CO-CO-OR-DI-NATE?  HA!  NO.  TALK HARD.  TALK AND AGREE HARDER.  NO LIKE TALK.  CHOOSE!

Calm:  Don’t ever change, man.


If you are reading this post, boy are you indulging me.  Schelling points?  Start bringin’ that fancy-schmancy talk into solo queue voice comms, reader, and despair:

What’s the chief advantage of the 2-2-2?  In a word, approachability.  You can explain it to someone easily, even if it doesn’t actually work in-game: “Tanks take damage, ‘DPS’ deal damage, and healers heal.”

For a rival meme to compete in the current environment, it has to be in about that ballpark of simplicity.

Fortunately, simplicity is what you want with uncoordinated teams.  To understand why, let’s take a second and talk about specialization and fragility.

Imagine you have an assembly line making widgets.  There are seven steps to the assembly process, and each is necessary.  But sometimes the workers make mistakes.  At every step in the process, there’s a 5% chance a worker makes a mistake.  Question:  what is the proportion of widgets that have a mistake?

It’s not 5%.  It’s 30%.  If there are seven chances for a mistake to happen…

Now change it so there’s only one step.  Still a 5% chance.  And what is that overall?  …5%.

The fewer pieces your composition has, the less like a Rube Goldberg machine it is, the more resistant it is to failing because it lost a key hero.

These are some less-talked-about strengths of both Dive and GOATS.  In Dive, once you’re in, all your characters are basically interchangeable:  they all attack whoever the focused target is.  In GOATS, everyone can either heal the team or protect the team somehow.

In both cases, the composition is easy to comprehend (“What does it do?”) and robust against losing a “critical piece.”

That robustness is crucial.  One reason there’s so much confusion around Overwatch is that there are so many moving parts.  Your Genji plays overly aggressive, dies, and skunks the push, and your team concludes that they needed more healing, or whatever else confirms their biases.

And then there’s a final requirement:  it has to be actually, you know, viable.  Players have to be able to win with it.  Winning is its own reinforcement loop.

So what comps could serve as replacement Schelling points?  W

 

The Independent

In this composition, damage, self-healing, and mobility are the goals.

: Pharah, 76, Moira, Hog, Reaper, Mei

The great thing about this composition for teaching/coaching purposes is that everyone feels like they have agency.   It also does not promise to heal a lot (even though if you look at it, it actually has a lot  of healing), so it stops players from blaming others and gets them to start taking damage avoidance seriously.  Getting players to realize how powerful it is to avoid damage is half the battle, so that’s a major win.

If using this as a teaching composition, you might even want to enforce a rule:  Moira is not allowed to use the yellow orb if she can see an enemy.

“Self-healing DPS + Moira +Pharah” is the quickest way to describe this.

 

GOATS

GOATS is not my favorite composition, but it’s not my least favorite either.  Its very existence poses the question:  “If we have no “DPS,” but we’re doing dps…maybe we need to think about the game differently.”  “How it works” is clear:  you stay clumped, and get in the enemy’s faces.  It’s also not fragile—the heroes involved are mostly interchangeable.

Anti-Reaper

I often hear people ask what the counter to Reaper is.  There is no counter, especially with Brigitte deleted from the game.  Instead, you don’t let Reaper counter you.  

Pharah, Moira, Brigitte, McCree, Hog, Mei.

 

I think the first comp is probably my favorite right now for a teaching composition.  There are so many wrong ideas floating around that people have neglected the basics of playing shooters.  That one strips away a lot of the things that trip people up.

The Two Answers That Solve 99% of /r/OverwatchUniversity Questions

I used to spend a lot of time on /r/OverwatchUniversity.  Oh!  Opportunities to hold forth!  To dispense wisdom!  Let me fire up my keyboard, good sir!

I’d write detailed comments that really laid things out, providing as much info as I could, link to other comments, etc…

I don’t do that anymore.

This is because I realized that the majority of my comments were useless to the majority of people.  Enemy has ABC composition, playing in XYZ manner?  Sure, I can theorycraft a response.  But can you execute it?  Like, will five other people have read the same comment, and will you be on a team with those five people?

For 98% of questions right now, the answer is either

Stop worrying about this and find a team.

or

Stop worrying about this and figure out how to stop dragging your team down.

I sound like a jerk, don’t I?  “Loser, you suck and are dragging your team down!”  Put it this way:  Overwatch is an incredibly complex game, and if you can merely avoid shooting yourself in the foot, you are head-and-shoulders above the vast majority of the playerbase.

The execution can be complicated, but at the core is a simple principle: be an asset, not a liability.  If that’s too hard, just don’t be a liability.  A Brigitte that stands menacingly next to her team’s Ana in the back is much better than one that dies in the front line after getting a stun off.  Similarly: a Brigitte that puts out so-so healing is better than an Ana that puts out higher throughput and then dies to a flanking Tracer.

This is hard for players to hear, because what they want is “impact,” aka glory, aka flashy stuff.  But Step 0 to that is not letting the enemy do flashy stuff to your team.

Once you get down the esoteric art of Not Dying, you can start to inch out a bit and ask yourself:  Given the situation, how can I Not Die and help my team?

If you do this, you will quickly be frustrated by your teammates’ seemingly endless inventiveness in finding ways to get themselves killed, or their insistence that you join them in suicide.  At which point the other half of the duo comes into play:  Find a team.

How To Build An Overwatch Team

One way to look at Overwatch is as a cooperative machine-building game.

What it means to “work together” will vary from game to game, situation to situation, and composition to composition.  In Starcraft 2, Terran Marines “working together” can mean staying together:

or splitting up:

A significant portion of the game is figuring out what working together even means in your particular game. You can’t just say “Stay together” every game —that is a stupid, wrong, bad thing to say.  Sometimes it will be the best thing to do—but sometimes it exactly the wrong thing to do.

If we take a step back:  imagine you and five others are given a box full of parts.  You each pick a part, and then assemble a machine out of those parts.

This is really hard.  Quick math tells me there are about 350 million possible teams—about ten times as many as the game has players.  Yet somehow you, in cooperation with five others, must narrow that down to one composition, and then figure out how it fits together.  Whatever you build is then pitted against another team doing the same thing.

People can “do” it, in the sense that they can pick six heroes, hit WASD, and click around, but this is inconsistent.  Overwatch heroes are very diverse, and swapping out a Mercy for a Hammond can change the whole flavor of the game.

Coming up with a composition, managing a six-way conversation, reading social cues,  persuading people to play various heroes, and communicating how to play the composition so that it actually does what it’s supposed to do, and covering edge cases (what if a lone enemy Tracer gets on point?)  all within a minute or so, is simply not humanly possible.

It turns out it’s pretty hard to do even with some dedicated time.  My early approaches to Theory Night focused on specific high-level principles, but humans—and perhaps especially gamers—aren’t huge fans of lectures and drills.  I mean, can you blame them?

And yet—none of this changes my mind about team skill being much more impactful than individual skill(Also).  We have to work together, but we can’t ask everyone to be Sun Tzu and live on rainwater and moonlight while they study the Seven Sacred Strategems, and only then can we have a team.  We still have these random six parts, and we still have to put them together into a working machine—but we don’t have any time to actually design it.  So what do we do?  How do we get six machine parts—that weren’t necessarily selected to fit together—to fit together nonetheless, and make something that works?

It turns out we can get 80% of the benefit for about 20% of the effort, if everyone on the team follows a simple rule:

Be frugal in what you require from your teammates, and flexible in what you can offer.

In other words:  you should think very carefully before deciding that you “need” something from your team, or executing a plan that requires cooperation.   You should make no assumptions on how your team “should” play.  Meanwhile, you try and help them at what they are doing.

(Yes, this means that “We need a ____” or “We could use a ____” comments are always, always, counterproductive.)

 

Why is this a good pattern?  It is compatible with the rest of your team, whether they are following it or not.  You are focusing on compatibility first.  No point in adding a flamethrower to your machine until the parts can stop fighting each other.

Items:

– dying is really bad, period.  Dying means you’re inconsistent, and inconsistency means unreliability.  Remember: Boringness is the path to victory.  This is so important that I almost included it in the rule above, but it ruined the flow.

– What’s great about this rule is that it’s fault-tolerant.  If your teammate screws up, you have already been frugal about whether you needed their help or not.  It is a robust playstyle, as opposed to a fragile one.  It’s a playstyle for humans.  It is oriented around not losing, rather than winning.

– Everyone on the team must be on board with this playstyle at least in theory, even if they don’t fully understand it.  A single player probably can’t win the game, but a single player absolutely can lose it.  Those players are human beings:  be kind to them, and never play with them again.

– A team that does this will find there are more “got your back” moments where one player saves another:

(Honestly I could watch that Raynor clip a hundred times).

And for Jeff’s sake, don’t.  fucking.  complain.  or. criticize.  You can’t win a game through the mike, but you can absolutely lose it.

The goal is to build trust for the long term, not to win any specific game.

A team that plays with this in mind will develop the awareness and trust to pull off things like this:

(Widow’s trust in Reaper allowed her to simply keep moving, without any time wasted worrying about herself).

In other words: once you’ve learned to play without relying on each other, you can start to play with relying on each other.  But you have to do it in order.

Is There Such A Thing As Individual Skill?

Spoiler:  No.  Yes.  But mostly no.  How to react to this at the bottom.

 


 

Way back when, Day9 did a Daily in which he analyzed the games of a Starcraft 2 player named Happy, who, at the time, had a 90% winrate on the ladder with Terran.

 


 

Let’s take a minute and ask ourselves:  what is “skill”?

 

Is it “positioning”?  “Mechanics”?  The ability to win 1v1’s?  Aim?  The ability to avoid 1v1’s?  Strategy?  Survival?

 

The problem is that many of these are either hard to define or measure, or their impact on ultimate victory is unclear.  If someone has amazing mechanics but is stuck in Bronze, can we really say they are “skilled” at Overwatch?

In fact, imagine you have an annoying friend.   He claims that Overwatch is “no-skill,” and that games are pretty much decided by coinflip.  How could you prove him wrong?

You could maybe pull off a big play with him watching.  Maybe you get a teamkill!  “Great,” he says.  “Now do it again.”  “I…can’t,” you say.  “I think you just got lucky,” he says.  “If you can’t repeat it, it was just a fluke.”

Or imagine a different annoying friend, who claims he’s an “amazing Genji.”  He makes a smurf account and plays with your normal group.  He is continually yelling at your other friends to heal him more, and your Mercy dutifully flies into danger.  He has good aim and mechanics, and gets some neat kills, but eventually dies, taking Mercy with him.  You lose more games than you win, as he shrugs his shoulders and says something about “nubs,” and you shake your head a bit.

Is that player “skilled”?  Is that even a question worth asking if bringing him on your team made you lose more?

The definition of skilled that we want, the one we care about, is: do they win games?

Now, just because that’s the definition we want, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a real thing.  If we defined “skill” as “the ability to hypnotize opponents through the internet,” well, then, skill doesn’t exist.  So our question is:  does individual skill exist, where “individual skill” is defined as the ability to consistently win games, regardless of team(that is what “individual” means, after all)?

 

I think we’re pretty safe saying individual skill exists in Starcraft 2.  Looking at the above-linked video, Happy had an 86-ish% winrate over about 340 games, and was over 90% for quite a bit.  Keep in mind—this is on the ladder, not against random bronze players.

Does anyone have that level of success in Overwatch?

Last time I checked this was in season 10.   Sinatraa was leading the pack at about 66%.  (If you go to MasterOverwatch there are people with 100% winrates…and about two hours of playtime).   Particularly eye-popping was Meko, of NY Excelsior.  Meko’s ladder winrate was 53%.  Meanwhile NY Excelsior’s winrate was 76%, in Overwatch League, against professional teams.  That’s nearing Happy level.  Literally Meko could improve his winrate by over 20% —not with aim training, not by agonizing over strategy…but just by yelling “Hey guys!  Come ladder with me.”

So, we have Sinatraa, mutant with freakish reflexes, paid thousands of dollars, the best of the best—but at only a 66% winrate.  Can we really say that individual skill “exists”?

I don’t mean to dog on Sinatraa.  He can do amazing things with Tracer.  What I mean to say is that those things apparently don’t matter.  Not as much as whatever Happy was doing, or whatever NY Excelsior was doing.  And the example of Meko is just crazy.  Turns out the best thing you can do for your Overwatch outcomes is—be on the right team.  Which means solo queue matchmaking is equivalent to rolling dice.

Because here is the crazy thing:  Excelsior is skilled.  They do win games.  If someone said “a team can’t be skilled,” we could point them at Excelsior’s 76% winrate.  If someone said “individuals can’t win games consistently,” the best we could do is show them Sinatraa’s 65%.

In other words, “team skill” is more real than “individual skill.”

The real skill of Overwatch?  Apparently: People.

Know Where Your Wins Come From

Overwatch is a zero-sum game.  What’s good for you is bad for the enemy team, and vice versa.  It’s also a complex game with spillover effects—a small advantage can (and often does) snowball into a large one.

What this means is that you don’t actually need a big advantage.  In fact, aiming for one is risky, because OW is also a game of tradeoffs, which means you’re incurring weaknesses that you may or may not know about.

You know what?  Day9 puts it better than me(emphasis mine):

Despite the fact that these games function in drastically different ways and demand completely different skill sets, the expert players, the players who consistently win, always share a single commonality: they play comfortably with a marginal advantage. The marginal advantage embodies the notion that one cannot, and should not, try to “win big.” In a competitive setting, the strong player knows that his best opponents are unlikely to make many exploitable mistakes. As a result, the strong player knows that he must be content to play with just the slightest edge, an edge which is the equivalent to the marginal advantage. More importantly, a one-sided match ultimately carries as much weight as an epic struggle. After all, the match results only in a win or a loss; there are no “degrees” of winning. Therefore, at any given point in a game, the player must focus on making decisions that minimize his probability of losing the advantage, rather than on decisions that maximize his probability of gaining a greater advantage. In short, it is much more important to the expert player to not lose than it is to win big. Consequently, a regular winner plays to extend his lead in a very gradual, but very consistent manner.

 

Assuming teams know what they’re doing (and you should always assume this of the enemy, even if it’s not true), risk and reward are balanced.  You should assume that you’ll be punished for leaving open any weaknesses, until you get new information contradicting that.  For instance, you should not play aggressively as Pharah, because the enemy may have a Bastion lying in wait…until it becomes obvious that they don’t have a Bastion, and their Soldier is off somewhere else, in which case go to town.

If risk and reward are balanced, that means that great reward means great risk.  You don’t want lot of risk—a strange but true corollary of which is that you don’t want a lot of reward either!  Nothing bad about reward, of course, but remember: you only need a small advantage, because you can methodically convert that into a win.  “Extra” reward, therefore, is either a sign of enemy misplays, or foolish bravado on the part of your team.

Consider Zarya-Bastion.  Bastion sets up, the enemy comes and attacks, Zarya bubbles him at the critical moment, Bastion guns down everybody.

“What did Zarya do?”  Zarya did, well, nothing.  No, this kind of nothing:nullrod

 

If you have a Bastion set up and firing, you’re going to win, assuming things don’t change.  What does Zarya do here?  She makes sure things don’t change.

FlynnDoingNothing
“It’s amazing how productive doing nothing can be.”

The Zarya, in fact, is critical to this setup.  No bubble => No Bastion.  “Useless can opener without strong Russian energy shield,” she remarks disdainfully.

What’s important is that the Zarya knows this, and realizes that Bastion’s contribution is her contribution.  “A Zarya who just shields” is useless and lame.  “A Zarya who just shields Bastion” wins games.

Where is the team getting value from?  From Bastion.  Just one source?  But that’s enough.  Remember: a small advantage is all you need.

Lanchester’s (And Calm’s) Square Law

Back in WWI, there was a mathematician named Frederick Lanchester.  He was interested in the math of large-scale combat.

The most important one, for our purposes, is Lanchester’s Square Law.  The Square Law applies to modern combat with long-range weapons (like guns), and states that the power of a force is proportional not to the number of units it has, but the square of the number of units it has.

To really get this, let’s contrast it to Lanchester’s Linear Law, which applies to ancient combat—centurions, swords and such:

linear

In our artistic conception above, Blue Army is facing off against Red Army, with five men per line.  Red Army has ten men, and Blue has five.  Assuming the individual combatants are evenly matched, what will happen?

Well, the front lines of both will fight and kill each other at about the same rate.  The five guys in the second rank of the Red Army can’t contribute to the battle, blocked as they are by their own men.  Red Army will stand victorious with about five men left.

Now let’s take away the swords and give them guns:

square

In this situation, our guys in the second rank aren’t blocked from attacking the Blue Army.  So Red Army can make full use of their numbers, and deliver ten guys’ worth of damage, rather than the five the swordsmen were limited to.

This means that Red Army will do twice as much damage as Blue Army; in the time it takes for Red Army to kill all of Blue Army (“Five damage”), Blue Army will only be able to do half that (“2.5 damage”).  And that’s the best case for Blue Army.  If we look at it in shorter slices of time it gets worse for Blue: In the time Red kills one guy, Blue will only kill “half” a guy..  Now it’s 10 vs 4!  And in the time Blue does that extra 0.5 damage, Red will kill another guy and a half, leaving it at 2.5 vs 9.  This is a much worse ratio than we started with.

And this is assuming perfect focus fire from Blue!  If they divide up into trios of 2 Red and 1 Blue shooting at each other, Red can win with no casualties.

We can play around with this to make different answers come out, but I think it’s pretty clear that when ranged combat is the order of the day, numbers are a very big deal.

Now, in some ways, this doesn’t actually apply very strongly to Overwatch.  Lanchester’s Square Law assumes that soldiers are basically identical, assumes they are all basically Soldier 76, and that cover doesn’t exist.  None of this is true in Overwatch, a game with a diverse cast, tanks, shields, and cover.

But—different abilities that support each other can still create this kind of exponential scaling.  We will call this Calm’s Square Law:

If heroes support each other in helpful ways, and the opponent doesn’t do anything to screw with Calm’s Square Law, then a force’s strength is proportional to the square of its numbers.

The key phrase is “support each other.”  If every character is helping each other, then going from five to six is a bigger power jump than one to two.  This is the genesis of the emphasis people put on the importance of grouping up.

However, Lanchester’s Square Law (and our made-up Calm’s Square Law) only applies under certain conditions.  There are lots of ways to make it not apply—cover, verticality, range, AOE, etc. AOE in particular will punish you for grouping up!

 

This Stuff Isn’t Really That Complex

I am bad at writing, and I am bad at explaining.  So posts here tend to be less simple and clear than I wish.

The reader should not draw the conclusion, however, that just because my posts might be hard to understand means that the lessons they’re trying to teach are.  In-game, applying the lessons of this blog is more a matter of reflex, habit, and intuitive geometry than it is holding some dreadful complex system together.

Of course, it is holding a complex system in your head, but that’s not as bad as you think.

This is because once you get a good understanding of what’s important and what’s not, you can start to ignore stuff.

The Earth is a sphere, right?  Well, technically it’s fatter around the middle because it rotates.  But you know what?  Nobody cares.  It doesn’t impact your life.  For 99% of your needs, it might as well be a perfect sphere.

If you’re really far away from the enemy Mercy and the enemy Moira, does it matter which is which?  Probably not.  They’re both just kinda-mobile squishy healers.

If you have an Orisa shield up, does it really matter whether it’s Zen or McCree shooting at it?  Not really—they’re both doing shieldable DPS, neither is mobile enough to surprise you, and that’s all you need to worry about.

The goal of this blog is not to help you hold a million things in your head at once.  Rather, it’s to help you look at a very complex game, identify the most important parts, and forget everything else.

Alan Kay famously said, “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”  That’s the message here.

Waterlines

Imagine a swimming pool that is six feet deep.  This swimming pool is on the planet MouthOnTopOfHeadAndCantSwim.  Its inhabitants are like us in every way, except that their mouths are on the tops of their heads rather than the front, and they can’t swim.

The inhabitants of this alien planet vary in height just as much as we do.  In particular, imagine a 6’1″ alien and a 5’11” alien standing in the pool.  The 6’1″ alien will enjoy a refreshing dip.  The 5’11” alien will, alas, drown.  Life can be brutal on the fair world of MOTOHACS.

For those tall enough, however, the inhabitants of MOTOHACS have invented a sport, imaginatively named “Spitwater.”  Spitwater involves standing in bodies of water, bending their knees a bit to get a gulp of water, then spitting it (remember, mouth on top of the head) as far as they can.  Some can spit farther than others.  There are even some short Motohaxians who can spit quite far—but there are no short Motohaxians at the professional level, because they are simply too short for the deeper pools in which the pros compete.


There are a lot of things that act like waterlines in complex games.  A “waterline” is a hard barrier that says: if you don’t meet this standard, you accomplish nothing.

  • A Zenyatta is plinking away at an Orisa shield.  Trouble is, Zenyatta’s dps (about 110/s) is lower than Orisa’s effective shield regeneration rate (about 112/s)—and that’s assuming Zen is doing nothing but shooting the shield, without needing to reload.   Zen will accomplish nothing.
  • Some (Starcraft) Zerglings are streaming through a choke(Hanamura A, perhaps?) defended by many bunkers full of upgraded marines.  The marines do so much damage that no individual Zergling can even reach the bunkers without dying.  The Zerglings—even an infinite number—will achieve nothing.
  • A Reaper tries to flank the enemy team, but is stunned and killed.  The damage that he did is quickly healed by the enemy Mercy.  He has accomplished nothing.
  • A Bastion tries to set up, but the enemy has three mobile heroes who instantly focus and kill him.  He even manages to kill one of them—but the rest of his team is staggered, and they trickle in after him, failing to break the overall enemy deathball.  Even though they got a kill, in the larger game, they have accomplished nothing.
  • A Soldier 76 dies.  No matter how amazing his aim, he will accomplish nothing.