Everything Parents Need To Know About Overwatch

Overwatch is big, and just getting bigger.  It’s a game that’s penetrating the consciousness of gamers everywhere. So chances are – your kiddo plays it, wants to play it, or knows someone who plays it.

Overwatch Logo
Overwatch – Image Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Keep reading to learn everything parents need to know about Overwatch.  It’ll help you learn everything from the mechanics to how to talk to your kids about it.

So… What exactly is Overwatch?

Overwatch is a competitive first-person hero shooter developed by Blizzard Entertainment and released on the PC, XBox and PlayStation 4.  Now, I realize there’s a lot to parse in that last sentence. If you’re not as familiar with games as your kiddos, this can be very confusing.  So, let’s break this down a bit.

First Person Hero Shooter

That’s a mouthful.  What it means is that the game is played in a first-person perspective, so players generally only see the hands (and weapons) of their characters in the game, rather than the entire character.  

The Hero

The “Hero” part of it is something of a newer innovation in the genre.  Taking lessons from other popular games like League of Legends, Blizzard has filled the game with a variety of colorful, fun, and interesting “heroes” in which to play.  This is a stark departure in competitive first-person-shooters which typically fall to class-specific characters (Example: Scout, Medic, Sniper).  It also stands apart from the non-descript all-purpose soldier (like in Counterstrike).  Each hero has a specialty, skills, and usage – so they operate much like the “Class-Based” games, but there’s significantly more personality involved, and with unique abilities for each character it really goes a long way to set the game apart from others – and giving a reason for the games fast-rising popularity.

The last component of this is “shooter”.  That’s the main “verb” in the game.  The characters shoot.  Each has a unique weapon with different strengths and weaknesses. Thankfully, though, the core mechanic is pretty much the same:  Take out the opposition with the weapon in your hand.

On Being Competitive

Before moving on, something all parents need to know about overwatch is that it’s a competitive game. I want to call special attention to this “competitive” element.  Make no mistake, this is an online, multiplayer, competitive experience.  The game is growing significantly as an esport.  So, while there is a significant amount of background and lore regarding the heroes and villains in the game, all that is told via the levels and gameplay.  There’s no “story” mode here.  

In the next section, we’ll get into details on how Overwatch Plays.

Gameplay – What Parents Need To Know About Overwatch

If you’ve watched your kiddos play games, you know that many of them can be immensely complex and chaotic.  Ovewatch is no different, there’s a lot of layers and depth to the gameplay, but this section will give you a solid foundation to understand how the game works and plays.

General Mechanics

We already touched on this a bit, but at a high level, the gameplay in Ovewatch revolved around moving a Hero around a level (or map) to capture or defend objectives while attempting to shoot down the competition.

In many ways, it’s an electronic version of King of The Hill played with superheroes.

Maps and Map Types

Overwatch offers several maps – 18 at the time of this writing. The maps operate, in many ways, like the board in a board game. It offers the playspace where the characters run around, take position, assault and defend. The maps are varied, offering many different locales and environments, with many (not all) the maps dedicated to specific game type.

Dorado Map
Shot of the Dorado Map – Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Game Types

Another thing parents need to know about Overwatch is that it has several game types.  As called out above, most of the maps in Overwatch are tailored to a specific game type. The reason for this is that it’s generally easier to make a map that truly excels for one specific focus. That said, there are a few maps (example: Ilios) that do support multiple different types.

So what are these types? Well, while there are 18 different maps in Overwatch, there are currently 8 different game types that are played on those maps.

Arena

In the Arena Game Type, teams square off (either 1v1 or 3v3) setups, and try to wipe out their opposition.

Assault

In Assault, one team plays “offense” – attempting to take control of a series of objectives across the map, while the other team plays “defense” attempting to keep them from capturing all the objectives before the clock runs out.

Assault/Escort

A bit of a different flavor of Assault.  There’s still an “offense” and “defense” team, but in this game type, the “offense” must capture a single objective – but then protect that objective as they escort it to its destination.

Escort

Works similar to “Assault/Escort” except that it’s more streamlined.  The “escorting” team starts with the objective (they don’t have to capture it, like in Assault/Escort).

Capture The Flag

Pretty much what you remember from being a kid – but played in video game form.  Two teams compete to grab the oppositions flag and return it to their home base.

Control

A bit like “Assault” – but with everyone on offense.  In the Control Game Type, there’s a single objective active at a time, with both teams attempting to control and hold it.

Deathmatch

Probably the oldest form of multiplayer shooter, going as far back as the Atari 2600.  A pure free-for-all where everyone attempts to get more kills than their opponents.

Team Deathmatch

Basically the same thing as Deathmatch, except that it’s team versus team instead of everyone versus everyone.

Game Modes

In Overwatch, there’s a fundamental difference between game types (described above) and Game Modes.  Game Types are what you play where Game Modes impact how you play.  Confused?  I don’t blame you.

A good analogy is a game of cards — The deck of cards itself is analogous to game Overwatch.  You can play a lot of different types of games with a deck of cards:  Poker, War, Black Jack, etc…  So, taking it further, you can play each of those types of games in various ways – Solo (solitaire), online, with a dealer, no-limit, etc…  All of these map to the idea of game modes.

Let’s take a look at the different game modes in Overwatch.

Overwatch Modes
Overwatch Mode Selection

Practice Range

Practice Range is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  The Practice Range gives players a special, small, map to play solo against specially designed computer-controlled opponents (called “bots”). This lets players practice using the different heroes and learning how to use those heroes’ abilities without having to worry about game rules or other players.

Practice vs AI

Allows a player (and if wanted a few other players) to compete against bots (computer-controlled opponents) on the different maps and in different game types.  This mode is different than “Practice Range” in that it focuses on letting players learn how to use heroes within the context of the different game types rather than just learning the heroes alone.

Quick Play

Puts the player in a live match with other players.  In this mode, the system attempts to match players with other players of the same skill level.  In this mode, players still earn rewards and go up in levels, but they’re still “free form.” In Quick Play, players don’t climb the rank ladder as in the Competitive mode.

Custom Game

Custom Games are an interesting lot.  They allow the players to play Overwatch matches with custom – and potentially crazy – modifiers.  Imagine things like low gravity, single heroes only or rapid ability charging.  Custom Games offer fun, different, and unusual ways to play the game – giving players a diversion from the traditional offering

Arcade

The Arcade builds off Custom Games, offering a rotating set of curated custom game types. Playing in the Arcade offers players faster and larger rewards for playing than in other modes. 

Competitive

The Competitive Mode is very much like “quick play” but there’s an added layer of stat tracking and ranking involved.  Competitive play is more “hardcore” and serious than what you’ll find in other modes.  Participating in competitive gameplay will give Players “Competitive Points” a currency they can use to purchase special cosmetic gear and items.  Basically, things that can change how a hero looks but does not change how they play.

Much like traditional sports, the game ranks Players based on skill.  Additionally, Overwatch has competitive seasons.  In fact, Overwatch is a giant game in the esports space. In the Competitive mode, Blizzard tweaks the gameplay rules to facilitate balance and a competitive experience.

Coming up – We’ll start talking about the Heroes and how Hero Selection impacts play.

Heroes and Hero Selection

As of this writing, there are 26 different heroes available for play in Overwatch.

Overwatch LIne Up
The Full Overwatch Line Up – Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

 Unlike a number of other games – like League of Legends all the Heroes are always available for play and players can swap characters after death.  This swapping mechanic is actually important — as objectives and tactics change during a match, the ideal composition of a team changes.  So, while a player may start a match as the hero Tracer, as the match progresses, they may need to change to another hero – like Reinhardt.  With all this talk of swapping though, probably a good idea to mention that, a team can only have one of any individual hero.  So, unless you’re playing a special custom game, you can’t have an entire team of “Tracers”

Tracer
Only One Of Me On A Team At A Time – Image Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Because each hero has a specific set of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.  Players typically focus on a single character as a “Main” – but also have 2 or 3 others they’re effective with as well.  This allows them to adjust they play to meet the needs of the situation, without requiring every player to master an ever-growing roster.

Hero Roles

As mentioned above, there are many MANY heroes in Overwatch, and the gameplay generally calls that, over the course of a match, a player will likely need to swap from one Hero to another.  If every hero operated completely differently, this would be extremely challenging – thankfully – while the Heroes all have different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses, all of them fall into 4 different roles.  These roles help define what a particular Hero should be doing in a match, while the Hero’s abilities generally drive how that particular Hero operates.

As an analogy, you can liken the roles to positions in football.  You have defensive linemen, you have running backs, you have wide receivers, and you even have kickers.  Each position has a key role to play in helping the team win the game.

So, let’s take a look a the different roles.

Offense

Offensive based heroes are generally highly mobile (and fast).  They also usually put out a good amount of damage.  They’re excellent for tasks like scouting and pushing objectives.  All this mobility and firepower comes at a cost, though.  Offensive Heroes have a much smaller life pool than others, so while they can dish out a ton of damage, they can’t really take it.

Defense

Looking back at the Game Types section, you can see there’s a lot of gameplay that revolves around taking and holding objectives.  Offensive Heroes excel at the former, while Defensive Heroes shine with the latter.  Defensive Heros main goals in play are holding positions, creating funnel or choke points, and guarding objectives.

Defensive Heroes have less mobility than the Offensive Counterparts, but can take significantly more punishment – Though, not as much as…

Tanks

Tank Heroes differ from Defensive Heroes in that they’re goal is to be upfront in a push or offensive maneuver, helping to shield and protect the Support Heroes (and in some cases the Offensive Heroes as well)

Tank Heroes have a large health pool and many shielding and protection oriented abilities.  The hero Reinhardt, for example, quite literally wields a giant shield.  The Tank Heroes can put out some damage, but are nowhere near as good at this as the more fragile and nimble Offensive Heroes, but can still provide some good attacks.

Reinhardt
Reinhardt: A Tank Hero – Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Support

Support Heroes focus on either healing and enhancing their own team, or weakening and disabling the opposition.  These Heroes are vital to team success but are not suited for going toe-to-toe in combat with any other Hero type.  They lack the fire power, health, and armor to be successful in that.  However, when working with a group, a good support player can literally be the player that pushes their team to victory.  

Mercy
Mercy: A Healing Support Hero – Image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

One last note, not every hero operates at the same level of efficiency in a role.  Some are sort of… hybrids.  Primarily they function in a role but have some special elements about them that make all them to take on secondary roles or specialize in particular flavors of their primary role.  These are generally advanced tactics and utilized in the upper levels of competitive play.  For general understanding, the basic roles outlined here are a solid foundation – but I wanted to make sure that anyone reading understood some characters don’t perfectly fit in their box.

Hero Abilities

Aside from the character models, abilities set the Heroes apart from one another.  Each Hero has a specific set of abilities (including one Ultimate Ability, which we’ll discuss below).  The abilities are in place to help each hero perform in their particular role – So, it follows that just like there are defined role types, there are also defined ability types.

Ranged Abilities

These are abilities that have an effect at a distance.  Sometimes by shooting something, sometimes by creating a specific effect at a location some distance away from the Player.

Melee Abilities

These abilities have an impact right in front of the Player.  Basically, if you liken a Ranged Ability to shooting a rocket across a field, you can liken a Melee Ability to throwing a punch to a foe right in your face.

Movement Abilities

Pretty self-explanatory.  These abilities affect how the Player moves.  Speeding them up, letting them run along walls, or even teleporting them a short distance.

Barrier Abilities

Barrier Abilities allow some Heroes to create shields, force fields, and the like.  Great for defense, protection, or for creating choke and funnel points.

Mei's Ice Wall - A Barrier Ability
Mei’s Ice Wall – A Barrier Ability

Healing Abilities

Another pretty self-explanatory type.  Healing abilities let one Hero… well… Heal another one.  This can be very very powerful, and in the right conditions, a well placed and well-timed use of a healing ability can turn the tide of a battle.

Buff and Debuff Abilities

Funny names for very useful support abilities.  Buff abilities “buff up” a teammate.  Giving teammates more armor, letting them see through walls, move faster, or even increase their overall health…  Conversely, Debuff Abilities – as you might guess – do the opposite.  Allowing the Hero to prevent an opponent from being healed, using their abilities, or even increasing the amount of damage they take when hit.

Crowd Control Abilities

Very similar to “Debuffs” with focus on locking down movement or usability.  For example, a sleeping dart that can put an opponent to sleep for a few seconds, or an ability that can knock an opponent back (useful to push an opponent out of a control zone), or even slow down an opponent’s movement speed.

Area-of-Effect Abilities

Most abilities are meant to be used on a specific target – usually a member of the opposing team.  Area-of-Effect Abilities are meant to be used at a location.  As the name implies, the ability takes effect in a general area around the targeting point, allowing it to affect several teammates or several members of the opposition at once.

Ultimate Abilities

Ultimate Abilities – sometimes called “ults” by Players are huge, super powerful abilities that can only be used once a player has fully charged their “Ultimate Meter”.  Thankfully, even if the player dies, progress towards having the ultimate active continues.  Though – if the Player swaps heroes, the ultimate meter will reset to zero.

Overwatch Ultimate Meter
The Ultimate Meter

So, ultimate abilities – used effectively – can be a key factor in determining if a team wins or loses a match.  These abilities are uniques and specialized per Hero and Players spend a great deal of time learning and mastering when and how to best use them.

Overwatch Hanzo Ultimate
Hanzo’s Ultimate Ability In Action

The ultimate meter, while common to all Heroes, charges differently based on the Hero in play.  How the Ultimate Meter charges is geared towards the basic mechanic and role. Some ultimates charge over time, some charge as the Hero does damage, some charge as the Hero heals others.  

Teamwork & Synergy – Playing with Other Heroes

A key aspect of the game is learning to work and play on a team.  Unless your kiddo is playing a very specific custom game – like 1v1 dueling, games are won and lost as a team.  Coordination and strategy are very important – particularly for taking and holding objectives.  A single player won’t be able to hold a point alone for long – and the chances of a single player taking an objective from a well-organized team are pretty small.  

To help with this, the game offers a number of ways to communicate to team members.  The most used (and most useful) is voice chat.  This allows the players to actually speak with one another to coordinate and form strategies.

This touches on something critical parents need to know about Overwatch – In voice chat, you’re actually talking with other live humans.  Some of which may not be the best sports, or – more commonly – swear like lives depended on it.  So, depending on the age of your kiddo, this may or may not be the most appropriate avenue to work with the team (and can thankfully be disabled)

The other method is the Comms Wheel – this allows players to quickly select and relay common and useful messages to their teammates without actually speaking to them.  So messages like, “Need Healing” or conveying “Ultimate Ability Status” are easy to send.

Overwatch Comms Wheel
Overwatch Comms Wheel In Action

In the next section, we’ll go over Overwatch’s business model, where your kiddos can play it and provide some ways to talk to your kids about the game.

Overwatch’s Business Model – How Much It’ll Cost You

Overwatch is a Buy-To-Play, not Free-To-Play.  You’ll need to actually purchase the full game to play.  While this does require an initial outlay of cash, there are some good benefits.  First and foremost, you get the whole game.  All the maps, modes, game-types, and heroes are fully available at all times.  Your kiddo won’t have to keep pestering you for additional money to unlock Hanzo or to be able to play on the Illios map.

Now, all that said, the game does have microtransactions.  You can buy loot boxes, which have random cosmetic items in them – so things like new emotes, new costumes, new callouts, etc…  What’s important to know here, though, is that nothing offered in these loot boxes is required to play or to be competitive in the game.  If your kiddo never got a single loot box ever, their heroes would be no more powerful than a player that had gotten a thousand.  Second, Players can earn loot boxes in-game just by playing, so there will be some coming in without spending any additional money at all.

Of course, the costumes and items found in the loot boxes are really cool and flashy, they’ll make a hero stand out, so there’s a good chance your kiddo may ask to buy some.  There’s no harm in it, but it should be clear that this is in no way necessary.

Platforms – Where You Can Play Overwatch

Overwatch can be played on a most every major game platform (with the exception of the Nintendo Switch).  Most truly competitive players tend to play on the PC, as the mouse and keyboard control offers more accuracy, but if your kiddo has an XBox One or PlayStation 4, these versions have been tuned to work and play great on those consoles with a controller.

Something to keep in mind is that gamers on the different platforms will not be able to play together.  So, if your kiddos friends all play the game on PC, if your kiddo plays on XBox one, he or she won’t be able to play the game with their friends

Important Information on Multiplayer Games

As we wrap up, I want to draw some attention to the fact that Overwatch is an Online Competitive game, and this means there are some considerations that you, as a parent, should be aware of.

A very important thing parents need to know about Overwatch is that the game can’t be paused.  If your kiddo is playing a “Quick Play” match, it’s not the end of the world if they leave in the middle of play, but if they’re playing a Competitive Match, it’s bad form to leave in the middle of play – as their actions will impact the other members of their team.  A typical Quick Play match only lasts about 10-15 minutes, but a Competitive match can last twice that long. It’s a good idea to keep that in mind before letting your kiddo start to play.

Links and Reference

If you’re interested in learning more about the game or getting more in-depth information on a specific topic, here are some links to help you out.

Talking To Your Kids About Overwatch

If you’re looking to talk to your kiddo about Overwatch, there’s a lot of topics you can use to open up a dialogue.  You can ask them what rank they are, you can ask them who they “main”, you can ask them their least favorite hero to battle, you can ask them about their favorite map or game type, and you can ask them about their most exciting match.  The gameplay, by its nature, creates many opportunities for really cool and exciting moments, so there’s a very very good chance your kiddo has an interesting story about the game.

Have you or your kiddo played Overwatch?  Do you have questions or want more information on a specific element of the game?  Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear more!

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