Oh how happy I may be /
Because of the comps that we got to see /
All because they banned McCree /
Oh what a weekend it was for me /
Hero pools are good for Overwatch League /
Don’t @ me if you disagreea poem
After much anticipation, the hero pool feature premiered during the second Washington D.C. homestand this past weekend. “Hero Pool” is the developer-supported hero ban solution to the Overwatch League’s stagnant meta problem, in which the League randomly draws one tank, one support, and two DPS from a list of heroes who have been frequently played on the professional stage over the preceding two weeks. The selected heroes are then banned from competition in the OWL for that weekend.
Functionally, this system adds a slightly-modified temporary meta each week for OWL, without making any balance changes to heroes themselves. The system has the potential to make really big changes, depending on which heroes they ban. I am sure that some weeks it will do very little.
If the goal of hero pools was to introduce artificial metas and encourage a more diverse set of playstyles, it succeeded. In fact, because of the first week’s bans we saw some really interesting compositions coming out that we likely would have never seen without the hero bans.
The hero compositions under Hero Pools
This first week of hero pools banned McCree, Widowmaker, Reinhardt, and Moira.
The absence of Moira didn’t seem to phase any teams, however, the removal of two dominant DPS hitscan characters and a mainstay tank like Rein definitely influenced team compositions greatly.
These are just a few of the plethora of compositions we saw last weekend. It was certainly more interesting than a bunch of mirror compositions all weekend. There was also a generous portion of Mei + Reaper, among other combinations of DPS heroes.
Sombra + Tracer Dive
If there was a “meta” this past weekend, Tracer + Dive was definitely it. Sombra + Tracer Dive was the most popular very popular version of this meta. This composition was featured by the Toronto Defiant, Paris Eternal, Boston Uprising, NYXL, and Washington Justice.
When most teams go Sombra/Tracer on the ladder, I get angry. When Ethan “Stratus” Yankel and Corey “Corey” Nigra go Sombra/Tracer, they turn Overwatch League on its head with their backline harassment and violent shenanigans.
Stratus proved once and for all that Sombra can actually do something more than run around invisible, only to ult as soon as the rest of her team dies.
The most notable and effective use of Sombra + Tracer was in the series between the Uprising and the Justice. The Boston Uprising struggled mightily to cope with both flankers at once, which led to the Washington Justice using the composition throughout their series against the Uprising.
As I mentioned previously, the Justice were not the only team to utilize this fast paced dive composition.
It was nice to watch Sombra get some play in the 2-2-2 role lock. The last time I remember seeing consistent Sombra plays was during the GOATs era and I mostly just remember them hiding and charging ultimate. Without McCree available, the Justice were able to aggressively exploit the utility of Sombra and the raw technical potential of Tracer without worrying about getting countered.
Turns out when OWL professionals play both those heroes, they effectively harass the enemy backline relentlessly and put on an entertaining show, all at the same time.
Soldier + Pharah
Turns out, if you ban the two best hitscan heroes in the game, people will finally play Soldier 76 and Pharah again. Soldier 76 finally got playtime, because he is the third worst hitscan in the game. Pharah also got playtime again because Soldier 76 is the third best hitscan in the game.
We saw variations on the Soldier + Pharah, such as Hanzo + Pharah, throughout the weekend from all the different teams. The return of Pharah surprised me the least out of all the dominant comps from the Homestand. It seemed like an obvious conclusion when two counters to Pharah are out of the hero pool.
Perhaps even more impressive than playing Pharah into essentially no counters, was the Atlanta Reign shutting down Boston’s Pharah strategy using nothing but a D.Va and Ana. Uprising’s Pharah, Kelsey “Colourhex” Birse, apparently underestimated the power and accuracy of Dusttin “Dogman” Bowerman’s sleep darts.
Tracer + Soldier
The Justice, Eternal, and the Fusion all tried some variation of Tracer + Soldier Dive. With Reinhardt out of the play pool, Dive made a lot of sense. As a fan of the dive era of Overwatch, I was pleased to see Winston and D.Va return to the spotlight.
Tracer/Soldier ended up playing similarly to Tracer/Sombra but with more raw damage. Sombra is a high-utility character, but her damage isn’t the most impressive compared to other DPS options. Soldier 76 has his healing station as utility, while also bringing his sprint speed combined with a much more consistent damage output that Sombra could ever have. Combining Soldier with Tracer provides a very fast and flexible composition which can attack from multiple angles and rotate quickly.
These several compositions represent just a few of the many compositions we saw on display this last weekend. I, for one, was highly entertained by OWL under the hero pool system.
Orisa + Mei
Orisa/Mei was the go-to strategy when teams wanted a barrier. Some teams paired their Orisa with D.Va, others paired their AI friend with Sigma. A consistent trait to the Orisa barrier compositions was the use of Mei. Mei works really well in bunker comps, since she has so much area control using her ice slow and stun abilities. T
hat’s without even mentioning the vestigial buffs of GOATs–which gave Mei the power to freeze multiple people at once, and her blizzards provide a lot of utility for a DPS hero.
Hero pools really do make OWL more interesting
Hero pools make OWL more dynamic, because different teams will handle the limitations in diverse ways. As Day9 always said on FUNDAY MONDAY (the best day of the week):
“Constraints lead to creativity.“
Of Course, Day9 was talking about Starcraft ll, but the point still stands.
Rather than seeing a mirror comps played in match after match for weeks, or months, hero pools ensure OWL explores more than just one stale meta. The new system increases the likelihood that two teams come to a match with separate strategies. Teams are best served by building team strategies based on their players’ own mastery of various characters, which almost certainly rewards mastering a flexible set of skills rather than mastering a single meta.
Not only does this mean that we will see different heroes played by various teams, we also will see an emphasis placed on player flexibility in a way that OWL has yet to reward up until this point. Jeff always promised us a game where flexibility and hero counters mattered.
Is Overwatch League finally delivering on daddy Jeff’s promise?
- Yes, this variety is much more entertaining 97%, 28 votes28 votes 97%28 votes - 97% of all votes
- No, I want to see everyone use their best heroes 3%, 1 vote1 vote 3%1 vote - 3% of all votes
Under the hero pool system, players who can play a ton of different heroes at a high level, like Jae-hyeok “Carpe” Lee or Stratus, will become crucial to the success of their teams in the regular season.
As an example of the unpredictable nature of this new OWL environment, this past week, Paris Eternal lost to Houston Outlaws, who have a horrible record. Paris then went to beat (3-0) the Philadelphia Fusion, who have the best record. Maybe this oddity can be explained by the fact that hero pools reward different qualities in a team than an OWL without hero pools.