There comes a time in every competitive team-based game where certain group compositions are simply too good to ignore. Like the “holy trinity” in MMOs (tank-healer-dps), there’s usually a core that you build around based on individual strengths and weaknesses. But then there are other times, where the strengths of a certain class far outweigh those of others. In Overwatch, tanks aren’t just there to mitigate damage. Every single tank has a particular skill set that makes them offensive powerhouses unto themselves.
Choosing less than two tanks on any map almost demands an apprehensive gasp these days. In fact, not having a Dva can completely nerf both your offensive and defensive capabilities. It got to a point where Faze put Shadowburn, their star Genji player, on Dva duty almost full-time. It all comes down to one very crucial aspect of the game: area denial. If you can create opportunities to control space and dictate how the match is fought, you will be in great shape.
Spacial control and area denial are your top priorities in point-control games. You can get away with low overall damage if you can control the map and time your attacks correctly. Tanks in Overwatch can satisfy almost all of the requisite tasks needed for a successful push or defense. Fnatic ran with a 4-2 tank/healer composition with great success against NRG at the Winter Premiere. Consider what you’re getting with the typical quad-tank setup. Reinhardt gives your team a massive shield and a frontal-cone, disabling ultimate. Road Hog can hook support and DPS heroes for insta-kills, and has a knockback ultimate. Dva can eat DPS ultimates with defense matrix and wipe an entire team with her self-destruct ultimate (I highly recommend watching Mickie from EnvyUs if you want to see how valuable Dva can be). Zarya can cast shields on people and has a vacuum ultimate.
You can also insert Winston (who can break most fortified areas by himself if he has an ultimate ready) into the equation and still have a stacked team with superb defensive capabilities, along with all the tools you need to force your way onto a point. It’s astonishing how much group synergy this class has all by itself, but it also gets a bit boring to watch and tedious to play. Even with the more lenient 3/2/1 composition (3 tanks, 2 support, 1 DPS), gameplay tends to get a bit stale since you know exactly what to expect, minus the situational flank or Widowmaker setup. However, this does open itself up to an important question: Can off-meta builds be used with any efficiency? Well, this is a “yes, but…” situation.
As you can see in the breakdown from Winston’s Lab, there appears to be a bit of a disparity in group composition between the last three major events (minus Winter Premiere). We have one European event at DreamHack, one Korean Event at IEM, and one North American event at MLG. But if you take a look at the “triple tank” metric across every event, you’ll see that despite Misfits’ world-renowned aggressive play, most teams are still seeing the most success using tank-heavy compositions. Indeed, both LuxuryWatch Red and EnvyUs won their respective tournaments with a traditional 3/2/1 build with a situational 2/2/2. Furthermore, EnvyUs, arguably the best team in the world, still favors a tank-heavy build even after training with some aggressive Korean teams during their time at OGN Apex. It will be interesting to see if teams start utilizing different heroes going forward, but for now, it seems as though tanks are here to stay.
It’s not my intention to be a wet blanket on your competitive ladder play. In fact, I’ve seen some weird offensive Bastions break through enemy defenses just fine. Anything can be viable at the semi-casual level, and you should always give someone a chance to prove their capabilities with a hero. However, it’s worth learning at least one of the tanks if you truly wish to be a valuable team player within the parameters of the current meta. It can be irritating listening to someone make demands for more tanks when there already is one, but given the overall success rate of tank-heavy builds…are they really wrong for wanting a second? Or even a third?