“Just go GOATS” is the expression we are all too familiar with. It seems that if one team commits to the tanky composition, the only chance of the other team winning is to mirror it. For a professional team, not running it can be the same as putting yourself at a disadvantage on purpose.
We’ve seen, however, some, even if little, variety in professional Overwatch since the Brigitte-centered composition became dominant. For starters, there are variations of GOATS that focus on a combination of Sombra, Doomfist or Mccree. We have also seen Pharah and Widowmaker make their way into the infamous comp in maps where there is more open space. Recently, Mei has been a suitable replacement for D.Va and there have been some notable showings of the good old Dive comp when the map and/or the enemy composition allows it. Still, it feels like the little shake-ups are not enough to break the staleness of the meta. However, some teams dared to go further and attempt bold new strategies to beat the juggernaut that is GOATS.
Let’s go over three of the most surprising compositions in recent high-level Overwatch play.
1. Quad DPS
When StormQuake faced GC Busan, they brought an interesting defense on Route 66 that left even the casters confused for a moment. They would show the world the first aggressive defense of the mythical Quad DPS composition.
StormQuake vs. GC Busan - Quad DPS
In a meta where DPS heroes are valued as next to nothing, how did a composition based on four of them would break the virtually indestructible attacking GOATS comp? How would five highly mobile heroes work with a stationary main tank like Orisa? How would a single healer provide enough survivability to so many fragile heroes without the fast peeling of D.Va? What makes this composition any different from the usual quick play experience? Let’s start by discussing the odd one in this group: Orisa.
Overwatch is a game of ground contention: you can hail fire from the heavens but if the enemy can withstand all that damage, the ground, or - in this case, the point/payload - is theirs for the taking. Orisa holds the ground as bait while the rest of the team looks for low health targets to burst down.
But why Orisa? Why not any other tank? Orisa has a chokepoint-wide shield and long range on her weapon; those are enough reasons to assign her the sole tank role. However, the main reason is her defining ability: Fortify.
While Fortify is up, it absorbs half of the incoming damage doubling Mercy’s effective healing (100 hps total) without account for the armor damage reduction and damage mitigation with some shield dancing. This amount of healing focus by Mercy is possible because the rest of the heroes of this comp all have high mobility and range increasing their survivability against low range composition as GOATS.
This doesn’t make Orisa invincible, but she can draw all the attention to her and buy enough time for the DPS portion of the team to pump enough damage into the enemy. It is also worth noting that Orisa’s Supercharger effectiveness scales with the team’s damage potential. While it may be hard to keep it up for its whole duration, just a few seconds of damage boost to four high damaging heroes can be enough to turn the tide in a team fight.
Mercy has a tough job here, but her primary asset - mobility - allows her to jump between allies avoiding incoming fire. Since the four damage dealers are scattered, there is always an anchor point for Mercy to fly into. We must not forget, her damage boost is highly valuable for the same reason as the Supercharger.
As the heroes of this composition imply, this is a strategy meant for an aggressive defense. The goal is to hold the first section of the payload path as long as possible. Of course, defending so close to the enemy spawn will increase the value of their kills due to the enormous distance from spawn disadvantage. However, all four DPS are highly mobile, and Mercy can resurrect Orisa as soon, and the path is cleared. If the team fight is lost, there will be time to mount a defense closer to the checkpoint with a new composition suited to take on the enemy team’s current strategy.
On the attacking side, the tank must also be mobile since it is in charge of the initiation and can’t sit around and wait for the enemy to engage. We’ve seen StormQuake use Hammond (or Wrecking Ball) on the attacking side versus Meta Athena.
StormQuake vs. Meta Athena - Quad DPS
While high-level competitive ladder is a place where GOATS is practically mandatory, it is also a place where a lot of experimentation happens. Without the pressure the professional teams face to play the best compositions available (and with the most recent nerfs to Brigitte and Doomfist), the ladder can offer a glimpse into the future of professional Overwatch. Such is the case of the composition ran by Kolorblind, Stevo and EvilToaster that tore apart the ladder including the stacked trio of Seagull, Dafran and Emongg despite their best efforts over several games.
The name BOSS comes from its core heroes: Bastion, Orisa, and Symmetra (since Sombra is often run in this composition, we can attribute the last S to her). The goal seems intuitive: Orisa protects Bastion and can pull targets into its sights; Symmetra teleports the duo to locations that are typically hard to reach and provides a quick escape when rushed down. However, some fine details go into this seemingly simple strategy.
Seagull’s 3-stack vs. BOSS part 1
Seagull’s 3-stack vs. BOSS part 2
Seagull’s 3-stack vs. BOSS part 3
In an ironic twist, the classic static cheese comp has evolved in such a way that it is now fast paced with constant teleportations and pincer attacks around slowed enemies via a clever combination of Orisa’s Halt and Symmetras turrets.
3. Mei Stall
Mei has had two primary functions since the game’s release: elevating teammates to locations on the map they couldn’t reach otherwise (i.e., getting Bastion and Orisa to high ground in Temple of Anubis) and contesting the point while defending on 2CP maps. Since then, Mei has found her place in the meta several times, often performing as an Off-Tank. However, recently we’ve seen her point stall capabilities as the main focus of team composition.
Route 66 has been the official home of experimentation: teams have been taking advantage of how open the first point of this map is to experiment with comps that can stay out of range of the almost invincible cluster that is GOATS (like the previously mentioned 4-DPS composition and the traditional Dive). However, Seoul Dynasty’s academy team - Gen. G - surprised the pioneers of the Quad DPS with another unusual defense for the first point of the map:
Gen G. vs. StormQuake - Mei stall
Gen. G came out of spawn with a composition that confused the casters: it didn’t have the shock factor of the reveal of the 4-DPS comp, but it raised many questions as they entered the cave with the Mega Health Pack. Were they planning to used the Halt-Hook combo? Maybe separate the enemy team with an Ice Wall and then Hook a key target? And, of course, were they simply trying out new stuff since they were already losing 3-0? While we don’t know the exact answer for the last question, we soon found out that Mei has a new way to stall the point.It
Ice Wall: the ultimate shield
The Watchpoint: Gibraltar underpass and the cave on Route 66 have more in common than just housing a Mega Health Pack: their entrance has the standard choke point size meaning that a Reinhardt shield or Mei’s Ice Wall will completely cover it; while standing on the edge of the entrance the payload will be contested and, unlike other choke points, the ceiling is low enough for Ice Wall to cover it not only in width but also in height. From there, the plan is simple: keep Mei alive.
Destroying the Ice Wall is possible. However, with three blocks of 500 hp each, even with focus fire it will take a while to break it open. We also need to take into account that the strongest and most popular composition, GOATS, has low damage output especially when Zarya has no damage sources to get a charge from and Zenyatta has no targets to place his Orb. When the time is up, or the Ice Wall is torn down, there are still other “walls” to get through: Mei’s Ice Block, Reinhardt’s shield, Roadhog’s large hitbox with damage reduction via Take a Breather, Orisa’s shield and pure body block with the aid of Fortify and the high healing output of Moira in close quarters. Even with high damage numbers, there are only a few seconds to break through this incredible defense: once the cooldown is over, Mei raises another Ice Wall and the cycle repeats itself over and over again. And let’s not forget, if the attacking team somehow manages to take down Mei, Mercy resurrect her and it’s back to square one.
While the loop is active, the payload is stuck just a few meters from its starting position. Of course, this cluster inside the cave is not invincible. Overwatch provides us with lots of tools to dispose of a team that stays together in a single spot; otherwise, Graviton Surge wouldn’t be one of the most potent abilities in the game. However, not only is a task that is easier in theory than in actual practice, it is essential to remind ourselves of the primary goal of this composition: stall the point.
Unlike the similar room in Gibraltar, the cave in Route 66 is very close to the start of its path. After a complete team wipe, there is time to strategize the retake, change to the optimal composition, regroup and position the team to prepare for the next team fight. In essence, it forces the enemy team to play in overtime, and we all know how big that kind of advantage is.
The metagame is ever evolving. After a significant balance patch or new hero introduction, the game is fresh, seeing the pros coming up with original, crazy compositions is exciting and brings a new life to competitive play. Still, no matter what changes are made, the meta will eventually be figured out, and the optimal way of play is discovered. This is when the game gets stale and less enjoyable to play but also when players and coaches are pushed to use their creativity to create something new.
May this be a reminder for all who are afraid that Season 2 of Overwatch League is going to be nothing of GOATS mirrors: yes, that may be what ends up happening, we may need another major balance patch to make the game more enjoyable for both the players and the viewers. However, there is always room for creativity. Who knows, we may be pleasantly surprised with the strategies those professional teams can come up with.