Overwatch: Rewind, Revisit

As the children sleep at their grandmother’s house, I sit here in the wee hours of the morning, my right hand caressing a gaming mouse that sits atop a 17-inch gaming mousepad purchased specifically for getting better at tracking and aiming in Overwatch. It is an endeavor that began in its most nascent form in December of last year when I bought the game and took a liking to D.va, the Korean pop star who pilots a tanky mech outfitted with boosters and flak cannons. I played her at every opportunity, dueling opposing Reinhardts and doing my best to place my ultimate ability in spots where it was sure to kill at least a few of the enemy team members. (It usually didn’t.) I thought I was a pretty decent D.va with all my shiny gold and silver medals for eliminations, objective kills, and damage done. Websites told me that my kill:death ratio was outstanding – I made myself difficult to take down, even if I wasn’t doing much else for my team. Little did I know that my experience then was largely characterized by the Dunning-Kruger Effect, one which in this context told me that I was bad, didn’t know that I was bad, and didn’t know why I was bad. Honestly, I didn’t think I was bad.

I was bad. Very, very bad.

What I was supposed to be doing, I discovered in retrospect, was using my Defense Matrix to block enemy ultimates, contesting the high ground (often without dueling), protecting my supports when they were being flanked, and generally creating space for my damage dealers and healers to do their jobs. Because I didn’t do these things – and didn’t understand that I needed to be doing these things – I lost games and ended Season 3 in mid-Bronze, an inflated rating at a time when many people inhabited tiers higher than where they should have been due to the Skill Rating system in place.

Season 4 saw me expand my hero pool to Mercy, Pharah, and Symmetra, only to hit rock bottom at my “true” skill rating: 812 SR. Through luck and a modicum of skill, I was able to end the season slightly above 1000 SR. In Season 5, the current season, something clicked and I rapidly rose to a place just above 1800 SR, only to lose 200 SR in a single marathon weekend “tilt” session, prompting a two week break from the game. And here I am at the end of Season 5, sitting solidly in mid-Silver at 1750 SR, with my intuition, observation of the ranks of the players I get matched with/against in Quick Play, and sites like c0derwatch.com telling me that my mechanics are at least low Gold.

Hello, Dunning-Kruger. We meet again.

I’ve certainly improved, somewhat, and the price has been severe: my most recent love affair with Tracer has required a great deal of my time in the form of warm-up drills in the training range, daily practice in custom games against hard bots, practice in Quick Play to acclimatize to actual players who don’t move anything like bots, and practice in Competitive Play where people want to win and, generally speaking, behave in a more organized fashion than what you will find in Quick Play. Failure on my part in engage in these activities on – at the very least – an every other day basis results in mechanical skill decay and loss of muscle memory that does not regenerate for several days or even weeks.

This is a problem. Tracer is a high skill floor, high skill ceiling flanker whose job is to coordinate her backline assaults on the enemy supports, squishies, and tanks with her team’s front line engagement. In the absence of kills, her role is to harass, annoy, and make people chase her, taking precious resources away from the main engagement in the hopes of giving her team the upper hand. It takes a great deal of skill to be a not-bad Tracer. The very, very good Tracers possess a trained skill set that resides somewhere in outer space.

Naturally, Tracer needs very, very good aim.

I devoted myself to improving my aim. I lowered my sensitivity to 1000 dpi @ 4.8, a combination which requires 28.86 cm (11.36 in) to execute a 360 degree turn in game. My wrist chafed for weeks as I got used to sweeping my mouse across my mouse pad with my entire arm. I practiced switching between finger aiming, wrist aiming, and arm aiming (depending on the distance between you and your target) until it became second nature. I trained my muscle memory as often as I could stand to. I even played Aim Hero on Steam for eight hours, a game that allows you to simulate your Overwatch settings in a sterile environment designed specifically for training your aim. (Turns out the best way to get better at aiming in Overwatch is to play Overwatch.)

I’ve hit my limits, though.

My aim after all these months still isn’t good enough to win games as Tracer. Today was the last day of Season 5; against my better judgement I decided to play some competitive matches on my second Origins account – one that I paid $60 for and spent hours upon hours leveling up to 25 through excruciatingly uncoordinated Quick Play matches to make it eligible to queue for competitive play. An account that I created specifically to play Tracer. I lost five in a row. In each game, I couldn’t hit anything, couldn’t engage the enemy team without five people immediately looking at me and reacting, and couldn’t go more than a minute without someone looking at my profile and asking me to switch to Mercy, my second most played hero on my secondary account – because sometimes I wanted to win.

After seventy or so games as D.va in Season 3, my competitive win rate was about 37% – an indicator that one needs to find a different hero. My win rate on Tracer this season is 33%. The writing is on the wall.

So I suppose I should have seen this second uninstall coming at some point. It wasn’t my fault, though – I fell in love with her, her play style, her charismatic attitude, and her penchant for being a zip-a-dee-doo-dah little shit.

Once upon a time, Tracer’s butt was front and center. No longer.

I could play her all day, and have on the rare occasion that the children are away, there is nothing else that needs to be done, and I’m not going to be interrupted. The problem with Tracer is not that I can’t be good at her – I have had my moments, and they make me smile – but that I need at least three hours of concentrated play before I start to be not bad at her, regardless of the amount of previous warm-up, practice, and training that I’ve engaged in.

It’s a heavy time investment, one that leaves emotional and psychological debris when I play games in which I am bad and tank ranked games for my team. I look back and think to myself that perhaps I could have done something more productive with all that time rather than doggedly persisting – by now, for three months during this second attempt – at something that ultimately does not yield rewards in the form of fiero or even simple satisfaction.

The lows in Overwatch are low, but the highs are just…well, not low. I’m supposed to be good at the hero I’m playing, I say to myself.

The Duke of O counseled me earlier this year to rejig my parameters. I tried playing Overwatch casually, but I can’t ignore the element of competition. I’m a cooperative player by nature, generally gravitating toward the role of tank and healer in MMOs, so when players clash in any context, my ego comes online immediately and quite forcefully. If I lose, it means I’m a failure. I need to win. To win, I must be good. Having attempted to be good at the role of protector (D.va) in Overwatch and failed, I then tried the role of assassin (Tracer) and have reached my limits. I could be good at her, given a Herculean, parent-unfriendly time investment, but I haven’t been good at her, so, pragmatically speaking, I can’t.

To make a third attempt as a support hero such as Mercy embodies the definition of insanity. You can expect a third such post some time next year.