What I Learned From A Year's Worth Of Overwatch Coaching

One year ago, I dropped from Platinum rank to Gold in Overwatch's competitive mode. Even though it was just a number, it felt like a huge defeat. Since then, over the last year, I've been working with a coach to improve my game. I thought I was just chasing after my old rank, but I was wrong.

I consider myself a pretty good video game player. I've been playing first-person shooters online since the days of Unreal Tournament and Team Fortress Classic. Overwatch was a natural fit, and I spent hours each night playing Blizzard's hero shooter as soon as it launched in 2016. When the competitive mode launched, I did my placements and ranked in Platinum.

In Overwatch, the order of ranks goes Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master and Grandmaster. Platinum is far from the highest rank, but it was a reassurance that I had a solid grasp on the game. I was an OK player and I had a metric that showed that.

I skipped Season Two, but kept my Platinum rank in Season Three. However, after skipping Season Four, in Season Five I dropped to Gold.

My work here at Kotaku means that I have to play a lot of games, particularly when review season hits. That doesn't leave a lot of time for Overwatch, which means that my skills would likely only atrophy further unless I did something about it.

As online games develop, the skill ceiling increases as players learn characters and new metagames form. When I slipped in June, it seemed impossible to press forward on my own. So I looked for a coach.

Prior to all of this, Kotaku senior reporter Cecilia D'Anastasio wrote a story in which she played with female Overwatch players selling their in-game company. Curious, I looked there to see if anyone was offering coaching services.

There were about 50 players selling services from coaching to boosting. I focused on those who mentioned coaching and gravitated to players with higher ranks.

I decided to enlist the services of a skilled Overwatch player who has since gone on to play in the Overwatch Contenders League, the AA answer to Overwatch League's major league. They advertised sessions that would "help others improve their game play to reach their desired rank for the season".

I worked with them for one session before deciding they were a poor fit. They were a good player but not necessarily a great coach. I wasn't learning so much as watching someone else who was way better than I could ever be.

Later in June, disappointed but determined to give it another try, I looked for a new coach and found the perfect person for the job.

"Overwatch is hard," their page said. "But not as hard as you think… If you just want some game knowledge or a good friend that can keep your head on straight during a rough game. I'll make sure that you're completely satisfied and see improvement."

Quin Reid is a 22-year-old IT professional living in Florida. An avid gamer, he developed a competitive streak while playing Counter-Strike "surf" maps, difficult obstacle courses where players compete to earn world record times.

Curious about Overwatch, although sceptical because he felt it looked too much like Valve's Team Fortress 2, he picked up the game and started playing the competitive mode. In his first season, he placed Platinum. He is now a Master-ranked player.

When Reid hit Diamond rank in Season Three, he couldn't believe it. "I thought I must have gotten lucky with my teams," he told me via a Discord call. "After that, I kept pushing a little bit more each day. I ended up hitting Master and when I hit that, all my stress went away."

I started working with Reid in semi-regular sessions where we would run drills and work specific exercises to improve my performance. My first session cost $US15 ($20), after which Reid turned down offers for payment on subsequent sessions. We coordinated through a Discord he created for friends and other players.

"It wasn't necessarily about the money," Reid said. "I think I get half the revenue off Fiverr," which is a website where individuals can sell various services.

"That's not a sustainable income, but it was a way to connect with people and having a small group of people to bounce ideas off of. I gained a lot of friends from doing that. That's what Fiverr did for me."

The process was a more focused experience than I experienced with my previous coach, who mostly offered on-the-fly critique during matches. Sometimes, Reid ran me through drills in private matches that would test my raw mechanical skills.

For example, he would make me pick Zarya and focus on a particular piece of level geometry, say a small sign. I would have to fire at that location while moving around. The exercise was meant to help with my aim and tracking.

Another drill involved playing as the revolver-spinning cowboy McCree while Reid played Tracer, the game's speedy mascot who has the ability to quickly "blink" short distances. My job was to stun him using my flashbang and kill him with headshots only.

Other times, Reid would pick heroes that I, using my favourite characters, would have to counter. I learned how to properly track a Pharah as Soldier 76. I worked on dodging Roadhog's hook as Tracer.

These sessions would usually happen after work around 7:30PM EST, near the end of the week. We would do sessions one to three times per month, opening up with a period of warm up in the practice range before moving to drills and concluding with some Quick Play.

The sessions lasted for about an hour, with Reid and I communicating over Discord. We talked about the game, our daily lives, politics, and whatever suited our mood. When it was time to focus on coaching, Reid was attentive and never criticised my gameplay without detailed explanations of where to improve.

"There's some people who can just sit down and get Masters in a week without playing Overwatch before," Reid said. "It's demoralising for the folks who are trying hard. But it's more than that, because they have probably spent hours and hours and hours building skills in other games and understanding the basics. The basics are what people are missing."

I started to expand my heroes, using healers such as Lucio, Mercy and Moira to help carry teams at the lower rank. I learned tank characters such as Zarya and Orisa for added versatility.

Our sessions began to grow from drills into more in-depth breakdowns. Reid would observe matches as I played them, sometimes tasking me with focusing my fire on a certain enemy until they were defeated. Eventually, I was able to pick choice targets without input.

He took me around maps, hiding in locations that certain characters would frequent, tasking me to hunt him down in a limited amount of time.

We would play matches in Quick Play, Reid picking my hero to help me learn how to flex into support or tank roles more comfortably.

There was never any boosting, the practice of having a skilled player play alongside a lesser player to inflate their rank. Instead, the challenge was for me to learn maps, learn heroes, and run drills to improve my mechanical skill.

As time went on, I began to worry less and less about my actual rank. Initially, I wanted Platinum again. But when I finished Season Eight, my skill rating had improved from 2040 to 2225. It was still Gold rank, but I had made gains, and I wasn't nearly as frustrated as I thought I would be. I was improving, learning the game and playing characters I'd rarely bothered with before.

Much of my Season Eight play was spent playing healing characters that many players in Gold seemed to shy away from. I might have preferred putting my Tracer skills to the test, but my coaching had allowed me to become more flexible. I still had a competitive spirit in me, but it was healthier and focused on lifting up my team.

I progressed slowly. I blame this on my inability to play the game on a reliable schedule. I was never able to set a dedicated schedule for coaching. I had to sneak it in between personal obligations, livestreaming on Kotaku's Twitch channel, and playing games for work.

But in order to truly climb the ladder, you need to invest time. I simply didn't have enough to spare, which prevented me from improving in certain aspects.

My biggest problem was a tendency to overthink and get overwhelmed as a result. I could pick targets, such as aiming to take down the enemy's Mercy, but I often began to seize up if complications arose. If a teammate fed too far forward and died, for instance, I had difficult adjusting. Reid was quick to point out my Overwatch weaknesses even as he was eager to cheer my successes.

"When there's a million things going on, you get sidetracked," Reid told me. "That's your biggest issue. You need to say: 'This is my objective, this is what I need to do for the next zero point eight seconds, and after that, I'll make a new decision.' You think too much ahead and try to form big game plans. Worry about the next half a second."

It was good advice. Focus on the small things, think about what you're doing at any given moment to improve your chances of success. That isn't limited to Overwatch either, that's a life lesson hidden inside of a video game. I took the advice to heart, writing self-critiques of my play and trying to sneak in more matches. In the lead up to this month, I worked with Reid more than I ever had before.

I recently did my placements for Season 10. I'm still in Gold, but my initial placement is within spitting distance of Platinum. With a little bit of spare time, I know I can hit my old rank.

The skill ceiling in Overwatch will continue to rise, and I might not be able to stay in Platinum once I get there. I don't really know what will happen once I'm back to my original rank. But I do know that I've improved as both an Overwatch player and a person, thanks to my coach. I'd rather have that than stress myself to death chasing a number that no one else really cares about.

"I'd suggest to anyone that wants to try coaching, just do it," Reid said. It doesn't matter if you're Platinum coaching Bronze, or a Grandmaster coaching a Master player. It doesn't matter what game you play or what you do. If you can have that conversation with someone else, you'll understand yourself, and the way you play, better."

Coaching others has improved Reid's life, too. "I'm playing with people who are passionate, the ones who want to learn and get better," he said. "It's not just about Overwatch. There are things you can improve in your life, and you can't do that just living every single day without knowing what's wrong. Outside assistance can lift you up."


Comments

    The point at which a game becomes an exercise in min/maxing trivial improvements in my gameplay is the point at which I completely lose all interest in it.

      Reminds me alot of playing soccer, running the same agility and passing drills over and over.

      gradually it becomes automatic

    Come next Summer event and I'll have played Overwatch for exactly 1 year and I've still played ZERO comp games. Feels good!

      I usually gt in the habit of playing my placement matches and then heading back to Mystery Heroes and Quickplay. I feel way more comfortable when there isn't any pressure to play well awesome with a META comp to boot. In fact I think its way more enjoyable that way. Attack torb and bastion, 100% hilarious with the right group of mates.

      Same here, didn't even know competitive was a thing until I'd finished with playing the game endlessly and was pretty much just jumping in for the events to grind some loot boxes.

        I have been in Arcade only mode since about a month in, the default gamemode doesn't feel very fun. I am pretty much just here for the elim and boxes.

      Follow up: I've made a bunch of friends through Quick Play so I'm on Discord servers with them for voice chat, and the ones who play comp regularly seem to discuss their rank with such agony. It's just not an emotional labour I want to expend: I need that energy for playing horror games or heartfelt games with sad endings.

    It didn't even occur to me that there you could get "coached" in a video game! Makes sense so I went over to fiverr to have a look for myself. On searching for Overwatch I see there are lots of ads for girls offering to "Play overwatch with you" - is this coaching or can you legitimately get an "escort" for gaming?

      This would definitely be an escort man, which is really strange to think about!
      Not to say girl players can't coach, it just makes sense there'd be a market for this.

    I've never really sought out a gaming coach before. Looks like yours knows how to encourage and lead people and would make a great boss to have. I've been trying out heroes I never play and practising in the gun range or in Mystery Heroes. Just the other night I spent a good 15mins in the range trying out my Widow sniping skills. Things like moving to different vantage points and taking out moving targets. Straight after that I jumped into a quickplay match. Right at the start I managed to get 2 headshot kills to help push our team to first point. Felt good seeing my practice working well.

    I'll also say events like junkenstein and uprising helped me out with playing McCree as well. Learning to quickly pop off shots without trying to track. I got the hint on practicing this from an interview with one of the OWL players , Pine. He said if your mouse settings are optimised for your hand movements then you can definitely pop some nice shots and to get practicing. I used the events to help me with targeting moving objects and its been good practice.

    You either need to be a smurf who can fight off an entire team or play in a party. That's the only way not to lose rank.

    Otherwise it's a guarantee you will. I recently hit Silver (pretty solidly) after starting well in platinum. I go up and down (and it'll be a challenge to go up from where I am now after my wife rebooted the router in the middle of the game last weekend and when I logged back in I had about 100 points taken off my SR) between gold and silver but it's can be anywhere between 1800-2100 depending on how many people in my team play DPS exclusively.

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