Overwatch is a complex strategic game, and it's the job of the Overwatch League analyst desk to break it down for the audience. Sometimes we use words or phrases that might be unfamiliar to new fans, who deserve a more detailed explanation. In this series of articles, I'm going to explain some common terms so viewers won't get lost when watching live!
At any given point, an Overwatch game can have up to 12 different heroes on the field, all performing a different role. To make sense of the strategy in these complicated systems, we use simple models to break down the teamwork into manageable chunks.
The most common way of modeling teams in Overwatch is to think about separating them into two units: the frontline and the backline. Both “lines” have very different jobs, and broadly speaking most teams play by splitting their team into two—though sometimes there are flankers or players in the middle.
Korean analysts refer to heroes who play between the frontline and backline—usually D.Va—as the “torso” holding the team together.
A frontline normally consists of the tanks for a team and any aggressive heroes like Tracer, Sombra, or Genji. The backline includes both supports and any defensive heroes like Soldier: 76 or McCree.
In a normal dive setup, the frontline has a lot of players in it, indicating that dive is an aggressive composition. Winston, D.Va, Genji, and Tracer all sit in the front, while the supports are left safe in the back. By playing in the supports’ line of sight, the frontline can be healed and D.Va can easily return to the backline to peel when needed.
If a team runs Widowmaker or Soldier: 76 instead of Genji, however, this second DPS hero generally sits in the backline with their supports. Widowmaker is a hero who benefits from being safe while having an angle on the fight—even better if she’s being damage-boosted by Mercy—while Soldier: 76 outputs great damage even from a distance and can help peel for his supports with a Biotic Field or by shooting threats.
Now that we’ve modeled each team as two moving parts, we can start thinking about how teams get an advantage. Usually, frontlines have to decide to either defend their backline or attack the other team’s frontline. Once that decision has been made, the team also has to decide whether D.Va will go aggressive with the other frontline heroes or remain in a defensive position. Examining how teams split their frontline and backline can provide an insight into team playstyle and strategy.
To use a famous example, the London Spitfire often play with only their Winston and Tracer in the frontline. Jae-Hui “Gesture” Hong and Jun-Young “Profit” Park are good enough to still find kills against the enemy supports while their other four players survive in the London backline. This gives London an advantage in fights because they commit D.Va as well as a DPS hero to protecting their supports, whereas other teams need more people in the frontline to get kills. They can both win fights by splitting up intelligently or adapt on the fly to change the number of players in each fight.
This model can apply to any composition. Even when teams group up and push as one, usually behind a Reinhardt, they often split up later in the fight as the tanks move forward and the supports stay safe. There are notable exceptions to this rule—some Lúcio or Mercy players play aggressively instead of with their support partner—but overall the concept of each team having a frontline and a backline can help you model and understand Overwatch at a high level!