Staggering kills is an important tactic in competitive Overwatch. It refers to delaying eliminations against a team to force them to respawn one by one rather than letting them regroup at the same time. Since the spawn timer is set at 10 seconds for each player in regulation play, any kill that stops the opposition from coordinating an attack wastes a chunk of precious time as they must wait for the most recently eliminated player.
In essence, winning games in Overwatch is all about the clock. The attackers are trying to win fights as quickly as possible and convert those wins into more capture time or payload distance, while the defenders are attempting to draw out the fights to whittle time off the clock and give the offensive team fewer opportunities to advance the objective.
When the defending team realizes they have won a fight, they are then at liberty to delay the eliminations of the remaining enemies to draw more time off the clock. The 10-second timer to wait for the last hero to respawn keeps getting pushed further and further back, leading many players to seek environmental deaths in an attempt to hasten the reset.
If an environmental death isn’t possible, the defending team can take full advantage to further stagger the opposition with abilities like Sleep Dart, Chain Hook, and body blocks, as frequently demonstrated against a de-suited D.Va.
Attackers typically do not utilize the same stagger tactics in most situations, because even a single defender has the ability to block progress on a capture point or payload. They can, however, employ a similar tactic by aggressively chasing down targets. This forces defenders away from the objective and potentially leads to staggered spawns, allowing for an advantage in the next fight or more unobstructed progress for the next 10 seconds or more.
On the flip side, as a defender it’s important—when possible—to die near the payload when a fight is lost. If death is inevitable, players can still extract value in being eliminated when blocking the objective and stalling their opponent’s progress for a few seconds.
Casters use this term to refer to a team that spawns closer to the location of the fight or payload, as reduced distance means players can get back to the action more quickly. This type of advantage is particularly prominent on Assault Point B, because the defending team’s spawn room is very close to the objective.
Although being staggered is normally a mistake, and teams generally try to reset and regroup as fast as possible, there is one notable situation where it’s the optimal strategy.
When defending with a large spawn advantage—such as on Assault Point B—teams can deliberately stagger their deaths one by one, contesting the objective in a chain. If the defenders can contest long enough to get a few re-spawned players back in the fight, or even get a pick in the process, they have a good chance of stabilizing and holding off the attackers.
Teams have made an art form out of this strategy, swapping onto heroes such as Mei for her Ice Wall fencing and Cryo-Freeze invulnerability, Sombra for her invisibility during Stealth, and D.Va and Winston for their large health pools and powerful stalling ultimates.