During the first week of the 2019 Overwatch League season, it quickly became clear that despite the continued dominance of the triple-tank, triple-support composition, there was also plenty of room for flexibility. Some teams played comps that included three or even four DPS heroes, while others ran a variation of the triple-triple comp, with several off-tank players showing off their abilities to flex to Sombra.
Despite the wide variety of comps and heroes seen during opening week, one of the roles that never changes is the main tank.
"Main tank has always been important, but right now it's the single most important role," said Dong-Gyu "Mano" Kim, who plays main tank for the New York Excelsior. "In this meta, if the main tank dies, it's like two people have died."
In the age of 3-3 team comps, main tank stats look drastically different. Stat producer Ben “CaptainPlanet” Trautman breaks down some of the changes and standout players in his first weekly column.
Because controlling the pace of the game is essential, main tanks are usually prioritized when it comes to focusing targets. A common strategy is for the Zenyatta player to leave their Discord Orb on the enemy main tank, making it easier for the team to burst them down and win the fight.
There are four heroes typically classified as main tanks: Reinhardt, Winston, Orisa, and Wrecking Ball. Though most players prefer one hero over the others, all four play crucial roles in different team comps, to the point where certain comps are built specifically with the main tank in mind. Reinhardt and Orisa are typically seen in more tight-knit comps, while the mobility of Winston and Wrecking Ball allow the team to take unconventional angles of approach during an initiation.
"Pretty much any team composition you play is picked solely based around the main tank," Houston Outlaws main tank Austin "Muma" Wilmot said. "While you're playing it, you should know that every hero is there just to complement you. Making sure your team is all playing as a unit is the most important thing."
As the Overwatch meta has shifted from the fast-paced dive meta of yesteryear to the controlled triple-triple meta that we see today, so too have the duties of the main tank. In 2016, Jin-Hyuk "Miro" Gong, who played for the Seoul Dynasty last season, proved that main tank players were more than capable of being solo carries. Now, however, in a post-Miro world, main tanks are far more reliant on their teams in every sense.
"How I want to adjust my play going forward isn't really something that I can decide for myself," said Jae-Hui "Gesture" Hong, London Spitfire's main tank. The defending champions went 0-2 during opening week, raising questions about their capabilities in the new meta. "Since the meta is so centric on team play, it's really important that I talk to everyone on my team including the coaches and players to try and decide what kind of playstyle we want to hone in on."
Hyeon-Jun "Pokpo" Park, who began his professional career in 2017 in South Korea and now plays for the Atlanta Reign, has had extensive experience in both the dive meta and the more tank-heavy compositions that take precedence today.
"Previously, during metas like dive, playing main tank was mostly reliant on positioning and the timing of when to go in," Pokpo said. "Right now, because everyone is playing [triple-triple], it's more oriented towards team play rather than positioning or initiation."
During the 2018 season, top main tanks like Gesture and Mano were known for going on odd flanks separate from the rest of their team, something that was possible and even beneficial due to the previous meta favoring mobility and coordinated dives. Nowadays, getting caught out of position as a main tank can easily lead to a lost fight or even a lost map.
"In this meta, playing main tank depends on how your team wants to play," said Matthew "Super" DeLisi, one of the San Francisco Shock's two main tanks. "If you overstep or if you play too slow, you can get punished really easily by the other team. You can do solo plays and carry plays, but a lot of the time it's just really dependent on your team."
Since main tank is such a pivotal role in any team comp, main tank players need to be able to adjust their playstyle depending on the situation. For example, aggressing on the opponent can force an enemy support to use their ultimate, at which point a main tank may recognize that the team should back out and wait until the support ultimate has worn off before re-engaging. Midgame adaptation is something that all Overwatch players need to keep in mind, but it's especially important when you're playing the character that everyone around you is focused on protecting.
What about the hamster?
Wrecking Ball, the newest main tank hero, has even more mobility than Winston, which makes him a natural fit for DPS-heavy comps, as Super explains: “When you jump in as Winston, it becomes a hard commit, but Wrecking Ball can go up in the sky, slam down, and then run. That leaves the enemies suspended in the air, which can give your Widow an easy shot or give your Tracer a one-clip.”
"I think I'm a hybrid in terms of playstyle," Mano said. "When I need to be aggressive, I play aggressively, but when I need to be defensive, I play defensively." Every other player surveyed said something similar; in a game where even small missteps can come with the cost of losing entire matches, recognizing when to switch up your playstyle—and instruct your team to do the same—is imperative.
Typically, support players are the most vocal, keeping track of enemy ultimates and making important calls, but given the need for main tanks to take the lead when approaching the enemy team, main tank players tend to have a significant role in the team's shotcalling structure.
"The main two things that I shotcall for on our team are where we want to move to and how we want to get there, as well as how to use our current ultimates," Gesture said.
"As for target calls and shotcalling, my team usually does those," said Pokpo, who plays on an international roster that communicates mostly in English. "I usually just tell everyone where we need to go."
Though main tanks typically haven't received much attention due to the lack of flashy plays that they've historically displayed, people are beginning to pay more attention to the game sense and knowledge required to perform well as a main tank. Although the role is often undervalued by viewers in terms of how much the team's overall play depends on it, there’s no denying that it’s central to success—no matter what the meta is.