Roles in Overwatch can be difficult to define. In the current meta, which heavily favors compositions with three tanks and three supports, there's plenty of overlap when it comes to which heroes are played by which players, causing the distinctions between roles to become messy.
For Gael "Poko" Gouzerch of the Philadelphia Fusion, the flex-tank role is not difficult to define. In fact, according to him, the role actually consists of just one hero.
"Flex tank is, like... you're in D.Va jail, basically," Poko told me plainly, and shrugged. "I just play a lot, a lot, a lot of D.Va."
Many pros and analysts will agree that D.Va is the most important hero in Overwatch. She's been a staple of every meta since her major rework in 2016, having stubbornly remained a must-pick no matter the patch. Having a good D.Va player has always been imperative to a team's success, but never more than it has been recently, as Los Angeles Valiant's Indy "Space" Halpern explained.
"Before, D.Va was mainly used for Defense Matrix, and that was about it," he said. "Right now, though, I feel like whichever team has the better D.Va will usually win, because you can do so much more with your kit in this meta. In 2-2-2, it felt more like the DPS and main tank would do all the work while the D.Va kind of hung back."
D.Va's must-pick status in every meta so far means that the responsibilities of the role have changed over time. Jun-Ho "Fury" Kim, who plays for the London Spitfire, thinks that her prominence is due to how easily she can slot into any playstyle, regardless of team or meta.
"I think the role of flex tank is really broad, and specific to each team," Fury said. "Even though the meta right now is completely different to last year's meta, your playstyle or hero picks are still specific to what each team wants. The role of the flex tank isn't necessarily affected by the meta, but more by the team's colors."
Since there's historically been very little actual flexing for D.Va players, the term "flex tank" is sometimes used sarcastically. However, in this meta, a popular strategy to counter the tight formation of 3-3 compositions involves the team's flex tank embracing the "flex" part of their role and switching to a DPS hero. The most commonly used hero in this situation is Sombra, although some teams have gotten creative.
Poko: "My favorite flex tank to play is Zarya, because you can do whatever you want if your teammates follow up on it."
Hotba: "Zarya. Because I can carry."
Rck: "I like playing D.Va, because to get better at her you have to watch a lot of what other D.Vas are doing, and use what you learn from them to your advantage."
Fury: "I actually enjoy playing D.Va because every time you play her, it's a little different, and there are always new and unique situations to adapt to. I find that very stimulating."
Jjanu: "I really want to showcase my Roadhog skill onstage, since I've never been able to as a pro player."
Space: "Roadhog is definitely my favorite. When I played him, I felt like I was the best Roadhog in North America, hands down, and I'd like to be able to compete against players from other regions to prove myself."
In Week 5 of Stage 2, the Boston Uprising's match against the Los Angeles Gladiators featured flex tank Richard "Rck" Kanerva bringing out an unexpected Mei on Oasis University, a pick that stumped their opponents and led to a map win. Rck clocked a stunning zero seconds of playtime on D.Va through all of Oasis, and the Uprising went on to claim an upset victory over the then-undefeated Gladiators.
"I tried out [for Contenders] as a DPS before I swapped my role to flex tank," Rck said. "Since I have a good background of being a DPS player, it's easy for me to switch to any DPS hero if it's required. I think it's good to abuse that as much as possible." He smiled as he recalled the match. "Oasis was very enjoyable for me."
He's not the only flex tank in the league with a history of playing DPS. In 2016, Vancouver Titans flex tank Hyeon-Woo "Jjanu" Choi rose to prominence as an Overwatch streamer known for being a "Reaper one-trick." Unlike Rck, though, Jjanu’s DPS days are now very much a thing of the past, as he has yet to meaningfully play a non-tank hero this season.
"There aren't any situations where I have to play DPS, because there's just so much to do as D.Va," he said. "You need to know everything that's happening and react to everything right away."
The Titans' 3-3 is as textbook as it gets, with very little room—or need—for mixing and matching, but for other teams, the rise in popularity of DPS heroes in the current meta has led to many more flex tanks having to familiarize themselves with non-D.Va heroes, including Tracer, Pharah, and even the odd Torbjörn.
For Hong-Jun "Hotba" Choi from the Guangzhou Charge, flexing onto DPS heroes been a welcome change and a new opportunity to prove himself after spending 2018 with Philadelphia.
"I really enjoy playing DPS, like when I have to switch to Tracer," he said. He named Brandon "Seagull" Larned, who played DPS before swapping to D.Va for the Dallas Fuel last season, as his role model. "I think that besides Seagull, I am the best 'flex' tank. My goal is to be like Seagull—whatever roles or heroes I need to play, I can play them well for the team."
There was an interesting phrase that cropped up in two different conversations; both Poko and Jjanu described D.Va as having "infinite potential." The other players gave her similar praise, with Rck referring to D.Va as "a perfect hero" and Space calling her kit "the most well-rounded" in the game.
It's hard to argue against D.Va being Overwatch's most important hero, and each player has different specific ideas on how they might change her, but ultimately they all agreed that her damage output might need to be reduced—everyone except Fury, who had a more radical suggestion.
What could Fury, the poster boy for ult negation, possibly have to say about changing D.Va?
"If they just got rid of Defense Matrix completely, it would make my life a lot easier," he said, grinning. "Because then I wouldn't have to think about how I use it all the time!"