Behind the brave deeds of every hero is a story. Behind every story is a spirit. The essence of heroes is an ambitious interview series that aims to uncover the nature of each hero by asking its most skilled specialists to reveal their thought processes. In doing so, we also learn a lot about the hero behind the keyboard. This time we ask: What is essential to “Soldier:76 – Run Fast, Old Man“?
This year your career has taken a rocket launch of a trajectory. From bird noises, to Hammers, to Luminosity Gaming Evil, the only thing that ever seemed to change for your team in 2017 was the organisation you played under and the increasingly smaller numeral of your placings. Probably the only underperformance this year was not qualifying for Contenders NA Season 1. You crowned your achievements with becoming a starting and core member for Team USA in the Overwatch World Cup and you delivered a great performance for the stars and stripes. I wager a guess that you’ve received your fair share of offers for Overwatch League too.
A year ago, who was JAKE as a player? Did he think he would be where he is right now?
In October of last year, bird noises had just recently come together as a team of talented individual players who saw enormous potential in one other. We knew then that we were going to give 100% to ‘make it’ as professional players in Overwatch, and with the announcement of the OWL we had an immediate and obvious goal to strive for. My role was first as a team leader and second as a player. At this time, I was performing managerial duties for the team (scrim scheduling, tournament registration, and player coordination) while also being a full time college student. This was pretty stressful for me, and I think my level of play suffered as a result. At this point, though, I knew that if I could handle it all with such an extreme workload then I would only get better as I transitioned into being a full time professional gamer. I didn’t think much about where I would be in a year, but rather just focused on putting one foot in front of the other and working toward each successive goal as it presented itself.
— Houston Outlaws (@OutlawsOW) November 2, 2017
JAKE was recently signed by the Houston Outlaws and is the Captain for Team USA at the Overwatch World Cup 2017.
Since June, you’ve started to put your thoughts into writing on your own blog. What is the motivation behind it? Does the process help you sort your ideas out or is it just a way to connect with and educate fans?
It’s definitely a bit of both. Mindgames is not only an outlet for my musings about competitive Overwatch but also a chance to lift the level of discussion in the community. I enjoy the writing process. My secret hope is that some people at Blizzard might read it too…
What was the process of finding your role in Overwatch like? Was there ever a moment where you reflected on your own talents and skill distribution and decided that DPS would be the role for you? If so, what were the factors you considered?
I’ve always wanted to play a character that I can have a high individual impact on. For me the obvious choice has always been DPS as I very much enjoy the grind of constant practice to stay one of the best. If I weren’t a DPS player, I think I would do well on Flex Support as I could pivot a bit more towards my calling and a bit away from a mechanical focus while still filling a similar niche.
Moving to Soldier:76, I’d like to begin with an open question and see where it takes us. What is playing the hero at a top competitive level like?
Playing Soldier:76 in a competitive environment is usually part of a ‘protect the president’ strategy. Your sustained damage output and sustainability is generally unmatched at mid+ range, so you want to put the enemy team into a situation where they must be the ones to engage. The longer the fight goes, the more likely you are to win as your constant DPS output eclipses the burst of Tracer and Genji. Your primary objective is thus survival while your secondary objective is sustained damage. This means that, in general, you want to be running rather than shooting as the other team engages. In most situations, using sprint to achieve positional superiority will enable you to survive much longer and so output much more damage over the course of an even fight.
Soldier:76 sits at a 30% pickrate and he hasn’t been overbearing or irrelevant in a while. Ever since his spray was changed, he’s only ever had minor number adjustments. He has a bunch of options available to him, with certain tech even enjoys some verticality to his movement. While Soldier came on as a vanilla FPS archetype, his flavour should now at least be Stracciatella. The difference between Soldiers of different skill levels seems fairly apparent and observing him first person often evokes lots of hype in fans.
Is Soldier:76 the gold standard of hero design in Overwatch? If so, what underlying concepts or ideas could Blizzard take to improve on other heroes?
Soldier is a character that is relatively easy to balance. His skills have synergy, but none of the explosive snowball potential of a character like Genji. Changing the damage on Pulse Rifle by 1 can have a significant but predictable impact on the character. I don’t think that this strategy is too applicable to many other characters; Soldier is just a relatively easy character to balance. If he ever feels too weak and in need of a buff, I would personally like to see subtle changes like increasing the pushback of helix rocket rather than pure damage buffs. For now, though, the character seems to be in a great spot.
Do you feel there is a skill gate component to the hero where players with excellent tracking can employ different strategies than those with lesser mechanics? How do these players match up? If it’s the case, do you experience this on other heroes too?
On Soldier:76, your playstyle should generally be the same regardless of your skill level. Characters like Genji & Tracer meld survivability and damage output, so more skillful players can be exponentially more aggressive because killing your opponents more quickly means less time that you have to dodge. The biggest thing on S76 is to not underestimate your opponents. There is no reason to face down an aggressive tracer when you could easily back up to teammates or wait for a heal station cooldown, generally flanking aggressors are the ones who have to extend to kill you: there’s no reason to give them what they want (a 1v1) when Soldier is so effective at working in tandem with his teammates.
Your ability to land helix rockets can certainly be a game changer though, as the reliability of your directs is going to have significant consequences for your ability to kill Dragonblades or attacking Tracers. For these situations, movement is also key. Understanding the flow of a Dragonblade (predicting when the Genji will want to dash) and the timing of a Pulse Bomb (guessing when the Tracer will go for the stick) are crucial pieces of knowledge upon which movement skill is predicated.
We’ve seen fairly different playstyles for Soldier. Some use him as a unit in the backline, mostly dealing sustained damage from further back, often exploiting high ground advantages. Other players like to get into the middle of the fight and try to overwhelm their opponents with superior mechanics and momentum. What type of Soldier do you prefer and which is more effective in the current meta?
In my opinion, Soldier is best suited to offer sustained DPS output from the backline. Since Sprint prevents you from shooting or looking away from the direction of movement, you very rarely want to sprint towards the enemy team. The ability is most useful to escape an enemy engagement and to reposition oneself for success in the fight. In the current meta, it is perfectly acceptable to spend the first 5 seconds of a fight just running away. If the enemy continues to commit to chasing you, you are better off continuing to run as long as is necessary; your team should be able to clean up the opposing overextension.
Don’t prioritize your survival too highly, though. Knowing when to turn, drop Heal Station, and commit to the fight is a key skill for Soldier. You want to commit as quickly as you can without dying. You shouldn’t run so far that you don’t take damage and can’t drop a heal station that is useful to your teammates, but if you turn too early and die then your team is at an even more significant disadvantage. Knowing how to split the difference here is one of the most important parts of Soldier:76 gamesense. Pushing the character to its limit requires a lot of trial and error in this area.
One really fun aspect about Soldier is that he has been mostly untouched in his probably unintended interactions and as a result, he’s rich in tricks and tech. As previously mentioned, we have Helix Rocket jumps into mid-air sprints to cover bigger distances and to jump higher heights. We have reload animation cancelling with Helix Rocket. Are there any other things you know of and would like to share with us that you regularly employ and find useful?
Helix jumping is definitely the most useful tech for Soldier. Exploring maps in a private custom game will yield some jumps that you might not have thought possible.
Beyond that, the animation for Tactical Visor can be cancelled by dropping a Heal Station just after you commit to the ultimate. This is especially useful when you want to take a ‘man-fight’ with a tac visor in a contested area.
Another useful animation cancel is Helix Rocket into melee. This combo can burst a tracer at point blank range from full HP; try to bait her into coming around a corner towards you to engineer this point blank scenario. If she doesn’t know you are there, this can be a free pick to open up the fight.
You are asked to create the perfect Soldier:76 player as an RPG character. 10 skill points can be spent and there are no limits as to how many you can put in each category as long as the total sum is 10.
Aim/Mechanical skill: 3
Game sense: 5 (Should call this category: “To sprint or not to sprint”)
Shot calling: 2
Complete the sentence.
Overwatch World Cup to me is…
…a chance to prove the world wrong and show that the best of the West can compete with Korea.
Ranked queue this season is…
…good for practicing mechanics (and nothing else).
The best Soldier:76 I have played against was…
…D A F R A N
A god among men.
Esports career 2016-2017 R.I.P.