How Roadhog is defining the Overwatch League playoff meta

Roadhog went from a meme pick to a key part of several team compositions. Provided by Blizzard

When hero pools were first announced at the beginning of the year, I had a silly dream. That dream was to track hero usage from week to week, showcasing how each Overwatch League team approached the forced meta-breaking of hero pools throughout the entirety of 2020.

What a fool I was. I lasted two weeks.

Meta stratification in the Overwatch League from 2018 to 2020 looks like this:

Both 2018 and 2019 have one visible large meta shift that defined their season. In the inaugural season, it happened between Stages 3 and 4. Similarly, in 2019, there was the breaking of the GOATs meta that occurred toward the end of Stage 3 and the Shanghai Dragons' stage title, with Stage 4 and playoffs played with mandatory 2-2-2 role restrictions and the addition of new hero Sigma.

And then there's 2020, which is a mess visually in this graph and also in the games themselves. Hero pools banned some of the most-played heroes of the past week, necessitating immediate adjustments and causing what we know as a "meta" -- the most effective or well-accepted way to win the game at a given point in time -- to cease to exist. There has been an immediate way to win that has seemed like the correct one from week to week, but without room to breathe and evolve, especially at the start of the season when hero pools were at their worst, it's difficult to actually analyze whether any one way to play the game was the best.

Fortunately, hero pools have eased up in the tournaments that the league shifted toward in the back half of the season, and this first week of Overwatch League playoffs had one particularly interesting meta shift.

While D.Va is the most-played hero in playoffs thus far at 69%, the defining hero of the 2020 Overwatch League playoffs has been Roadhog. Roadhog has been played in lieu of main tanks like Reinhardt or Orisa alongside a flex tank option like Sigma or D.Va and sometimes even Wrecking Ball.

On the Aug. 13 patch, Roadhog received a few buffs while Orisa's Halt! radius was nerfed from seven meters to four. This has since been buffed back up to five meters, but the late-season Orisa nerfs are important context given her relative dominion over the main tank position, even as hero pools forced drastic meta shifts from week to week. Of all heroes this year, Orisa was played the second most at 40.3%, only 2.3% behind the league's most-played hero all year, Sigma. With Orisa's demise (and nerfs to Sigma's Experimental Barrier) came the demise of the shield-heavy compositions that she helped enable from March through August, even with hero pools affecting compositions so drastically.

Including Roadhog in a composition is the opposite idea of double-shield. Rather than relying on barrier strength, Roadhog effectively tells your opponent that you're going to try to hook them, bursting down carries before any of their tanks, main or otherwise, can do anything about it.

In the Asia bracket, the Seoul Dynasty were one of the most successful teams with Roadhog thanks to main tank Hong "Gesture" Jae-hee. The arrival of Gesture as the team's main tank at the beginning of the year moved Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo into the flex role, where he has continued to excel at Sigma. Arguably, Seoul by default has two main tanks given these players' histories, so it was interesting to see them deviate from having a main tank at all into Roadhog compositions that complemented DPS players Park "Profit" Jun-yeong and Kim "FITS" Dong-eun, regardless of what DPS duo they wanted to field.

Seoul's upcoming winners' bracket opponents, the Shanghai Dragons, also rely on the flexibility of their DPS line, particularly that of Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun. In their 3-1 win over the New York Excelsior, the Dragons almost solely relied on main tank Lee "Fearless" Eui-seok on Winston. Winston is one of the stronger answers to Roadhog flex tank compositions; however it's interesting to note that the NYXL didn't play Roadhog. They instead used a combination of Choi "HOTBA" Hong-joon's D.Va with main tank Kim "Mano" Dong-gyu's Winston or Wrecking Ball.

No conversation about the tank meta shift and Roadhog would be complete without 12th-seeded-darling Washington Justice, who came out with a defining Roadhog/Zarya tank combination from Choi "JJANU" Hyeon-woo and Jang "Decay" Gui-un, respectively. They used this composition to upset the Paris Eternal and nearly upset one of the NA favorites to take it all in the San Francisco Shock.

Alongside Roadhog, the other hero that had the largest effect on the first week of playoffs was Sombra. At 56.2%, Sombra was the second-most-played hero of the past weekend and one that was typically combined with Reaper to make the meta DPS option. The most successful teams from this past weekend knew how to use their Sombras, and more importantly, how to play around EMP in coordination with the rest of the team, especially when going all in alongside a Winston.