If the statistics are anything to go by, Overwatch players seem to enjoy the support role, or at least understand how crucial it is. In public games across all platforms, Lucio is the most popular hero, perhaps be because his influence on his surrounding teammates is so visible as they whiz by, or because all he has to do to heal his team is stay near them. Mercy, who was picked by both sides in every game at the recent Beyond the Summit Cup, is also pretty universally popular despite being tethered to the action and relatively defenseless on her own, considering that her low-damage pistol means she needs to find ways to stay safe in order to keep doing her job.
The best support heroes at the moment end up doing a lot of baby-sitting, which is where Ana, the new sniper medic comes in. Pharah’s cool mom brings the support class to five heroes, which is especially important now that Blizzard is introducing an updated competitive mode to Overwatch that restricts teams from having more than one of the same hero. The competitive meta has settled somewhere between 2-2-2 lineups (i.e., 2 damage-dealing heroes, 2 tanks, and 2 supports) and 3-2-1 lineups. With the advent of Ana and the one hero limit, we’re liable to see this get shuffled around again.
Ana would have a hard time being a solo support
Ana’s primary fire is a sniper rifle that heals teammates and damages enemies for 80 health points (about a third of the 200-point health bar most heroes have), with no headshot or crit modifiers. Some Team Fortress 2 players have already noticed that the functionality of the weapon bears a strong resemblance to a popular Medic item called the “Crusader’s Crossbow.” Fair enough, but Ana’s armament of choice feels very much in line with the effort in Overwatch to make support heroes as fun and weird as the rest of the cast, because someone’s going to have to play support. Any hero in Overwatch wants to be constantly looking for their next opportunity to be useful. This is doubly true for Ana. Without having to switch weapons or wait for cooldowns, she can always be jumping around, healing and dealing damage.
80 damage is nothing to scoff at for both damage and healing: it would put Ana among the most feared supports, if she can land her shots. That unreliability, combined with her relatively low rate-of-fire and single-target heals mean she’d have a hard time being a solo support, or fitting in as a damage-dealer for that matter. Lucio, Mercy, and Zenyatta have a much easier time healing their teammates, whether by locking on or just being nearby. That said, Mercy’s heal gives out 50 health a second, Lucio’s is 12.5 for each hero near him (that ramps up to 40 if he uses his secondary ability), and Zenyatta’s harmony orb gives 30. In theory, Ana can heal 80 damage every second, but that’s not quite how it’s looking at the moment.
It’s tough to get a handle on exactly where Ana lands, but by looking at some professional players who’ve been streaming their games in the Public Test Region over the last week or so, we can start to see a few possibilities emerge. Ster, who recently signed with Luminosity Gaming (comp level 74), was getting an average of around 4,000 healing per game when he started playing the hero, but more recently that number has been closer to 6,000. For context, in public competitive games, Lucio gets an average of around 11,000 healing per game, Mercy’s is close to 9,000, and Zenyatta lags a bit behind that at 6,000. Ster was also getting around 16 eliminations per Ana game on average. This would put Ana way above Mercy’s public competitive average of 2 eliminations, but behind every other hero.
Another player with Luminosity, Seagull, has also been playing a lot of Ana, and his numbers look a little bit different. He has an average of 20 eliminations—which would put Ana handily above the rest of the supports—and 9,000 healing, which is on par with Mercy. Meanwhile, one of the best supports in professional Overwatch, Chipshajen from EnVyUs has also been playing Ana. The hero is probably a good fit for him—he plays support excellently, but in solo games plays mostly DPS heroes Widowmaker and McCree. Chips averaged almost 7,000 healing with Ana this week, but 26 eliminations—around the average of Winston. Just these three players show that there are a couple of viable styles playing Ana. All these players refer to their streaming as “learning,” so we might not know the scope of her capability until a few tournaments have played out. These numbers aren’t going to be perfectly representative, of course—these aren’t professional games, just pro players. On top of that, it’s wrong-headed to boil any hero down to her heals and kills—Overwatch is a game about teammates setting each other up for success and maintaining territory, and Ana definitely seems suited to pair well with other heroes.
Ana seems less like a support and more like a counter
DPS heroes will benefit significantly from having an Ana there to use her ultimate on them. Nano Boost increases movement speed and damage dealt, and decreases damage taken. A boosted Genji could be a real nightmare for a defending team. She pairs well with other supports, too. Her otherwise woefully low mobility could be compensated for if she buddied up with a Lucio, letting them zip around dishing out boosted heals. Ana’s biotic grenade, like her primary fire, has two uses—it doubles all sources of allied healing and cancels healing for enemies. She makes her allied supports more effective, and, maybe more importantly, given the absolute necessity of Mercy in professional games right now, she counters supports on the enemy team. As Chips put it Monday night, “the grenade counters everything… even if [Lucio] healboosts, he can’t do shit.”
Ana’s sleep dart also provides some interesting options—it disables an enemy hero for 5.5 seconds or until they take any damage. It could set an elusive hero like Tracer up for an easy Widowmaker headshot or Roadhog hook, but it’s more likely to end up being Ana’s best chance at escaping someone who’s able to chase her down. Since she doesn’t have any kind of wall climb or grappling hook, she’s always going to be a little bit exposed. It also provides some opportunities for Big Plays in that it can cancel ultimates. Reaper jumps in to a party of five, ults, gets slept and immediately torn apart. Winston gets enraged and then takes a nap. Pharah jumps up in the air and her mom drops her like a rock. At some level, Ana seems less like a support and more like a counter to half the other heroes—someone you pick when you want to keep a couple heroes on the other team in line, make sure they can’t cause too much trouble.
Guessing Ana’s role in the next patch is hard, partly because of some big changes coming up for other heroes. Zenyatta in particular is about to change significantly, with buffs to his base health, and his healing per second and movement speed while his ultimate is active. He’s currently one of the least played heroes across all platforms, and sees almost no professional play whatsoever. If things get really weird, you might see Ana, Mercy, and Zenyatta grouped up on the same team, where Zenyatta and Ana are playing a sort of semi-support role, getting their own kills and boosting their allies’ damage. The 3-2-1 lineup might look stable now, but Ana’s ability to indirectly get kills and keep her allies alive could change that soon.