What is Skill? The Importance of Strategy, Tactics, and Execution

What is skill? How do you become more skilled? Should you practice endlessly? Or should you read up on the activity instead? Should you watch and learn from the pros?

Developing a new skill is a long and sometimes arduous road. Reaching plateaus, crossing over those plateaus, and constantly practicing to reach a consistent level is a considerable challenge. Climbing the ladder in any competitive game, whether it’s League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, or Overwatch, requires players to improve their play one step at a time. However, many players focus strictly on aiming and csing but cannot climb very high. Skill is a vague quality that extends in many directions. Today, let’s learn about the three most important aspects of skill using an example from Overwatch.

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The hangar at Watchpoint: Gibraltar. Image courtesy of BlizzPro’s Overwatch.

Let’s say you’re playing Soldier: 76 and you’re on Attack at Watchpoint: Gibraltar. Your team has just pushed the payload past the first point and you’re now entering the hangar. The enemy Reinhardt, Zarya, Zenyatta, and Ana have grouped around the payload to contest it and prevent your team from pushing it any farther. You notice that the enemy McCree has set up on the high ground at the top of the spaceship in the center of the hangar. The enemy Genji is dashing all over the place, mostly aiming for your team’s healers. What do you do in this situation? How should you think about strategy, tactics, and execution?

Strategy: The Big Picture

Sun Tzu once said: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

In business, in gaming, in politics, in sports, and in every other competitive endeavor, strategy is essential to success. It’s the big picture. It’s the overall method by which your goals are achieved. It’s the reason why some people succeed over a long and arduous campaign whereas others unravel and fall apart halfway through.

While playing Soldier, you notice that the enemy has most of their forces on the payload. Reaching the high ground should be an effective strategy in this situation – if your goal is to poke at the enemy healers below, reaching the high ground should enable you to get a good position above Reinhardt’s shield and apply pressure from multiple angles.

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Fighting for the high ground is usually a good idea. Image courtesy of YouTube channel Your Overwatch.

Tactics: Situation-Specific Details

“The difference between strategy and tactics: strategy is done above the shoulders, tactics are done below the shoulders.”

This quote embodies the essential difference between tactics and strategy, but employing strong tactics still requires you to use your brain. Like strategy, tactics involves planning, but it involves planning on a smaller, more detail-oriented level. Let’s return to our example on Watchpoint: Gibraltar to help clarify.

To follow your high-ground centric strategy, you decide to approach the high ground balcony areas on the right side of the hangar. Immediately, you begin to take fire from the enemy McCree. Poking out from behind cover, you fire a few shots and send him retreating to the health pack inside the spaceship. Having dealt with one player for the moment, you turn your attention to the healers on the payload below, but a new problem emerges.

Genji jumps in your face and you spray a few rounds at him, bringing him to half-health. His Ana fires a quick shot at him, healing the damage you just did, and you retaliate by firing your Helix Rockets at his face. However, before you even fired the rockets, Genji turned on Deflect, and he sends those Helix Rockets back into your face before McCree finishes you with a single bullet from afar. What went wrong? What tactics can you use to succeed next time?

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Who wins if a full team of Soldiers fights a full team of Genjis on Gibraltar? Easy. Whoever is on defense. None of them would be on the payload. Image courtesy of DeviantArt user Turbovilka.

By turning and running away from the Genji and back into the courtyard behind the hangar, you can fight Genji in a proper 1v1 rather than allowing the Ana and McCree to interfere. Since the rest of your team is busy on the payload, they aren’t in a position to help you which means that the most you can hope for is to 1v1 the enemy Genji.

By turning and sprinting through the doorway back towards your spawnpoint, placing your Biotic Field for healing, and holding on to your Helix Rockets until after Genji uses Deflect, you may be able to kill him or at least send him running back into the hangar. Using smart tactics, you can turn a 1v3 into a 1v1.

If you return to that same doorway on the high ground and use it as cover while you poke out at the McCree and the enemy healers, you may be able to draw attention from both McCree and Genji, thereby giving your team a numbers advantage at the payload fight below as long as you can stay alive.

Execution: Raw Mechanics and Rote Practice

If you have strategy without tactics, you have big ideas but no action. If you have tactics without strategy, you’ll win small skirmishes but won’t win the game. But, if you can’t execute on any of your plans, you won’t win anything.

Execution and raw mechanical input might seem like a pretty brainless thing to practice. Simply put your mouse cursor over Genji’s head and click the button, right? Go put in thirty minutes with Ana bots every day and you’ll git gud, right? While mechanics might seem like a matter of pointing and clicking in a game like Overwatch, the reality is a bit different. Mechanical skill extends to knowledge of your character as well.

Sprinting away from the attacking Genji described above might not be that easy. However, by dash-hopping (double-tapping your sprint key after jumping) you can alter your momentum making it a bit more difficult to hit you while also enabling you to fire a few rounds between dash-hops. Also, be aware that activating Soldier’s Tactical Visor will instantly reload his weapon, meaning that you can get the most out of it by using it after unloading a full clip.

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Is this what the pros mean by Helix-jumping??? Image courtesy of Youtuber 5hadowbroker.

You can also use the Helix Rockets or a melee attack to cancel the extra bit of lag time on Soldier’s reload. After your ammo capacity changes from 0/25 to 25/25, you can use this technique to cancel the rest of the animation.

Of course, canceling your reload will not allow you to fire your gun any faster (because you’re effectively playing two animations at once instead of removing part of an animation entirely) and the gun will not start firing until the full reload time has completed. However, this trick will maximize your DPS.

If you know how to Helix-jump (by firing the Helix Rockets at the ground while jumping thus allowing you to jump higher) you can reposition yourself far higher than your opponent might expect, but this is situational and generally not worth the damage you’ll miss out on (plus the damage you’ll cause to yourself) in a 1v1.

Strategy, tactics, and execution are the three most important determinants of a player’s skill. While these phenomena don’t explain everything, and there are other important aspects such as mindgames that also have substantial impacts on player skill, learning to quantify and improve these three qualities will ensure that you succeed in far more situations than before, therefore allowing you to climb the ranked ladder. Good luck in solo queue and remember to always maintain a learning mindset!

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