I've been active on some Overwatch forums for quite some time now and lots of people are talking and asking about getting better mechanically, or sharing little tips and tricks which make you a better overall player. I'm here to talk about another aspect of your game, an aspect which I feel is often neglected when talking about getting better and that's communication. The ability to communicate properly is a a skill which you can (and should) learn if you want to get better at team based games. Much like positioning, aiming, and what have you, it can really make you a much better player if you know how to utilize that mic you have standing/hanging there.
I've been playing competitive games for about 13 years now (some in semi professional teams) so I like to think that I know a thing or two about communication, but if you have anything to add or disagree on something then by all means tweet me at @Problmn or find me on reddit as /u/problemen. In this guide I'm obviously assuming you already have a mic.
I like to really illustrate my point and use a bunch of examples and all of that to do so, but I tried to keep it as straight to the point as possible. I also divided the guide into multiple parts so you can just skip whatever you feel does not apply to you.
The first part is mostly about the psychology of communication etc., so if you want to skip straight to the technical stuff start reading at ‘the technical side of things.
The importance of communication
To illustrate the importance of communication I will start this thing off with an example. Say you're attacking point B on Volskaya and your team is on your last push and you just need that final tick to win the game. You're playing as Ana (let's say, for the sake of this example, that she's actually worth picking) and your team has managed to pick off a few enemy players when you see an enemy Reaper getting ready to jump down on your unsuspecting team. You know he has his ultimate up but your sleep dart is on cooldown.
In scenario A you use your mic to call him out (more on how to do that properly later), causing your team to focus him down and use their abilities to basically shut down his ultimate instantly, thus winning the fight and ensuring the victory.
In scenario B you say nothing at all. You might be thinking 'someone has probably seen him as well' or whatever, but as the red Reaper drops down and Q's his way to a victory and quad kill Play Of The Game you realize 'damnit, no one saw him' and you lose the game.
This isn't an exaggeration. Situations like this happen all the time and one sentence can really mean the difference between victory or defeat. I can list hundreds of examples, but suffice it to say that communication is of the utmost importance if you really want to win a team based game.
Even if you're playing against a team that's mechanically (slightly) better than your team you can still win if your communication and teamwork is on point. That is why communication is a very valuable skill to learn if you want to improve your overall game. Not just in Overwatch, but in almost every other team based game or sport.
How to communicate effectively, the basics
Note: throughout this guide I will assume that your teammates are also in it to win it. Handling trolls, griefers, and throwers is something else entirely and that is not the purpose of this guide.
Open your mouth. This might seem blatantly obvious to some, but there are many players out there who are afraid to use their mic to communicate with randoms. I used to be one of those people myself. It's important to know that all of the other players on the other side of the internet are also people such as yourself. Yes, you can and will meet assholes but for the most part your teammates (and enemies) are regular people such as yourself. Sure, there is the added factor of anonymity on the internet, which may cause people to act like dickheads a little easier, but that is in your advantage as well. No one knows or really cares who you are and most people will have forgotten you about five minutes after your game.
I find that the best thing to do is to just open up with a simple greeting at the start of every match. Just a simple "hello team" can often cause other players who would've otherwise remained silent to speak up as well. You don't need to tell 'em all about your day or anything like that, but opening with something other than tactics or whatever seems to work best to break the ice.
Mind your attitude. As a general rule of thumb you should try to never react to something and let your frustration shine through. Creating a bad vibe in a team is the shortest way to a loss, because tilted people will always play worse. If your Mercy blatantly missed your multiple calls for healing and you were standing right next to her then you have every right to be a little upset, but don't let it shine through in your comms too much. It's okay to tell someone you think they did something wrong (and you should be able to take constructive criticism as a player in a competitive game mode) but never resort to flaming or any sort of abuse. There are people who are able to shrug stuff like that off, but mostly you will only generate an equally hostile response or cause people to start playing worse (i.e. 'tilting' them) and that is the shortest way to a loss.
I know this is easier said than done and it's almost impossible to always follow this advice. Everyone gets frustrated every once in a while and sometimes your teammates really are doing massively dumb shit, but just try to remember that everyone makes mistakes (even the best players in the world) and try to keep the venom out of the match chat as much as possible. I am not saying you should act as if you're high on life (and possibly some illegal substances) all the time, I don't do that either, but every time you can keep your angry outbursts confined to your own room you've won a little victory.
Be positive and compliment good plays. It sounds silly, but a simple 'nice pick McCree' can really boost that person's confidence and cause them to perform even better. I'm not saying that you have to cast your entire match, but if your butt just got saved by a clutch Zenyatta ultimate it doesn't hurt anyone to acknowledge that in chat. At the worst the Zenyatta player doesn't care about your approval and at best you've just managed to lift that person's spirits. People who are feeling good about themselves generally perform better, so there's really no argument against complimenting your teammates.
Even if your team is getting rolled it's better to remain optimistic. I've won countless matches where some people (including myself at times) thought the game was already over at half time but you can't let that show. Once you get into the mindset of 'this match is over already' it's really hard to get out of it. So even if you just got steamrolled on defense and the payload almost never stopped it can pay off to be the one guy that says 'come on, let's just get a better time and full hold them after that' instead of another 'lol gg bad team' kind of person. Even if you don't really believe it yourself, it can really pay off to try and motivate your team (and by extension yourself) to keep giving their all.
Realize that there are leaders and followers. And there's nothing wrong with either. If there’s someone on your team trying to seriously come up with a plan then let them. You can obviously give your own input or speak up if you think you have a better plan but don’t say silly stuff such as “who made you the leader?” or the likes. Everyone on the team has the same goal, which is winning, so people who try to take the reigns should be applauded, not flamed. Not everyone has it in them to ‘be a leader’ so there’s no shame in just listening to the plans of other players and limiting yourself to important callouts or some valuable input every now and again either though.
One thing is for sure and that is that teams generally benefit from having some kind of plan or unified direction. This doesn't mean that you need to spend every second of the prematch discussing tactics, but a simple 'if their Symmetra sets up left I'll speedboost us and we all go right' can already make a really big difference.
Be reasonable. Sometimes things just aren’t working out and you need to realize that. If you’re playing Genji against Winston, Symmetra and Moira and you have yet to make your first kill when the game is two minutes deep it might be time to switch over to another hero. If someone asks you to switch then that does not mean they’re telling you that you are a completely useless thrower, it just means that they’re asking you to consider a different hero. If someone says 'please do not push so far on your own' they do not mean to say that you can't frag for shit and should be in Bronze, it just means that it's best to not get into needless 1v6 situations. The bottom line here is: not everything said by your teammates is a personal attack and you should always consider the input of your teammates, if it's communicated in an appropriate way. The ability to self reflect and to realize when you are not doing too hot and could do better is something that all top players share, so try to get into that mindset.
If there is someone else on your team who is dragging the team down then it's probably a good idea to try and convince them to do things differently, but there are ways to do that. Shouting or flaming will almost always result in your feedback being ignored. Try to be reasonable and realize that the other player is probably frustrated enough with himself already and try to refrain from making it worse.
An example of all of the above put into practice
Just the other day I had a teammate who picked Bastion on Dorado attack and wasn't getting anything done. Instead of flaming him our team (which was composed of all randoms) asked him to switch over a few times. He ignored us the first few times and we kept getting shut down with every push, but the entire team (well, the people who were on comms at least) maintained composure and didn't start shaming others or anything like that. When we talked about how we would tackle our final push a teammate asked me to switch from Soldier to Pharah, which I thought wasn't entirely necessary but I did so anyway. As we were exiting spawn the Bastion switched over to Zen, started communicating his discord orbs etc. and we ended up pushing the payload all the way to the end and winning the game, with Pharah being an instrumental hero in breaking their defense.
This is obviously quite an 'extreme' example. In an ideal world every game would go like this, but I know that this isn't the case. It does serve as a nice example on how the right way of communicating can win you games. I thought 'why would I switch to Pharah when I'm doing just fine as soldier?' but it turns out that Pharah was the hero we needed in order to break through their particular defense. Yes, I wasn't doing bad on soldier and my team wasn't implying that anything was my fault, but the Pharah suggestion was a really good one and I'm glad my teammate suggested it.
Another thing is that Bastion probably wouldn't have switched if we all resorted to calling him a useless thrower right off the bat. We kept trying to push, we kept communicating, we kept being moderately positive (of course we weren't all singing when we were getting shut down with every push) and when we got to the final push he decided to take a more helpful hero (in this scenario) in order to help out his team, but why would he have bothered to help out a bunch of angry, flaming people who are already typing 'gg' in all chat?
The moral of the story is to always keep your cool and try to work as a team. Overwatch is a team based game. It's incredibly hard to solo carry in this game so try to work with your team as best as you can.
The technical side of things
Get a decent mic. You don't have to buy a gaming headset (in fact a lot of people would advise you to buy a decent set of non gaming headphones and a separate mic) but you do need a decent microphone. It's insert year here so there should be no excuse for sounding like you're in a snowstorm fifteen feet below the ground every time you talk because of your 20 year old Walmart headset. I am not saying that you need to spend a fortune on your mic or anything like that, but a decent quality (external) mic isn't expensive at all these days and will make sure that everyone understands you at all times and prevent your teammates from getting ear cancer.
Have your 'mic button' somewhere handy. Most people use a button to open their mic to say something to their team. There's those who use open mic, but who really wants to hear your keyboard clicking throughout the entire match or your intermittent coughing because you have the flu, right? If you do decide to use a button to speak then make sure to have it somewhere where it will not disturb your overall gameplay. Having your mic bound to 5 on your numpad won't be of much use since you can't use it reliably in tense situations without having to stop whatever it is you are doing ingame. This is of course a personal thing, if you find what works for you then you're all set, but it's something to keep in mind.
Don't crowd comms. If you're queuing up with a six stack and you're all good pals then by all means do whatever you want to do, but in general it's a good idea to have the comms be as clutter-free as possible. I'm not saying that you need to communicate like a SEAL team on a covert operation, it's fine to have a chat with your teammates and have a laugh (obviously, you're meant to have fun after all) but if you include too much unnecessary chatter in your communications then some of the actually helpful stuff might get drowned out.
Yeah, you might think that Scatter is a completely broken ability and you totally shouldn't have gotten killed by it just now, but a simple 'Hanzo killed me, no Scatter, going to Hotel' would have sufficed over 'screw this bullshit Hanzo and his stupid ass Scatter what are you even thinking with this ability it's so stupid and takes no skill at all and' for two reasons. The first one is that you're crowding up comms during a teamfight with unnecessary drivel which could cause actual useful callouts to get drowned out. The second one is that, once you've finished with your rant, the Hanzo might have already killed another teammate of yours because you decided to focus on gamedesign instead of calling out the fact that the red Hanzo is flanking your team.
Obviously this is situational and more of a 'guideline' than a strict rule, so to speak. It's fine to talk about 'unrelated stuff' when you've just had a teamkill or are preparing for the next round or whatever. When you're all in the thick of it it's best to keep it to the point though.
Stop it with the vague stuff. A lot of people don't seem to understand that other people don't have the perspective that you have in the game. What is clear to you might not be clear to someone else. If you say 'enemy in the tall building thingy he's going forward' then no one will know what you're talking about (unless there's someone else who is watching this Reaper, obviously) whereas 'Reaper in hotel, going to our backline' is a much clearer and precise callout.
Overwatch doesn't (yet?) have a set of 'standard callouts' which games such as CSGO and Halo (for example) do have, but that doesn't mean that there aren't universally accepted and recognized callouts. Things such as 'point,' 'mega,' 'backline,' 'mini,' 'main,' etc. are all used quite often and they're used quite intuitively. For this reason it's a good idea to explore every map on your own (in a private game, not during a comp match or something like that) so you know where the mega healthpacks are located and so on. It's also a good idea to watch some professionals stream and see how they call out different areas in order to get the hang of it.
Generally directions are relative to 'the way you are going,' so if you're attacking on Anubis the side with the mega healthpack in the large room is always 'left', for example. I've created a very impressive drawing to illustrate my point. The red dots (the enemies) would be standing on what you could call out as 'plateau' and 'stairs' for example, while your last two heroes are 'in the backline'. The point I am making here is to use callouts which are easy to understand and difficult to misunderstand.
Note: there are websites out there which try to give every spot on the map a specific callout (like it is in CSGO, for example) but some of those proposed callouts are so far-fetched that they mostly generate a 'where?' if you use them ingame, even in high level games. Aside from that most callouts grow organically and Overwatch doesn't really benefit from having every spot named as it's such a dynamic game and utter precision is of less importance than it is in other games. I do not mean to say that those callouts are wrong (some of them are quite intuitively named and used ingame) but Overwatch as a whole (at least in online matchmaking) uses a bit more of an organic style of callouts for locations.
Heroes and abilities
It pays off to be specific about the hero you're playing as well. In general: avoid saying 'me' too much. Yes, your hero shows up next to your username when you talk, but if you're in a massive teamfight with a bunch of randoms then they won't have time to check who is talking or your icon might already be gone by the time they glance up there. If you've got your ult ready as Zarya (for example) say 'I have Grav' or 'I have Zarya ult' instead of 'I have my ult''. If you're playing as Mercy and you're getting harassed by Tracer, don't say 'Tracer on me,' say something like 'Tracer backline, I need help' or call out for a specific hero who is close to you to peel for you. These are all guidelines obviously and some people might do things differently, but overall it's a good thing to avoid as much possible confusion as you can.
Use the ingame 'pings' This kind of goes against my advice of 'get on your mic,' but for some things it's better to use the ingame communication wheel, or at least use it together with your voice. If you need healing it's always better to (also) use the ingame 'I need healing' callout, since it shows your location ingame, which makes it easier for the healers to get to you as fast as possible. I have the 'I need healing' button bound to 'F' (not a Genji main though) so I can easily and quickly mark my position on the map whenever I need healing and I'm not playing support myself.
Call out 'small but useful' stuff as well It might seem a bit unnecessary to call out 'McCree no flash' and you don't have to call out every ability that you see being used, but if you just saw the enemy McCree miss his flashbang and go to your Tracer then that information is absolutely vital to your Tracer because she knows McCree's number one counter against her is on cooldown.
If you have any useful info then use it to your advantage. Just got killed? Check the ult percentage of your enemy on the killcam and relay it to your team. Got Tracer to waste her Recall in a teamfight? Call it out so that your team can burst her down. That sort of stuff.
Knowing what is and isn't useful to call out is something that comes with experience (and as you gather the thing we call 'gamesense') so there isn't a definitive guide on this but don't think that 'just because it's a small ability' it can't be handy to know for your team. The game isn't all about ults.
@Problmn put a lot of work into this article and he generously allowed us to host it free of charge. Be sure to give him a follow for more Overwatch guides.