Soaring through the air in her combat armor, and armed with a launcher that lays down high-explosive rockets, Pharah is a force to be reckoned with.
What's the point to this guide?
One common question I get asked (and see others ask online) pertains to aiming rockets as Pharah. Projectiles can be tricky. Where to shoot the rocket and when to fire it go hand in hand. Screw up either one, and your target will get away, you'll look like a fool, and small children will laugh at you for having crapped the bed, probably.
How do I not shit the bed?
Simple: Predict your enemies' movements. HOW to do this, however, is not simple.
From here out, I will proceed with the assumption that you already know how to play Pharah, you are comfortable with her abilities, and are reasonably experienced with the speed and impact radius of her rockets. There are plenty of guides and youtube content out there focused on general Pharah play, aim practicing techniques, etc. This guide will attempt to dig into the mindset of your enemies--what their goals might be in a given situation--and how to use this information in an engagement to launch rockets intelligently, with less of the willy nilly, cross-your-fingers style of shootin' and pootin'.
Section 1: What's that guy thinking?
At a given time, an enemy player's thoughts will boil down to one of the following over-simplified (but you'll get the idea, right?) things:
Where's that guy I want to kill?
I'm going to kill that guy
That guy is going to kill me
I don't want to die
I don't care if I die
Let's not get too nit-picky about the list--obviously the game is much more complex than that--but you could still trace everything back to one of those 5 desires. Let's apply them to actual gameplay:
Where's that guy I want to kill?
Very often this is the first guy they spot, but sometimes it's a specific target (like you, especially if you've pissed someone off). Watch how a given player goes about what they do and keep track of the battle to read into this more deeply. Is Genji constantly diving your healers? What's he thinking about?
I'm going to kill that guy.
They've spotted their target and are actively pursuing an engagement. They have a self-perceived advantage in this fight. In their mind, they will surely win.
That guy is going to kill me
They've realized that they are at a disadvantage and will do one of two things.
I don't want to die.
This person will now seek safety and attempt to avoid taking further damage. They will go after a health pack, the safety of their team, better cover, etc. in order to survive.
I don't care if I die
This person will ignore their pains and maintain the engagement until its end. Typically these people are suicidal (hopefully only figuratively speaking) in the perception that the kill is more important that their safety. This importance could be for a good pick (Mercy with res, Zarya with grav, etc.), stupidity (risking death for a bad exchange), or anger (see the previous comment on stupidity).
Analyzing what your target wants to do will inform good rocket placements.
Section 2: What's that guy gonna do? Part I
Understanding your opponents' goals is the first step to accurate predictions. McCrees, Soldier 76s, Widowmakers, (and a few others, but to a lesser degree) are going to actively engage you whenever they can. They will, more often than not, completely ignore other targets just for the chance of taking you down. On the surface, this seems like a bad thing for you, but an intelligent player can turn this in his or her favor. Watch for the following typical behavior:
You've been spotted. Your would-be killer is now taking measures to carry out your killing. You get ready to take your own measures.
If no cover is readily available--or if there is and they are just not very bright--they will either stand still (seriously, why do people do this? here's looking at you, mr. stands-still-while-shooting mccree) or pee pee dance back and forth while spamming at you. Use their bad habits to your advantage and pace out their juking with rockets in their path.
If cover is readily available--and they are bright enough to utilize it--they will still often peak out at regular intervals to fire at you. Observe this behavior and time a rocket to sync up with this predictable movement.
Further building on that: If a hitscan player is engaging you, they will probably pursue you if they can't see you or think you're going to get away. I will often spam rockets at their cover and then move out of line of sight, throwing another rocket at the spot my target will HAVE to move to in order to keep a line of sight on me. This nets a lot of damage and eliminations over the course of a game. They think they are in control and that you are fleeing from them. In actuality, you are manipulating them into doing what YOU want. This is basically a simpler and less dangerous version of the ole, run into a room and turn around, ready to fire at the door trick, but it's less predictable and has a better risk/reward ratio.
If you hit a rocket, 90% of the time, the guy is going to dodge for cover or retreat. If you see your last fired rocket is about to hit, send the next one directly into your target's path to closest safety. You can get tons of kills this way.
Additionally, already hurt targets and/or players at a serious disadvantage (ie, out of position healers and/or short range heroes) will flee at the sight of you. What are they thinking? Where will they be safe from you?
Section 3: What's that guy gonna do? Part II
Let's talk about specific engagements and what certain heroes are going to try to do.
Will try to reflect your rocket when you least expect it--which means, either right away or around your second rocket. Genjis like to do it in mid-air for some reason, expecting you to air-shot them. When reflect is done, 90% of the time he will swift strike directly at you. Try to avoid this ability and get ready to hand him a rocket at the end of his charge.
He wants to find you out in the open and will often chase you if he thinks he can keep line of sight on you. Beware of getting too close because of flash bang. One very risky technique is to predict his flashbang and hit jump jets the moment he uses it. You will get stunned, but your upward momentum will carry you over his head instead of landing flat on your feet in front him.
Bad Pharahs will move in patterns and fire during predictable intervals. Even if their movement is good, you can often discern a pattern to their aiming and firing timing. Often this timing will be fire, reposition during break in rate of fire, fire again. Many Pharahs will hover during the break, let themselves drop right before firing, and hover again right after.
Not much to say. He will try to wraith form away. Don't get close.
Healy beacon is deadly to you if you're not hitting direct hits. I have a lot of tips on this engagement in my hitscan guide linked at the top. Avoid walls directly behind you as his helix rocket can produce splash damage.
She will usually try to fight you while you aren't looking. If you engage 1v1 with her, land your rockets and you should be fine. If you know where her translocator is located, even better.
Try to predict where she will blink to. Side to side blinks are difficult to predict, but many tracers prefer left -or- right blinking if they aren't blinking forward. Try to watch for patterns of movement, and keep in mind where she was a short moment ago for when she recalls. She will often blink at the perception of incoming damage or ability usage. Try to predict her predictions.... I know right?
Spam at him, but don't spend too much time away from cover if he's spamming back. His healing while in sentry mode or while fleeing in recon is a huge pain in the butt.
Not as deadly as McCree usually, but try to be unpredictable yourself. His movement is very limited, so hitting him or near him is usually doable. Just don't get too close as his accuracy goes way up, and you are just as susceptible to scatter arrow as anyone else if your feet are on (or close to) the ground.
Respect his grenade arc and mine's range. Other than that, a pretty straightforward engagement for you.
Be unpredictable to avoid icicles. When she ice blocks, fly to the side of her retreat or delayed death. She can't wall off you AND the rest of your team.
Sentry gun needs to be killed first (from range if possible). Respect the rivet gun and try to be unpredictable.
Read my how to fight hitscans guide linked at top for information on this engagement.
Good DVas will dive you. Bad ones will not. If the DVa dives you constantly, try to stay away from her and pepper her with rockets as often as you can. Don't be afraid to ask for help. She may not be very lethal if you're playing smart, but she can shut you down fairly well.
Keep a distance so she can't easily shoot you with her projectiles. Fly over or behind her shield for easy pickings on what it's guarding. Use concussive blast to boop her and her teammates out of the protection of the barrier.
Same as above minus the projectiles.
Roadhog hooks are one of the most predictable abilities in the world. Watch a roadhog line up for a hook. 95% of roadhogs will leap out of cover before a hook. Oh I wonder what he's about to do. Hit jump jets and fly over the hook. Keep track of his hook's timer and get ready to get away or concussive blast out of the way. Jump jets are much better for this because you can maintain aim on him while doing it. Also, be aware of his two shotgun ranges. Too close and you'll get one shot. Just far enough away for his secondary fire to meat shot you, and you're dead too. There's a sweet spot outside of the regular fire, before the secondary fire's lethal range where you can survive. Other than that, stay out of range if possible.
Keep jump jets ready for his jump. When he does, fly over him, and don't be afraid to shoot his shield (you really should be anyway). If teammates are fighting him, don't be afraid to fall into the shield and get a rocket off on his back. Don't do this if you are at low health.
Watch for the bubble. Usually comes after the first rocket hits. Keep the bubbles' cooldowns in the back of your head and you should be fine. If she is close to grav, try to stay away from other teammates.
She will often stand still and aim down sights at you. Hit her with a direct if you can and make her waste her grenade to heal it. Get ready to dodge a sleep dart. They aren't as easy to predict as roadhog hooks or flashbangs, but if it's not on cooldown, she's gonna try to stick you with it.
He will run. What else can he do?
Mercy's love to lag behind then zip across the battlefield to a teammate. Whenever you see her seeming to fall back, KNOW that she is about to zip away and plan accordingly. You can kill many Mercys during her guardian angel's flight.
Symmetra - Avoid getting close. If her beam connects on you, jump jet or concussive blast away immediately. Be aware of her photon barrier, and don't let her launch one at your face while ulting (you will kill yourself).
Not as dangerous as McCree, 76, or Widow, but still a viable threat to you. If he discords you, try to drop out of sight long enough to drop the orb. Avoid being predictable so he can't line up a volley.
a little off topic of prediction, but another method I use for aiming is flicking to where I want to fire instead of tracking. There's no special benefit to this exactly except during the natural breaks in your rate of fire, you can get a better view of what's going on around you (especially below and to the right of you) without your rocket launcher in the way. This method basically looks like this (as much as words can describe a "look"): You fire, draw your crosshair away from the target, and bring it back when it's time to make another shot. This larger viewable area will help you gauge your target's movement better, and snapping back to fire again will rely on muscle memory more than mental control, which I find to work very well for me.
I ended season 3 in masters as a mostly Pharah player, and reached the top 250 or so on Overbuff for Pharah players in competitive. All together, QP and different comp seasons combined, I have over 200 hours in Pharah at the time of this post. I am passionate about playing Pharah, and enjoy consuming (and even creating) content about her when I get the chance. I'm currently working on a Pharah video guide focusing on movement and ability usage, and hope to have it posted in the near future. For now, if you're interested in seeing more of my content, you can check me out on YouTube.