This morning, after having placed in low Silver at the start of Overwatch Season 12, then losing enough matches over the course of the first few weeks of season 12 to drop down to around 1200 SR, I finally climbed back into Silver, ending this morning at 1501 SR. After complaining about the state of the game and coming to some realizations in the process, I took the bull by the horns and pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, learning what was needed along the way.
With the nerfing of Mercy during Season 11 I started Season 12 mostly playing Brigitte, thinking that I should be able to do well as that hero. What I found, to my dismay, is that Brigitte has been around long enough that the enemy teams have mostly started figuring out how to counter her, and I found overall that her effectiveness was waning from what it had been during Season 11. With an incoming nerf on the way (now live, specifically a 100 point reduction on her shield health), I decided I needed to stop expecting to get wins with Brigitte and to find another way to climb. Over the course of the past few weeks I put together a list of rules for myself to follow, with the occasional breakage of those rules to find out if they still held true, and with some bumps along the way I eventually found the following seems to work (at least for me).
Rule #1: Assume the rest of your team will be unable to fulfill the responsibilities of their selected role. In practice (at least in Bronze) this meant that I almost always selected a damage hero at the start of each match, regardless of the other players, and typically I would choose Soldier 76. I had previously heard that playing Soldier 76 was a good way to climb out of Bronze, but seeing is believing. In this particular instance, that recommendation bore out good fruit. This meant that almost every match I played, our team did not start out in the 2/2/2 formation (two damage dealers, two tanks and two supports) but I found that in Bronze this ultimately doesn't matter, at least not as much as playing the hero you have selected effectively. Also, just because I started as a damage hero did not mean that I would not swap to another role if I felt it would help the team out, but that only worked if we were already doing well or if my hero was effectively countered by an enemy player.
Basically the point of this is that you need to focus on your own game play to the point where you know you are doing even more than is expected of you, because more often than not your other teammates are going to struggle and need you to help out. This is not precisely "carrying" your team, but rather enabling your team to successfully pull off as many plays as possible. I typically chose Soldier 76 because I could play from a distance and get a good view of the battlefield, enabling me to call out what was happening to the rest of my team. I had the option of staying far away with the sustain afforded by Soldier's healing station, or moving in with my team to help our supports heal the incoming damage. I also had the option to run to a different position when my chosen location was compromised; this was not as much mobility as I like when playing Tracer but more than enough to do the job that was required of my role.
Rule #2: Solo queue. While I think if you have a good relationship with another player and both of you are comfortable with each other's skill level you can team up, climb and help mitigate each other's anger to prevent tilting, what I found was that the matchmaker inevitably would determine that your skill level was much higher than it actually was and would start teaming you up against much higher skilled opponents in response, even as a two-stack. This was especially true whenever I joined a group with more than three players - we might get one or two wins together, but then we would start losing repeatedly. Ultimately I found that solo queuing would mix things up just enough that you would only face a few engagements that were beyond your skill level.
Another factor was perception; I found that I tended to perceive my duo partner as having a higher skill than my own (often times this was true), which may have led to my making less than useful decisions when playing matches and thus costing us the match. But this also had another detractor, which was when we won a match, I felt less confident that it was because I had made a significant contribution. In some cases I felt as though my teammate had carried me, which in turn impacted my confidence at being able to perform well in future matches.
Find A Group has been, in my opinion, a failure. Even when it is not being used to foster elitism by allowing the group leader to filter out "undesirables" in the hopes of creating the perfect dream team (which often goes on to lose matches anyway), it introduced a not-insignificant delay into the queue process, which was already delayed by my having fallen into Bronze (as of last February, Bronze players only made up around 8% of the Competitive player base, resulting in a delay in finding matches with comparable players). If the Find A Group team managed to win one or two matches, inevitably it would be matched against another six-stack team of significantly higher skilled players just due to the limited available number of six-stacks playing at around the same skill tier at any given time.
Finally, I ran into a few issues where my duo partner or other teammates from the grouping system cost us matches in various annoying ways. One duo partner's computer locked up more than once during matches over the course of a few days (if your computer locks up during a competitive match, you had better make sure it never happens again before you play competitive with a friend, especially if you want to keep that friend). Another teammate started blasting loud rock music through his mic in the middle of a frantic team fight, distracting me and making it impossible to hear in-game audio cues to survive getting flanked. At the end of the day, I wanted to win more than I wanted to make friends. I'm more than happy to play with friends in Quick Play, but to win I need to treat competitive matches like they are my job.
It is important to note that if you solo queue, you have to be at least a little flexible (translation: know how to effectively play at least one hero in support, damage and tank roles) and you need to know how to effectively play one or more high impact heroes (watch the video below - even though I don't agree with all of hero picks necessarily and they may no longer be valid in Season 12, I do believe the general point he is trying to get across is valid). You also need to know how to turn down people who beg you to group up with them after you win a match, especially if the entire team wants to stick together. The likelihood that your next match will be much harder is very high.
Rule #3: Stop playing after losing two matches in a row. This was difficult for me, and I only just recently started following this rule to the letter. In my previous article, Comp is short for Compulsive Gambling, I may have been complaining about the state of affairs in Overwatch but I was also making a very important point, which is that it is very easy to get caught up in the idea that if you just play one more match you will start to win and somehow regain all the Skill Rating points you just lost. Statistically speaking, this is not really true - in fact the more matches you play when you start losing, the more likely you will continue to lose.
The deeper message to this rule is that every member of your team (including you) is contributing toward your chances of winning. When you play matches while frustrated and angry (also known as tilted) from losing previous matches, you may be tempted to blame your teammates for things going south, but in reality you are a very large part of the problem. Stop playing competitive mode - switch to Quick Play, Arcade, or do something else entirely. Give it a whole day before you play another competitive match so that you are rested and ready to give it your all. After all, if you're not ready to play the best possible match you can play, why are you playing competitive in the first place?
Rule #4: Make self-improvement your goal. At the end of every match you should think critically about what you did and did not do to help your team win. You should do this even when your team wins, but obviously it is very important to do this when your team loses. This is actually more important than climbing out of Bronze, because if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, you will ultimately fail to grow as a player and will have a very difficult time getting consistent wins. Every match should be a learning experience.
In addition, do your research. Watch streamers who excel at a particular hero, watch YouTube tutorials and read articles about how to play the game. Learn the various maps that are currently in rotation, familiarize yourself with changes when they hit the Play Test Region (PTR) and in Quick Play so that you are prepared when they end up in your next competitive match. Think about cool hero combinations or strategies that might help your team win their next match.
My next item for self improvement is to get better at anticipating when enemy heroes have their ultimate abilities ready for the next team fight, so I can warn my teammates.
Rule #5: Communicate. You should always use your mic even if nobody else on your team is using theirs. Even one member on the team making callouts is better than nobody, because that extra bit of information may be just enough to win the team fight or at least prevent people from dying unexpectedly. Focus fire is much easier than winning engagements in a series of 1v1 encounters. Sometimes your team will also do stupid things like try to push the payload through a choke defended by Orisa, Junkrat, Symmetra, Bastion or others and if you can convince your team to go around instead of through you will have a much higher chance of winning that fight.
Try to keep communication short and simple - if your teammates don't understand what you're trying to convey then it's not worth confusing them with additional explanation - just cut to the chase or drop the suggestion entirely and go for easy to understand tidbits of info as they present themselves. Often times your teammates will already know how to handle certain threats that you are struggling with, and just pointing them in the right direction is enough to overcome that threat.
It is ALWAYS a good idea to alert teammates about injured heroes on the enemy team, because it is much easier to kill Ana when she only has 20 health points than when she has 200 (of course this is true for all heroes).
Rule #6: Stay positive. I have talked down tilting teammates and managed to turn matches that they were sure we were going to lose into wins. This is only possible if you are encouraging, rather than critical. I also strongly advise leaving any teams that need this level of encouragement in order to pull out a win, because the amount of additional communication needed is not insignificant and will cost you energy and focus that could be used elsewhere.
In addition, you may need to break rule #5 in order to stay positive yourself, especially if you have toxic teammates who are directly blaming you for the way the match is going. While overall I prefer players who are aggressive when playing competitive mode, it is counter productive to listen to their toxicity because you risk getting tilted in the process.
Rule #7: Always warm up before you enter a competitive match. I like to play at least one match of Quick Play to get a feel for how I'm doing before I enter competitive mode. If I feel like I'm too sluggish, then I'll play more. Occasionally I'll just stay in Quick Play because I can tell I'm just not playing very well and I'm not going to do very well on competitive as a result. Know your limits, and if you know you're going to struggle, don't try to muscle through. Be patient and try again later when you are ready to do your best.