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What Are Overwatch Ranks?
February 12, 2020
Released in 2016, Overwatch is a team-based multiplayer shooter that has built its premise on games like Team Fortress 2 to create the most comprehensive game of its type to date.
In addition to spinning out the highly-watched Overwatch League, this Blizzard game has a complex ranking system that players need to know if they want to advance in the competitive circuit. The ranking system consists of both skill ranking (SR) and competitive ranking
There are many intangible and non-quantifiable factors that are not related to SR, but that will help you rise in the competitive ranks. With that in mind, here is what you need to know about both the SR and competitive ranks in order to understand how to get the most out of your time in Overwatch competitive play.
What is Overwatch SR rank?
SR, or skill ranking, is the primary metric that determines your competitive ranking. It determines how far and how quickly you can advance. Ultimately, you need to improve your Overwatch SR rank in order to improve your Overwatch competitive rank, but these are not mutually exclusive.
SR is a hidden ranking that is determined each competitive season. While each season lasts approximately 2 months, it is possible to alter your SR within this period of time. Keep in mind, however, that Blizzard does not reset SR ranks between seasons.
When is my SR and competitive rank set?
Blizzard first determines your SR after you play your placement matches at the onset of a competitive season. There are 10 placement matches in total, and once you complete these, you will be sorted into a competitive rank based on your SR.
These competitive ranks range from Bronze to Grandmaster, and SR ranks range from 1 to 5,000.
After being placed in a competitive rank, players can gain and lose SR based on both personal performance and their winning and losing streaks as they play throughout the season.
Winning games will generally increase your SR along with the rate at which SR is earned, and losing matches will decrease both your SR and the rate that you accumulate SR.
But there are a number of other factors that determine exactly how much SR is gained or lost.
How is SR determined?
Because SR is a hidden metric and Blizzard has not given strict formulas as to how SR is determined, it has largely been up to the player base to determine how it works. Scott Mercer, the principal game designer on Overwatch, has given some insight about how SR is calculated.
Speaking to Kotaku, Mercer said that when it comes to SR, "if a player has multiple wins or losses in a row where they demonstrate this gap in perceived vs. actual skill, we further accelerate the adjustment as appropriate."
Mercer was also quick to note that Blizzard wants "...to minimize the number of matches that are created with players whose skill rating does not match their actual level of play.” He continued, “This results in improved fairness and quality of matches for everyone.”
What does it all mean?
In practical terms, this means that the goal of SR is to create an experience where all players in a match are at a similar level of play. While the Overwatch team has not revealed specifically how SR is calculated, Overwatch player Lance McDiffett, who is a Business Intelligence Engineer at Amazon, has used data science to find the numerous factors that are used in the SR algorithm.
McDiffet’s factors include:
- The strength of your team versus the enemy team
- Your play per individual hero (to allow for experimentation with different heroes)
- Your performance in the match
- Your win/loss record
How to improve your Overwatch SR ranks
While Blizzard has not commented specifically on how to improve your Overwatch SR rank, since this is not a publicly available metric, the best way to improve your SR is to just play more competitive matches.
But rising through the Overwatch competitive ranks is easier said than done. Your best bet is to team up with a group of dedicated players who have a similar SR ranking so that you can better coordinate and improve as a unit.
You can find groups on Overwatch Discord servers, the Overwatch Looking for Group subreddit, or using the Looking for Group system within Overwatch itself. Doing so will help you improve all of the factors needed to lift your SR ranking, and subsequently help you rise in the Overwatch competitive ranks.
You will also need to focus on your individual skill. This is something that Overwatch SR ranks are specifically built to track. You can start by working to master a specific character - known as a “hero” - and then growing into that role over time.
For example, if you'd like to be a tank main, you should start out by mastering Reinhardt, and then move on to learning other tanks like Orisa and Zarya. Being able to play as multiple heroes in the tank role, or any role for that matter, is important.
The best way to truly learn the game and bolster your SR ranking, however, is by getting amazing stats and racking up a solid win streak as an individual hero.
What are the Overwatch competitive ranks?
There are seven levels to the Overwatch competitive ranking system. They are determined based on a bell curve of all players' SR rankings, and fall within the following range:
- Bronze - 0 to 1,500 SR
- Silver - 1,500 to 1,999 SR
- Gold - 2,000 to 2,499 SR
- Platinum - 2,500 to 2,999 SR
- Diamond - 3,000 to 3,499 SR
- Masters - 3,500 to 3,999 SR
- Grandmaster - 4,000 to 5,000 SR
As you can see, the median numbers of SR ranks are between the Silver and Platinum rankings. This is reflected in a forum post by Overwatch creative director Jeff Kaplan from February 2018, which gives the full breakdown where players land in the Overwatch competitive ranks:
- Bronze - 8%
- Silver - 21%
- Gold - 32%
- Platinum - 25%
- Diamond - 10%
- Masters - 3%
- Grandmaster - 1%
Where do most Overwatch players rank?
In the highest concentration, 32% of players fall within the Gold ranking, while 78% of players rank Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
However, more than 60% of players range between Bronze, Silver, and Gold, which is where the game experience is the most similar. This means that most players have a relatively similar experience when playing Overwatch. The game differs immensely at higher levels of play, with only 14% of players reaching Diamond rank and above.
Overwatch comp rankings at different levels of play
Overwatch gameplay is a radically different game at varying levels of competitive play. In this section, we’ll explore those differences so you have an idea of what each is like.
Bronze and silver
At the Bronze and Silver levels, players will typically pick their favorite hero with little thought to coordination and teamwork. You also rarely see players use their microphones to talk to each other, and both SR and actual skill in the game tend to be lower, at least at the start of each season.
Since this is the most causal level of play in Overwatch’s competitive mode, these factors should be expected. Only 29% of players are ranked here, and few end up staying in these ranks for long.
The majority of players end up moving to the Gold level, and most of them stay here. This level of play is a mix of ambitious players who are looking to rank up, and the ones who are just looking to have fun. This fun-only tendency in Gold players can be frustrating for those who are looking to advance beyond Gold.
In Gold, you'll find that many people play their “mains,” which means that they focus specifically on one hero to gain mastery and won't change roles even if the situation calls for it. This can lead to some truncated gameplay that isn't truly reflective of the Overwatch competitive experience.
Once you move on beyond Gold and into the Platinum ranking, players are more consciously aware of team composition and are much more likely to use their microphones to communicate and coordinate team actions.
Strategy is key here, since all the Platinum players are in the top 40% of Overwatch players, and are focused on serious play.
You can expect strategy and coordination based on specific maps, game types, and ultimate abilities. Additionally, players here have started to gain immense mechanical skills. As such, you should not expect players to be missing skill shots, misusing ultimate abilities, or missing key primary or secondary fire shots.
Once you get to Diamond, the game gets truly competitive. That's because those in this ranking are among the top 15% of players, and most people who are at this level of play regard Overwatch as their main gaming outlet. You could even call it their passion.
People at this stage of the game will know exactly how to use ultimate abilities, how to best coordinate as a team, and how to be flexible when it comes to situations or different team compositions.
At the Diamond level, players will also have learned map awareness and map strategy, and they know what the meta is in terms of what heroes should be used at what points in each map.
The Masters level of play is where the semi-pros hang out, but you shouldn't expect to run into anyone too famous in the Overwatch scene. Pretty much all of the players here have chosen a main role - support, tank, healer, etc. - and won't be flexible outside of that.
However, you can certainly expect everyone at the Masters level to have full mastery over their respective role, since they are among the elite of Overwatch players. In addition, everyone at the Masters stage will have complete technical mastery over the game, so you won't have to worry about anyone missing a skill shot, fumbling a key play, or not knowing exactly what to do at any given moment.
Finally, the Grandmaster level only features the cream of the crop. Here you may run into some of your favorite Overwatch league players or Twitch streamers. This is the level of play you can expect to see when you watch Overwatch live matches. It’s unlikely that many players will reach this level, but it is certainly something to aspire to.
How to improve your Overwatch competitive rank
While you will need to focus on finding a great team to rise in the Overwatch ranks, that’s not the only factor that matters. Overwatch SR ranks can measure tangible performance metrics, such as individual skill and winning and losing streaks, but they cannot measure the more intangible aspects of learning to play Overwatch.
This includes learning different strategies for different maps, including which hero is the best for certain roles at individual checkpoints.
You'll really need to learn how to play with a team to bolster yourself in the Overwatch competitive ranks. This means that you should use your microphone in matches, and also learn not to telegraph your actions to your opponents.
You'll want to make sure that your game sense and awareness improve over time as well, because it isn't something that SR can specifically measure. Finally, you'll want to improve your mechanics, such as your accuracy, timing with your ultimate abilities, and your tactical use of secondary abilities.
Depending on how you play, understanding how Overwatch ranks work can be crucial to your enjoyment of the game. However, if you only focus on rankings and push yourself too hard, you may end up doing the opposite and take away from your enjoyment and overall experience.
After all, it’s only a game, and if you’re not having fun, you may just want to try something else.
If you’re indeed in it to win it and want to put in the time it takes to get better, you can use this guide to help you rise in the Overwatch competitive ranks, which could mean a top tier team will come knocking. It’s important to know how the ranking system works and how you can best use this knowledge to optimize your experience in the game.
About the Author: Daniel Horowitz is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Daniel is a New York-based author and has written for publications such as USA Today, Digital Trends, Unwinnable Magazine, and many other media outlets.