Defense through Offense: Aggressive Supports in Multiplayer Games

When playing multiplayer class based games, like an MMORPG or MOBA, I tend to play healers.  Healers, or Supports in MOBA style games, are critical roles, and the least popular one.  It’s easy to understand why, damage dealers get to pump out big numbers while doing cool things like tossing fireballs or slashing away with swords.  The Tank is the other critical role, but has more respect as their duty involves putting their virtual bodies between the rest of the party and whatever threatens them.  Leaders tend to take up the tank role as they are the ones who determine when to engage in a fight. Unlike tanks, healers are the furthest from danger, standing behind even the damage dealers.  Unlike the damage dealers, healers mostly just use spells on allies. Nothing too fancy, usually just the shine of holy light, or a soothing nature’s breeze.  Basically, their boring, but do they have to be?

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Fortunately, in newer games, healers tend to have less emphasis on healing, ergo retitling the role to support. Healing is usually just part of their kit, sometimes even a passive one.  Take Overwatch’s Lucio as an example.  He heals in a large area of effect around him, just standing near his allies to replenish their health.  This means a Lucio player only needs to focus on positioning for heals, allowing them to spend more time aiming shots and contributing to the offense.  In addition to aggressive options, a support’s repertoire of skills can include crowd control abilities like stuns, or utility skills like movement speed buffs.  The support role has become more interesting and fun to play by allowing healers to do more than just heal.

There is a very rare type of healer, one that doesn’t just have the option to attack, but must attack to heal.  These characters must attack, must put themselves at risk to defend their allies.  Playing this kind of character requires a careful balance between aggression and defense that I find especially compelling.  The balance becomes even harder to maintain in multiplayer games, where supports are high priority targets for the enemy team.

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My first experience with an aggressive support was in Warhammer Online playing the Warrior Priest.  I chose this class because the female version looked like a Sister of Battle from Warhammer 40k, my favorite faction in that game.  The Warrior Priest is a mashup of two more traditional MMO classes. It plays exactly like it sounds, run straight up to enemies and smash them with a hammer, while still tossing heals to your allies. No hanging in the back, this healer held the front line. In Warhammer Online you could choose two targets, one offensive and one defensive.  When using an attack, it targets the offensive target. When using a heal, the defensive.  The coolest part was when a skill utilized both targets.  For example, when using Divine Assault, the Warrior Priest unleashes a series of hammer slams on the offensive target, while healing the defensive target for 250% of the damage dealt.  Many moves acted as a combination of melee attack and heal. The most efficient way to play Warrior Priest was to get in there and scrap alongside the tanks and melee damage dealers, leading to a more dangerous, exciting, and engaging playstyle.

After the Warrior Priest, I never encountered any more aggressive supports until Heroes of the Storm.  Most supports in this game fall under the “can attack and heal” umbrella, like Lucio (who is also in this game.)  The first character with the option to heal through aggression was Kharazim.  He is a monk who punches, and at level 1 he chooses a special effect to add to his punches: extra damage, mana regeneration, or heals.  For the first time since the WP I found a character who can heal through attacking, although for Kharazim it is optional.  Later, they added Auriel, who uses a special resource called Hope to power her heal.  Hope is generated by Auriel’s attacks or through her bestow hope ability. Bestow Hope allows her to mark an ally then generate hope from their attacks as well.  This is an interesting variant on the concept, a character who charges up their heals through attacks.  While some of her healing comes from her own aggression, the bulk of it comes from the ally.

Continuing the idea of using attacks to power up a resource is Moira, the newest character in Overwatch (also, the inspiration for this article.)  Like Auriel, she has a special resource called biotic energy, that she spends to use her healing ability.  The only way to charge up biotic energy she must use her ranged attack.  Unlike Auriel, she cannot gain biotic energy from allies.  Moira must get in there and fight alongside her allies, not hang back and try to avoid the conflict.  Unlike her fellow Overwatch supports, like Lucio, attacking isn’t an option.  Aggression is required to support her team.

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I’m really excited about Moira.  She feels like the closest thing to the Warrior Priest that I’ve seen in a while.  While the examples from HOTS kinda flirt with the idea, with those two characters it’s optional.  Moira doesn’t have an option, to be defensive she must be aggressive.  I plan on playing her a lot, and consequently playing more Overwatch as well.

6 thoughts on “Defense through Offense: Aggressive Supports in Multiplayer Games”

  1. I would always play a healer or support class, so this is an interesting way of looking at it. It’s nice that, in more modern games at least, healers are now given more ways to play rather than just heal the tank. Back when I would play MMOs that’s all you would do (one of the reasons they were a rarer class), so seeing ways to be a DPS/healer combination is nice.

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  2. I’m useless at multitasking so I prefer supports that just focus on healing. With respect to Overwatch I think all future supports will be expected to DPS to an extent. The community loves to bash Mercy mains, when they are forced to pick another character, as a lot of them don’t have much practice with aiming a gun.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Even though I personally don’t like playing Mercy, I’m glad she is in the game for people who do prefer to focus on healing. One of Overwatch’s greatest strengths is that there is a character for every playstyle.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t played many MMOs, but I feel Guild Wars and Rainbow 6 Siege provide unique perspectives regarding support classes as well. I actually typically tank with a support mindset as I often play with people who favor flimsier characters with high DPS; so, my focus is absorbing damage and either debuffing or physically creating openings for my team to take advantage of (like the tank in R6S). I think Blizzard currently has a very specific formula for their team builds, and their focus seems to be expanding these current archetypes rather than shifting the paradigm of play… whiiiich is possibly a byproduct of their neverending struggle between their casual appeal and eSport intentions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I agree with your point about blizzard games. The focus on very specific team compositions is becoming more and more noticeable the more I play those game. I remember league of legends having a similar situation with roles and positions being very inflexible.

      Liked by 1 person

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