How I Learned to Play Overwatch One-Handed

By Kotaku on at

By Jennifer Simpkins

At a recent roller derby training session, I got in a fight… with the floor. The floor won. I’d snapped off the ends of my left arm bones like a broken Kit-Kat. My first thought as I looked down at my new chicane of a wrist? Not “Fucking ow!”, but rather: “How the hell am I going to play Overwatch?”

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My first cast was an awkward plaster monstrosity; this is the second and significantly more rad version.

Since its release, booting up my PS4 for a quick round or 20 of Blizzard’s team shooter has become as much a part of the daily routine as brushing my teeth or tying my shoelaces. But as my useless wrist was pulled straight, and set in a cast, I started going about trying to live life normally with only my (dominant) right hand.

Cup of tea: slow, but doable. Showering: weird arm-condom required, but fine. Holding a controller correctly: oh no. Badly-bruised and encased in plaster, my left thumb was almost completely out of action, while both index and middle fingers limited in their movements. The left side of a gamepad was almost completely inaccessible to me, and I was livid.

It was time to use this anger: stop whining about the nerf, and start adapting. And – with some help from Overwatch’s generous accessibility options, a bit of research and the power of my own face – it turned out to be surprisingly painless.

(Apart from, you know, the whole broken bone thing.)

Button remapping is essential, no matter how many hands you have

Here’s a thing you might not know about Overwatch: you can remap pretty much every single button to any other. Not only that, but you can do this on a character-by-character basis – and the game will save your custom controls setup for them – even when you’re playing on other PS4s.

For me this was a lifesaver. Half of most characters’ abilities are usually on the left bumper and left trigger, and some critical stuff like the quick chat menu and Mercy’s blaster also hangs out on the west side of Padsville.

What to do? Prioritise. One of my most-played heroes is Mercy, so I pulled up her control options and started thinking and tinkering. Normally, I remap jump from X to L3 for all heroes, meaning I don’t have to sacrifice my thumb (and therefore my aim) to hop about – but clicking the left thumbstick was no longer an option. It was easy enough to pop it back onto X for most characters, but with Mercy? I needed to relocate that D-pad pistol. A reluctant farewell to my melee ability, a begrudging hello to R3 jump, and change-to-pistol on X.

I’m not much of a teabagger, either. Crouching is all but useless to the way I play, so suddenly I had circle free – the perfect place to pop my essential comms wheel. And apart from spawn-point character switches, square was ripe for a remapping too, meaning my left bumper’s Guardian Angel ability could live there. My left-trigger float? Activated instead by holding X.

It looked like everything was going to be all right.

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*hallelujah chorus plays*

There’s no wrong way to hold a gamepad (except for almost all of the ways)

Basic mobility was an issue. Abilities worked now, but my left thumb was struggling with the stick. The real kicker about my cast-bound arm was that I probably could have managed PC Overwatch: my fingers may have been able to manage some decent WASDing, but the solid plaster made a regular pad grip very tough.

So I did some Googling. “One-handed controllers”; “how to hold controller one hand”; “why do bad things happen to good people”. One forum suggested holding the pad upside-down, which seemed like a fun approach until I realised directional inputs were reversed and my brain went “Nope!” Another post suggested a sideways grip: my right fingers and thumbs could reach everything except the d-pad, but the 90-degree turn posed the same mental adjustment problem.

I even tried Blu-tacking the controller down on a flat surface, foregoing thumbs entirely and flashing fingers over buttons and sticks – abilities remapped to d-pad instead of bumpers and triggers – like a demented jazz accompanist playing the world’s tiniest, stupidest piano. It made for decent shooting, but thunking out rockets or treating someone to a faceful of fusion cannon just didn’t feel right on a d-pad. It was trigger or nothing. Back to the drawing board.

Using your mouth/face to move is surprisingly effective

Of course, my cack-handed six weeks of whingeing seems pretty pathetic when you consider some players have to deal with a permanent disability. This dude, for example, plays a better Pharah with one arm than I could hope to manage with two – and he doesn’t even remap his buttons.

But it was a non-Overwatch eSports champ that inspired my next experiment. I’ve always been in awe of Mike “Brolylegs” Begum’s Street Fighter play: despite suffering from arthrogryposis, curvature of the joints, he rocks one of the best Chun-Lis I’ve ever seen by using his cheek and tongue to pull off complex inputs on a gamepad. It looks a bit mad, a bit moist, and incredibly complicated – in other words, the holy trifecta of a good time (sorry Mum.)

I had to try. I popped a thumb grip on the left stick, swallowed my pride – careful not to take the thumb grip with it – and gave it a go. And by the holy soul of Jeff Kaplan, it only went and bloody worked. Mashing my mouth into the top of the stick and pulling some ridiculous directional pouty faces actually made for passably smooth movement. There’s no way I’d be cracking out spinning bird kicks on the reg, but this worked just fine for shuffling between objectives.

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[To the tune of the Transformers theme] FACE TRAINING! TRAINING WITH YOUR FACE!

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Some characters work better than others with one hand

Speaking of: tanking turned out to be by far the best bet for my solo-paw self, because usefulness there is all about smart positioning, leadership, and knowledge of the game. Reinhardt (Barrier Field mapped to square, toggle barrier ON) became an essential pick. Winston’s reduced set of abilities made for simple remapping. D.Va (toggle Defense Matrix OFF) was a little trickier – until I grew out of my usual dual-wielding ignorance, stopped kill-hunting, and focused more on controlling space with my fusion cannon spread and big ol’ mech.

Supports other than Mercy worked too. While I wasn’t confident in pulling off stunts with Lucio, Symmetra’s turret setups and auto-aim laser was more than doable. Most more offensive characters without secondary fire are also fair remappable game for the less able Overwatch player. Reaper. Hanzo.

Not Bastion, get a fucking grip. Having one hand doesn’t mean you abandon all standards.

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Entering your card details is still perfectly possible with the use of only one hand. You can’t buy a new hand, but you can buy happiness disappointment, kids.

You lose some, you win some

Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to accept the broken hand you’re dealt. I knew I wouldn’t be playing optimally. I also had to accept this wouldn’t be the month I git gud with the highly-technical cyborg ninja Genji. Competitive matches felt like a no-no, too: I couldn’t live with myself if I lost the trust and respect of my carefully-piled ranking points.

Normally I avoid the extravagant luxury of voice chat – tactical spamming with the comms wheel does the trick. But to save fumbles and objectives, there were certain instances in my injured weeks where it made sense to be on the mic: calling out enemy flankers as a support hero, or coordinating my Graviton Surge with teammates as Zarya. I’m talking about the later weeks where my left thumb loosened up, of course, and not the earlier ones where I spent the majority of games with a thumbstick wedged firmly in my mouth.

Letting people know over mic ahead of matches that I was a bit hampered also felt like the cool thing to do. It transpires that there is no universal Overwatch comms callout for “I’m playing one-handed, please don’t crucify me.” Not that I didn’t try to come up with a few.

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I don’t how I could have been any clearer.

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What a surprise that, of all the characters, Reapers tended to be less sympathetic towards my plight.

But for everything I had to let go during my one-handed Overwatch, there was something I discovered that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Coloured reticules! Differently-shaped reticules! Bloom settings! It was all supremely exciting to me in a way that would surely disappoint anyone who thinks I’m a real adult. One-handed or two-handed, I was able to ensure reticules didn’t get lost in firefights, and boost my accuracy by switching to crosshairs.

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Genji, Hanzo and Junkrat’s Rip-Tire Ultimate can all be set to automatically climb walls. You can have one button simply toggle Mercy’s damage boost, or Lucio’s speed boost, so that you’re always right back on the heals afterwards. No more accidentally skating about with speed mode left on and causing accidents! (Which also happens to be what the nurse said.)

And if you’re a Soldier: 76 or Zarya main, consider turning ‘Allied Health Bars’ on in the settings menu – it’ll help you better judge when to set down his Biotic Field or who to zap her protective shields onto. There is so much stuff hidden away in the menus, and it’s all gold for a keen Overwatch player looking to up their game. Don’t wait until you snap your wrist like a Muller Fruit Corner to take a look.

Overwatch is pretty happy to do most of the work, actually

In the end, my real saving grace was this beautiful game itself. Overwatch’s design is practically a third hand – one that intermittently grabs you by the skull to say “HEY, LOOK OVER HERE!”, or boosts you over a bit of a skill wall whenever you need it to. Situational audio cues; clear visual feedback; hitboxes that are just the right amount of forgiving to still feel worthwhile; a variety of characters to choose from that don’t rely on precision execution.

I’ve tried one-handed Destiny and Titanfall 2, you see, and it’s not exactly the dream. Overwatch is not a twitch-focused shooter and, to my mind, this makes it not only accessible but maybe even more well-rounded for it.

Victory in Overwatch doesn’t mean having the reactions of a 14-year-old Korean eSports prodigy. It’s about your awareness of surroundings, your ability to position yourself well, how you communicate and co-ordinate with a team, your ability to switch up approach when a match isn’t going well, and your capacity to be creative with its systems and mechanics. It’s not really bothered with tutting at you about reaction times.Overwatch: Origins Edition_20170124205425

In those six weeks of doom, gloom and absolutely no handstands, Overwatch showed me that success came down to my willingness to adapt. But there was almost a sense it had been designed for this. Like it was meeting me halfway, and just wanted to help me play – no matter how many working hands I had. When my options were limited then, like the masterpiece it is, Overwatch opened up.