Hey Overwatch students, Gangsir here.
With the small buffs she’s received on the PTR (Hacking healthpacks causes reduced hack cooldown, more obvious sugar skull on hacked enemies) and with the introduction of another hero weak to her (Baptiste), Sombra is poised to become a pretty popular choice.
There’s bound to be new Sombra players that understand the basics just from playing against her (what her abilities do, stats, etc), but might not know the gamesense component of playing her. Basically, “How does one play sombra and get value out of her?”.
With this guide, I’m going to break down how you actually play Sombra, tasks that a sombra player needs to stay on top of, fine details like places to put translocator, EMP placement, timing and execution, and more. I’m assuming you already know how her kit works and all of her stats. If you don’t, you can check out my beginner guide to Sombra here.
Disclaimer: This is a guide for the average ranks, (high silver-high plat) not the highest or lowest tiers. Things change when you climb, and playstyles have to be adjusted.
Sombra’s role and purpose
Before we talk about how to play her, it’s important to understand what role she serves, and why one would pick her.
Sombra is a utility DPS, kinda like Mei or Torbjorn. She’s picked for her kit, not her raw damage counts (like a junkrat would be). Utility DPS usually provide unique forms of damage (Torb’s turret) or disables/CC (Mei, Sombra, Symmetra) in order to make it more difficult for teams to push, or resist pushes, in addition to usually countering one/several of the enemy heroes.
Sombra’s unique keystone ability is her Hack, which disables enemy abilities. As this is Overwatch and not Call of duty, usually “ability-play” is more important than “gunplay”. By disrupting enemy abilities, she opens opportunities for her team or herself to kill enemies.
As an example, take her hack interaction with Genji. Genji is normally very slippery, able to avoid damage by high mobility and deflect. When hacked, Genji loses effectively all his mobility (can’t double jump, can’t wall climb, can’t dash) and also loses the ability to deflect. Hacking genji when his team is unable to bail him out allows your team to fire upon him with impunity, resulting in a significantly easier kill.
Thus, when playing sombra, having high “hack uptime” on the right targets is key. Hacking the enemy main tank lets your main tank be significantly more aggressive and prevents shielding against your other DPS, hacking their DPS lets you kill them significantly easier, hacking their supports prevents them from using their supportive abilities (hacked Anas can’t sleep anyone, allowing for free DPS ults without fear, hacked Zens can’t transcend, etc) and more.
Sombra’s to-do list and the FADS acronym
While playing Sombra, you want to be cycling through a sort of “to do list” of tasks that form your contribution to the team. These tasks can be remembered by the FADS acronym, short for:
F – Farm ult
A – Assassinate targets
D – Deny enemy ults
S – Stall the objective
EMP is one of, if not the strongest ult in the game. An EMP executed at the right time on the right people basically results in an automatically won teamfight. As Hack is one of the strongest forms of CC, applying it to a large amount of people at once greatly endangers the enemy team, and that’s without the bonus effects of EMP. (Destroying barriers and shield health, disabling buildables, etc)
Thus, in order to be effective on Sombra, you want to be farming and deploying EMP as often as possible. EMP is an extremely fast charging ult, provided you’re playing Sombra correctly. I myself have managed to get it in sub-1 min times, having it about every teamfight and a half.
How can EMP be farmed?
This can be done one of two ways: Either play with your team, hack their shield tank and M1 their frontline, or flank behind, hack their peeler (Lucio or D.va usually) and farm somebody who doesn’t pose a threat to you (either the D.va you just hacked, a support, etc)
The key to this is to go after targets that can’t fight back. Trying to farm off of risky targets like DPS or Roadhog or similar will either mean death or repeated translocation, leading to low damage dealt. When farming for EMP, stick to high ground or cover, so you can periodically dip out to drop aggro. Most teams sufficiently distracted by your team won’t pursue you too hard if you disappear off their screen for a bit. If you do get dove by one of their peelers or their dive tanks, translocate to a different spot and continue farming. (More on how to place your translocator later)
As a disruptor and a flanker, one of the things that you can do is to try to assassinate targets. Killing people is of course an aid in a teamfight, but if done properly outside of teamfights it can delay or prevent them.
To do this, look for a target that you could take out. Personally, in a 1v1, I like to try to assassinate the following heroes:
Torb, Zen, Orisa, Mercy, Symmetra, Hammond, Junkrat (from a distance), Pharah, Ana, Baptiste, Lucio, and Soldier. These heroes tend to lack super dangerous guns or abilities, and make for easy one-clips if you hack them first, or attack them when their team isn’t around to protect them.
How do I assassinate targets?
I covered 1v1 tips in my beginner guide, but overall the key thing is to get the hack off on them first. As sombra’s gun isn’t the best (but it’s far from the worst, don’t sleep on it) it’s important that targets be unable to use their “savior” abilities. Most heroes have a “I win/escape” ability that they’ll use if they get focused, (Soldier’s field, Ana’s sleep, Orisa’s shield/fortify, Junkrat’s mines, McCree’s flash, etc) so it’s key to prevent them from using them.
Look for them to be alone, and without healing. Your damage is fairly easy for main healers to outheal, so if someone gets significant healing, abort the attempt.
When do I assassinate targets?
The key timing to go for a kill is when your team is present and pushing, in order to prevent significant resources from being invested into you. If their Ana is concerned with not losing their reinhardt to your frontline, she won’t be able to spare the time to save her zen from being one-clipped, and if she does, her rein dies.
Generally assassinations are done from a flank, but it is possible to gun people down on the frontline like a soldier would. (More on flanking vs playing with your team later)
Spawncamping is another thing you can do. If someone who’s “assassinate-able” (see the list above) dies first during your team’s push but you end up losing the teamfight, it’s possible to spawncamp that person to extend the time your team has to group back up and push again, 6v5. From there, you can either spawncamp them again (if it’s someone important like their main tank, your team shouldn’t need you there to push 5v5) to extend even further and tilt them, or you can simply rejoin the fight with your team.
Remember that the longer you spawncamp someone, the more “woke” they’ll become to your antics, and they’ll be harder to fight. They’ll also ask for a team escort if you’re really farming them. Learn when to leave them be.
As a tip for the actual act of spawncamping, don’t wait in cloak outside their spawn when they come out. Decloak first while they’re respawning so they can’t hear, then hack them immediately as soon as they get out of spawn. This leaves them with no time to react, and makes it harder to locate you. Also remember that you don’t need to kill them. If it’s a zen or something and you can just keep them in spawn, that works too.
If you’re lucky, they’ll tilt-switch to a different (usually compositionally useless like roadhog) hero, which helps your team.
Deny enemy ults and plays
This is probably the hardest part of playing Sombra, as it requires the most thinking out of all her other tasks. To effectively deny enemy plays and ults, you need to be predicting and tracking what ults they have, and are going to try to use. As an example, if you know rein has shatter during a teamfight, you can do the “18 second hack” technique (more under techs below) to keep him from shattering. Or, if you know they have grav+dragon, you can wait (uncloaked! Can’t have delay) near the hanzo, and cancel his ult once their Zarya gravs, so it has no followup. (Here’s a clip of Fitzyhere doing it)
You can also deny plays as well as ults. Sombra can be played as anti-dive in this way, simply by hacking any divers that dive into your team (With the popularity of Hammond going up, this is big) so they can’t escape and get punished. You can hack reddit lucios so they screw off. You can hack reaper out of his ult, Moira out of coalescence so they can’t push with it, etc.
Sombra can also pretty effectively protect supports from flanker DPS like Tracer. Tracer won’t want to get near you for fear of getting hacked, and this can zone her away from your supports. Same for genji.
Stall/Cap the objective
As a hero with an escape, Sombra can really easily stall objectives for a few seconds, without running too much risk of death. By doing this repeatedly, you can shave off seconds from the enemy time, which can make all the difference later.
Generally, what I do is place translocator fairly near the point/payload, then unstealth at the back of the payload and crouch, or unstealth in the corner of the point. Typically they won’t notice you for a bit, and as soon as they do, just teleport out, wait for cooldowns, and repeat. This can slow them down allowing your team to recontest.
As for capping, much of the capping you’ll be doing as sombra is back capping. Look to backcap right after your team loses a teamfight during the cleanup, as teams will push forward aggressively, trying to drive attackers back to spawn. Decloak out of sound range (15m, same as hack range) and crouch walk up to the payload. Don’t shoot anyone or reveal your presence, and don’t tell your team that you’re backcapping, as that usually causes unnecessary feeding. (You want your team to extend their lives so the enemy stays distracted for longer, not throw them away and let the enemy come back early)
Backcapping generally only works once, as teams wise up to it and start leaving someone behind on it, and watching the UI for capping.
Common flaws that lose games
Translocator use, EMP placement/timing, tunnel vision, and positioning.
These four issues tend to cause Sombras to lose games. These are subtle things that the game never really shoves in your face that you’re doing wrong (You can play plenty of games, blissfully unaware that you’re throwing), so it’s key to notice if you’re making them and fix it.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that 8/10 sombra players get this wrong.
Translocator is not an escape tool. It is a repositioning tool that just happens to also create safety.
The average sombra’s “flow” with translocator is: Place locator on health pack outside of fight area. Activate stealth. Run behind enemies. Unstealth, try to do something, get shot down to 60 health. Translocate. Grab healthpack, wait 6-8 seconds for cooldowns, throw translocator on healthpack, repeat. This whole cycle might take around 20-30 seconds not including running time, and you only fight the enemy for about 5 of those seconds. This is how you throw on sombra. Seriously. You are part of the team’s DPS, and your damage and contribution is needed. If you’re placing your translocator extremely passively, then all the enemy team needs to do to effectively kill you is to endanger you. Then, you’ll gleefully teleport 100 miles away, and be useless for the next 15 seconds until you can come back. You might as well die, as the time it would take you to get back from spawn is the same amount of time you spend gathering yourself and running back after teleporting out.
Not to mention the feeding this does. You take damage, then teleport out and get a healthpack. This means that you feed 130-170 points of ult charge every time you run a cycle, in addition to the healer ult charge you give by trying and failing to spray down someone. Again, you might as well let them kill you.
The proper way to use translocator is a little tricky to remember, so just use this rule of thumb:
If the placement of your translocator would prevent you from shooting an enemy within 2 seconds of teleporting, it’s wrong.
Here’s an example clip of fairly aggressive placement. This is what you wanna go for. Far enough away to get you out of the fight you’re in, but close enough to where you can rejoin the fight. Trust your healers to heal you. Originally in this clip I intended to teleport once I hit around 100 health, but the Orisa lasered me for a bit. This kind of placement will catch a lot of people off guard, because they assume that when you teleport away, they’ve seen the last of you for a while. (Which they have, if you’re
throwingusing translocator wrong)
Aggressive, smart positioning allows for repositioning early, without feeling like a waste. With bad translocator positioning, teleporting out at 180 health is silly. With good positioning, you’re just adjusting your positioning. Doing this takes heat off of you, while opening up opportunities. Perhaps your new position allows you an angle to hack their rein? Maybe you can finish somebody, because you didn’t leave the fight?
Once you do teleport and rejoin the fight, fight while the cooldown for your translocator is running (it’s only 4 seconds), and then chuck it somewhere else, just in case someone decides to kill you. Just keep chucking and teleporting, so you never stop raining bullets and hacks on them. Aim for having silver damage as Sombra, that usually indicates you’re having enough impact and charging EMP fast enough.
In summary, place translocators so that you can rejoin the fight and shoot someone within 2 seconds, and preferably on high ground, near a healthpack, so you have the option of continuing to fight or grabbing the pack when low.
EMP placement and timing
EMP should be used a bit like Orisa’s supercharger. Use it when your team is nearby to follow up on it, and the enemy team can’t easily pull out and wait out the effects. If they decide to initiate with support ults, you can EMP after so they can be cleaned up.
If you’re on attack, it should be used as initiation. As soon as your tank goes to engage, you want to throw EMP in right after him. The panic of a tank diving in + EMP will probably result in a few immediate kills, with more following as they can’t escape.
As for it’s placement, try to throw it so that you don’t end up in the dead center of their team, as you’ll probably die. Try to hit as many people as you can with it, but make sure you hit a few key targets: The enemy tanks and supports with support ults. DPS don’t really matter as they’ll die when their frontline folds, but you need to make sure your team can push aggressively without getting tank ulted, or the supports cancelling out the EMP with beat or trans.
Sombra is up there with widow and Ana when it comes to “top heroes to tunnel vision with and become a bot” heroes. They’ll get obsessed with trying to do something (“If I could just kill this ana we could win”, “I just need to hack rein”) and they’ll turn their brain off and start doing the same thing over and over, getting frustrated that the enemy is woke to their plans.
To prevent this, stop and observe. Pay attention to what happens during teamfights, and look to influence more than one person at a time. Tons of sombras get this idea that it’s illegal or something to hack a person and then shoot someone else. They have this compulsion to always shoot the thing they hack, and hack the thing they’re shooting.
Generally, if you’re hacking someone, you’ll have much more impact if you target someone else, unless that hacked person doesn’t have healers. If you hack their main tank, the whole effort of the enemy supports will go into keeping him up, so they’ll outheal you. Instead, hack the main tank to let your team blast him with high damage and CC, and you target the off-tank or one of the supports. Their Ana will hear “I’m hacked! Keep me up!” and “Help your zen, sombra on me” at the same time, and freak out. By preventing singular investment of resources, you force any assisters to decide. Do they help their hacked teammate that’s getting blasted by your team, or do they get the sombra off their zen? Pick wrong, and you lose one.
Positioning + Avoiding fire
Another thing many Sombras do wrong. Sombra isn’t tracer. She doesn’t need to be really close to people to do serious damage. Sombra’s spread and damage falloff (15m!) allows her to deal huge damage from very far away. Due to her huge clip size, she can actually 1 clip squishy heroes from up to about 25m away before falloff gets too bad. Check it out in the training range sometime. It’s even better against tanks, where she can nearly 1-clip them from 15m, which is outside of most tanks’ range.
Thus, don’t be close to people. It’s usually easier to track farther targets too, so your aim will improve if you aren’t breathing down their neck while trying to kill them. Here’s an example. Notice how I’m doing really solid damage despite being farther away than most Sombras are comfortable being? (Also notice my translocator placement?) Back it up, you’ll do better.
Additionally, when trying to fight someone, stick near cover. You can avoid damage and extend the time you’re able to stay in one spot if you use cover to shrug off shots. Decloaking behind their team in the open means that they can delete you easily, since you have nowhere to hide. If you engage from cover, you can take cover, peek out, fire or hack a bit more, and hide again. This extends how long they have to spend dealing with you.
Non-committedly poking at their backline stalls them (as they won’t feel comfortable pushing if a danger/CC source is just… standing there, menacingly…; and you casually farm EMP while they hang around wondering what to do about you.)
- Damage dodge
Sombra can’t be hurt while she’s translocating. Just like tracer’s recall, Sombra ceases to exist for a short time during her teleport. This means you can throw translocator at your feet and translocate to avoid damage from D.va bombs, Junkrat tires, Deadeye, and more. It can also be used to close distance without taking damage, if you’re hard-committing to someone.
- The Eternal Hack
Sombra is capable of keeping someone hacked for about 17-18 seconds straight, if executed properly. To do this, hack them, wait 5.5 seconds, EMP, wait 5.5 seconds (your hack is now off cooldown) and hack them again.
This can stall and delay tank ults from happening (If your rein is distracted and can’t block the shatter, then you can just prevent it from happening), stall DPS/Support ults until it’s too late to use them, etc. Not to mention this tech also tilts anyone you use it on to high heaven.
- The EMP Missile
As lots of people don’t seem to know the proper order of operations for EMPing at range, here’s the list:
- Be stealthed, have translocator off cooldown.
- Throw translocator into the air above where you want the EMP to originate.
- Press left click or Melee to decloak.
- Translocate, and immediately ult.
- Try to fall somewhere safe so you don’t instantly die. Having your damage around and continued hacks help with follow up.
It’s also possible to use steps 1-2 to trick supports into ulting. If you just throw your translocator and cancel it, you can bait defensive ults. Works better on higher tier supports that actually have the reflexes to react.
- Hacking when already fighting someone
If someone is fighting you in a 1v1, and it becomes necessary to hack them, try to time the hack during their reload. Hack takes less time than most heroes’ reloads, as long as you time it right. Pay attention to their fire, and count shots. Tracer for example takes about a second to empty her clip, then a second to reload. Thus, when she starts firing, count “one Mississippi” and then hack. It’s key to time it, as if you put hack out too early you’ll get damaged and put it on cooldown for 2 seconds.
- Escape juke
If you ever find yourself being attacked and you don’t have your translocator down, you can fool a lot of people with this trick:
1. Throw translocator behind the person. Wait for them to turn around.
2. If they turn around to pursue your locator: Cloak, cancel translocator, and run away. They won’t see you cloak, so they won’t know where you went.
3. If they don’t turn around: Wait for their reload, and cloak and instantly translocate. Don’t translocate then cloak, you want to cancel the cloaking animation with the time you spend in “translocator limbo”, so all they see is a flash at the other end, not you. If they see your translocator they’re gonna spin around, so you don’t want them seeing your ghostly form running in a certain direction, as they’ll predict and hit you.
Thanks for reading! Hopefully this helped. If you have any further questions or corrections, be sure to drop a comment.