Hello, my name is Michael Udall and I play flex for Gale Force eSports. I was runner up in Heroes of the Dorm in 2015 and won Heroes of the Dorm with ASU in 2016. I play Zarya a lot for my professional team. This guide will teach you when to pick Zarya and how to play her.
General Thoughts: Zarya is similar to Tassadar in the sense that one of her main roles is being able to empower hypercarries. Hypercarries are those hard carry assassins that put out large amounts of damage. Some of the best hypercarries to combo with Zarya with are Valla, Illidan, Zul'jin, and Sgt. Hammer. The reason for this is because her shield allows them to play more aggressively, thus allowing them to output more damage. With Sgt. Hammer and Valla they also have an INSANELY strong pushing lane since Zarya does a lot of damage when at high energy and Valla and Hammer both have good pushing. Zarya is a very unique tank. she plays a lot like a tanky ranged assassin since she does INSANE amounts of damage. I have found that playing further back and being able to spam Q is a lot safer and does about the same damage as getting into melee range and auto attacking.
Pros of Zarya:
- Self Shield/Ally Shield super nice for saving allies
- High damage output with lots of energy
- Good poke with Q
- Good ability to merc since her auto attack splashes
Cons of Zarya:
- Low damage with low energy
- No escape mechanism - yes she has her shield but since she's a melee she's often in compromising positions in which you need a dash to get out
- Normally not a very good solo tank since she has no engagement tools until 10 - but even at level 10 they aren't very good
- High skill cap - requires good prediction to shield properly as well as good game knowledge to have energy at all times
Level 1: Demolitions Expert/Maximum Charge I almost always go Demolitions Expert (the Q stacking talent) because it gives you better poke and more DPS mid- to late-game once you have completed the quest. Once you reach level 20 it combos extremely well with Grenadier. I do think Maximum Charge is a good talent though and I think it really shines when players arent that experienced at keeping their energy up, so if you are having trouble keeping your energy up I think Maximum Charge is a really good choice.
Level 4: Honestly all of these talents are good and it just depends on personal preference. I normally go Speed Shield or auto-attack block but the other two are also good. Play around with the talents figure out the one you like.
Level 7: Pinpoint Accuracy Honestly no other talents on this tier are that good and this talent combos really well with the lvl 1 Q talent and lvl 20 Q talents. It gives you good burst damage as well as just increasing your poke damage overall.
Level 10: Expulsion Zone I pick this talent 99% of the time. The main reason for that because being able to block of corridors and chokes to separate teams can be game changing. You can also use Expulsion Zone on boss captures, like Holy Ground, where no one else can step on it but you. (Cool tip: Expulsion is also an interrupt to ETC’s ultimate, Mosh Pit.) One of the biggest reasons you choose this ultimate over Graviton Surge is because a 40 second cooldown is much better than a 100 second cooldown. In Hero League I see a good amount of people go Graviton. In my opinion the heroic isn't really that good at wombo-comboing people since so many heroes can escape it with blinks, teleports, dashes etc. Another little tip: Expulsion Zone does a lot of damage with high energy so you can use it to do an unexpected amount of burst.
Level 13: Pain is Temporary This is my 13 of choice because one of Zarya’s biggest downfalls is that she has no escape mechanism and this helps make up for it. When you're being focused down as the target, using your self shield, accumulating a lot of energy, then popping Pain is Temporary gives you a very high health pool making it nearly impossible to get one-shotted. I do think the Magic Resistance after shield talent can be really good especially if you are facing something like a Jaina or Kael'thas.
Level 16: Gain Train This talent is really good since it makes it a lot easier to maintain a high level of energy late game where you can't just walk into towers for free energy. Its also really nice for teamfights since most of the time the enemy will have AoE damage and having two shields is nice for soaking up the DPS. Gain Train is especially strong when you have two people diving, such as a Tyrael and Greymane. Since they both are going to take damage, you get an instant energy bar as well as save their health pools. I do think the Cleansing Shield talent does have a place into high-CC from the other team.
Level 20: Grenader/Rewind Shield 80 to 90% of the time I go Grenader because once you get this talent you become one of the best poke heroes in the game by being able to spam Q endlessly, which through the course of a fight will absolutely obliterate everyone. It is one of the best lvl 20 damage power spikes in the game. It turns Zarya into one of the highest DPS outputs, maybe even rivaling NAZGOD. I will go Rewind Shield though when the enemy team is running extremely high burst comps and my backlines are in danger of dying.
Other Talent Builds thoughts: I see a lot of people running the auto build with the auto attack talents at 1 and 7. I think this build is really bad because it puts you in a precarious situation to be able to do damage. One of Zarya's biggest strengths is her ability to poke from afar and honestly I dont even think you get that much damage from the auto talents. I think you probably lose damage assuming you are hitting Qs. I think this build is so incredibly bad because it's 1-sided. If you don't auto you are basically useless for damage, whereas with Q build you can still auto when they are close and do good damage. When it's poking and they are far away, you can Q and be happy!
Energy Management: First and most important tip - WALK INTO TOWERS!! This is probably one of the best ways for you to keep your energy up at all times, by walking into the towers tanking 1-2 shots. If you are really confident in your teammates, you can have them do the same thing and -boom- instant full energy. Standing in boss stuns or roots is also a good way to keep your energy, but only do this if you know the enemy team is not in a position to kill you. I normally look to always walk into forts/towers with my self shield to help maintain energy and then I posture my character a little further back and look to save my ally shield for when a teammate needs it.
Zarya Gameplay: I honestly think Zarya is pretty similar in the way she plays throughout the whole game, although maybe after getting expulsion zone would you posture a little differently. Throughout most of the game you should look to be getting energy with your self shield from PVE sources whenever you can, but also walking into enemy skillshots. Blizzard, Flamestrike, and Guldan's Q are a good way to keep energy up. Zarya really feels like one of the worst heroes in the game when she has 0 energy, contrasted to one of the highest damage dealers with 100 energy.
You should always be cognisant of your teammates' positioning and throw your ally shield on them if they are in danger. I think it's important to also let you team know when your shield is down so pinging your ally shield to show its on cooldown can help your teammates know to play more passively.
Post 10: After you have Expulsion Zone you should look to use it to either isolate someone or separate the enemy team. I think one of the best uses of Expulsion Zone is with separating a tank from his team. For Example, if you see an ETC slide into your team you can expulsion away his team's follow-up so he becomes a sitting duck with no escape.
Here are links to a few games with Zarya being played professionally. Try and watch these and look for how the pros are always maximizing their shields for energy, specifically walking into towers and try and implement that into your own gameplay!
NA Zarya VOD:
EU Zarya VOD:
KR Zarya VOD:
I hope this guide helped, please comment tips below! I am still very new to guide-making also CHECK OUT MY STREAM if you have any question: twitch.tv/michaeludall. Also feel free to tweet them at me @Michael_udall. See you in the Nexus! (is that cringe, can I say that?)