Zarya Guide: How To Be The Best Zarya In The World

Zarya Guide: How To Be The Best Zarya In The World
Don't just stand there, do something!

Zarya, a former weightlifter, gave up fame and fortune when her country needed her.

Hailing from the “Motherland” of Russia, Aleksanrda Zaryanova is one of the strongest women in the world, and she was ready to prove it in the weightlifting world championship. But, after years of training and dedication, on the eve of the tournament he hometown was invaded by omnics. Knowing first hand the destruction the Omnic Crisis can cause, Zarya withdrew from the tournament and instead enlisted in the national defense force, sacrificing fame, fortune, and her weightlifting dreams for honor, duty, and country.

Zarya is a challenging Hero to play, but is easy to understand and fun to master once you grasp the basics of her kit. Her ultimate ability alone is worth learning this hero for, as it has some of the best match-changing potential in the game. In this guide I’ll provide you with fundamentals you can use at any level to focus and improve your Zarya game.



This passive ability is key in understanding how to play Zarya. Your energy charge determines how much damage you can do with the primary and secondary fire of your particle cannon. The more damage your particle barriers take, the higher your energy, and the more damage you do as a result.

Zarya’s energy is measured in a scale of 1 to 100, and is shown just below your crosshairs by default. For each point of energy, you do 1% more damage. You automatically lose 2 points of energy per second, so it’s up to you to keep it high.

Particle Cannon (Primary Fire):

Zarya unleashes a beam of energy from her particle cannon that does 95 - 190 damage per second while it’s held on a target. It doesn’t lock on, you’ll have to aim it, which can be pretty tough against slimmer figured targets. Luckily, when your close to or at full charge, you don’t have to track a Genji for very long before you completely melt his health!

Particle Cannon (Secondary Fire):

Zarya lobs an explosive charge that also inflicts splash damage. This secondary fire is similarly boosted by her energy charge, and does 46-92 damage per shot, and 45-90 splash damage in a 2-3m radius. Like her primary fire, her secondary fire cannot headshot.

Particle Barrier:

This is your personal energy “bubble” that shields you and changes all damage it takes (up to 200hp) into charge that makes your canon more powerful. Even damage that normally passes through shields, like Winston’s Tesla Cannon, is absorbed by Zarya’s barrier. It lasts 2 seconds, or until it is destroyed.

The barrier can break after a certain amount of damage, but as long as it has at least 1 health left, the barrier will completely negate the incoming attack (even a D.Va bomb!). This ability has a 10 second cooldown.

Projected Barrier:

The projected barrier functions just like the personal particle barrier, but this time you bestow your bubble upon an ally. It absorbs up to 200hp worth of damage, and similarly lasts 2 seconds (or until it is destroyed). You can bubble a teammate up to 30m away, and all damage absorbed by the barrier still gets transferred into charge that makes your cannon more powerful!

Graviton Surge:

While this ultimate ability itself is not improved by the amount of charge you have, it’s great to use while you do have high charge. Graviton Surge is a gravity bomb that pulls all enemies within an 8m radius toward its center, and inflicts 5.5 damage per second for 4 seconds. But the real damage to those trapped in the Surge is from you and your teammates, as you fire-at-will upon them.


Weak Without Medium/High Energy:

I don’t see Zarya played very often at lower levels, and that may be because she feels weak (and actually is) when she does not have at least 40ish energy charge. Zarya has the lowest base health of all tanks, and her bubbles are short lasted with long cooldowns. So getting the most out of each bubble in terms of both protection and energy charge is crucial to being effective with Zarya

Vulnerable and Ineffective When Barriers are on Cooldown:

Zary can feel invincible when her personal barrier is activated, but this only lasts for 2 seconds, followed by a very long 10 second cooldown before it can be used again. So leading the charge and rushing ahead of your team (and shields) can seem really great for 2 seconds, but when that bubble runs out you are slow and exposed.

The same goes for your projected barrier, if you’re not aware of which teammate your going to bubble (or you’re in front of them so you can’t see them to bubble them), you’re not able to use a huge piece of Zarya’s arsenal.

Strategy Overview:

First things first, you need to build up energy charge. But, you also need to protect your teammates and yourself -- Zarya is a “tank” after all, but she is closer to an off-tank, and not a main-tank like Reinhardt and Orisa. Meaning that sometimes you’ll need be out on the frontline soaking up damage, and sometimes you’ll have to retreat behind a shield or cover. You’ll need to use the following skills to maximise Zarya’s potential: positioning, awareness, communication, and collaboration.


As I mentioned earlier, Zarya is not really cut out to be a main tank, so you’ll want to pair up with another tank (preferably a shield-tank) to use both Hero’s abilities to their fullest potential. Ideally, where you'll want to position yourself is out in the open engaging enemies at first, activating your bubble to build charge off their incoming damage, and then retreating behind a shield or some cover. While you wait for your personal bubble to cooldown, you can use your projected bubble to build even more energy. Then with your personal barrier ready again, it’s time for you to head back to the front.

There are of course tons of variables to every fight, tons of things that can be different with different team compositions. But, that pattern of going to the front and building charge when you have bubbles ready, and poking at the enemy from behind a shield when they’re in cooldown, is fundamentally how you want to play Zarya.


Keep a close eye on the cooldowns of your barriers, your charge level, and which enemies are in need of a barrier / could absorb a lot of damage to build your charge. All these things are extremely important to excelling with Zarya, and that's part of what makes her so difficult to play.


Communication is key. It always helps to communicate as much as you can, but in addition to general strategy you should be letting your teammates know when you have a projected barrier ready for them; especially teammates with high mobility who are ready to dive into action: like Winston, D.Va, Genji, and Tracer. An excellent way to build energy charge is to bubble Reinhardt, and then tell him to drop his shield-- all of that damage that was directed at his shield is now absorbed into the projected barrier. Boom, you're at near full energy charge in seconds, and ready to do some damage. Communication is especially important when you are ready to use Zarya’s ultimate.


Zarya’s ultimate ability charges very slowly (compared to other heroes), and thus one of the mistakes that even high level players make is holding on to the ultimate for too long, waiting for that perfect opportunity. When in reality you could have used Graviton Surge in a perfectly decent senario, and then built up another one in the time it took you to use your first.

Once you have your ultimate ready, let your team know, and put it to good use sooner rather than later. Check to see if your teammates have ultimates ready that would be devastating for the enemy when paired up with Grav: like Hanzo’s Dragonstrike, or Pharah’s Rocket Barrage. If you communicate with your team first and know they’re ready, you can just launch your ultimate and watch the multikills roll it. Make sure you wave for that Play Of The Game!

Below are more specifics on when/how to use each attack.

Using Zarya’s Abilities to Your Advantage:


Zarya isn’t much of a threat with low energy, so you need to actively try to keep it high. When you have a personal barrier ready go ahead and taunt the enemy a bit, head out in the open and dare them to hit you -- just make sure you know how long the barrier lasts, and where your cover and healers are.

The higher your energy, the bolder you can be when attacking because you'll kill things faster (or enemies will retreat faster). But be careful, you’ll also be more of a target for the enemy squad since you’re so dangerously powerful. And when you die, you’ll be starting back at 0 energy again.

Particle Cannon (Primary Fire):

Use this to focus-down single targets, especially those who can’t block your beam; D.Va’s defense matrix, and Genji’s deflect don’t protect them from Zarya’s particle beam. This attack isn't the easiest to aim, and it can be tempting to get as close as possible, but don’t.  You’ll want to maintain the ability to switch between the primary and secondary attacks on the particle cannon, and when your in point-blank range of a target, the splash damage of the secondary fire will hurt you too; that, and retreating back to cover with Zarya is very difficult.

Particle Cannon (Secondary Fire):

Zarya’s secondary fires a grenade-like ball of energy that is great for hitting multiple targets or enemies that are clustered together in a small/confined space. This attack can be eaten up by D.Va’s defense matrix, and Genji’s deflect so watch out! The particle cannon’s bombs are also great for hitting quick/slim/elusive targets like Tracer, Sombra, or Moira.

Particle Barrier:

Be cautious when using your barrier, don’t just pop it off willy-nilly. It has a long cooldown and your really vulnerable without it; and weak if you have low charge. It’s best used when you know there is going to be a sudden burst of damage coming your way: like right before an ultimate hits your, if you know a Reaper is after you, or if you’re about to consciously jump into the line of fire yourself. Just remember there is one thing that does pierce your barrier: melee attacks (Rein’s hammer, Winston’s ultimate, etc.)

Projected Barrier:

At the beginning of a fight, this is great tool for building ult charge. And as the fight progresses, the projected barrier is awesome for combo-ing with specific tactics. Ask your teammates to let you know when they're about to dive in, and save your bubble for them. They’ll be able to stay alive and cause more damage, and you’ll build up energy charge extremely fast.

This technique is especially great for protecting other players during their ultimates. It is very apparent to everyone on the battlefield when a DPS hero is using their ultimate, and often they’ll become heavily targeted as a result -- perfect time to cover them with a projected barrier (from up to 30m away!).

Graviton Surge:

On it’s own, Zarya’s ultimate doesn’t achieve it’s full potential. In terms of damage, the ultimate itself is weak actually. That’s why you need to make sure your teammates are ready to take advantage of it when the time arrives. At low levels I see so many desperation Gravs as a player (and the rest of their team) dies, leaving no one around to take advantage of the sitting-duck targets.

Graviton Surge is shot out as a projectile, and the black-hole epicenter of it is created when the projectile hits something (a floor, wall, cart, etc.), as long as what it hits isn’t a defense matrix or an enemy Zarya’s barrier (then it’ll be eaten up). So unless you have a specific plan for where you wanted to pin your enemies down, it's best to launch your Grav. so that it comes in contact with the ground in an open area where your teammates can pick-off the enemies easily.

Fire at will!


Compensating for Zarya's Weaknesses:

Weak Without Medium/High Energy:

Charge up! Always be on the lookout for opportunities where you can absorb damage, whether through your personal or projected barriers. And then once this energy is up, you'll have to maintain it as well. Look out for a Junkrat spamming damage or maybe a Torb turret, and then raise your barrier and charge up -- while destroying who’s shooting at you!

Vulnerable and Ineffective When Barriers are on Cooldown:

Always have excellent cooldown awareness. Be aware of when your team is going to charge in, and who might need the assistance of your projected barrier. A large portion of Zarya’s total health bar is made up of shields (indicated by blue bars). These shield bars will recharge when not taking damage. So when you see your health dip to around 50% or so, duck behind cover and let your shields recharge before you attack again.

Also, “don’t just stand there, do something” when you don’t have barriers available. Make the most of your cool down time by poking at enemies from behind shields, peek around corners and launch your secondary fire, or even arc it over the top of cover. You should always be building your energy, building your ultimate charge, doing damage, or all three at once.

Tips and Tricks:

-Use your personal barrier right before a Mei completely freezes you to surprise her and force her to run away (or use her Cryo-Freeze if she has it).

-Zarya's barriers act like separate health pools, so they can completely absorb high damage ultimates like Tracer or D.Va’s bomb, and even Junkrat’s Rip-Tire

-Sometimes it’s better to save a projected barrier to save a teammates life (like a   Zenyatta being flanked) than to use it farming energy charge.


Zarya is a difficult Hero to play, but she also has a higher ceiling of mastery. In the right hands, she can completely control the match-- which is rare for a tank. Zarya is such a fun Hero to play because each battle is like a dance, or a Russian chess match, between you and your opponents. They need to damage you to win, but damaging you makes you incredibly strong...sometimes.


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I spent some time living in Morrowind, the Capital Wasteland, and had a brief stint in the Anomalous Materials department at Black Mesa. Now I write features and critical pieces about my experiences,
Gamer Since: 1993
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Overwatch
Top 3 Favorite Games:The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Life is Strange: Episode 4 - Dark Room, Portal

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