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Created September 9, 2019

This Hero Should Be First Ban

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Welcome to Why Isn't This Banned, the blog that shines a light on under-utilised heroes in an effort to return the word 'niche' to it's rightful owners.

Contrary to popular belief, Zarya is a wide-application DPS carry with incredible support potential. Due to her trait requiring Kael'Thas mains to read, she unfortunately sees little play, but behind a few lines of text, you'll find one of the most versatile, composition-rounding heroes in the Nexus. TLDR at the bottom!

Together We Are Strong!

Zarya fries heroes at close range and closes kills at long; she offers some of the highest sustained damage in the game, taped to fat damage sponges and excellent peel. With Feel the Heat, you become one of the best tank-shredders in the game; with Maximum Charge, you evolve into an unkillable wall. With Demolitions Expert, you punish clumping as hard as any mage.

What you'll gather if you're not a Kael'Thas main is this: Zarya is incredibly flexible, boasting some of the most versatile build paths in the game, if not being the most versatile hero outright. This hero can fill any gap on your team, and shore up any weakness; she is the ultimate DPS climbing tool, because she can act in steed of any of your teammates.

Welcome... To the gun show!

Zarya's trait reads "damaged absorbed by shields gives you a % damage increase". This increase is 100% at half a bar of energy and 200% at a full bar; a fully depleted shield will give you about half a bar. Your shields are for energy, not for sponging. Repeat: Your shields are for energy, not damage mitigation. A zero energy Zarya is not a hero; a full energy Zarya is a nuke. Eat a flamestrike, aggro a boss, face tank a merc camp; do everything to pop shields off cd and keep your energy nice and high. You'll need it to take mercs after clearing a wave, or to kill heroes after capping a boss.

That's the second point; Zarya should constantly be doing something. If you're standing in a bush, you're doing it wrong; rotate to a wave or push down a wall with your team; you should enter teamfights with 25-50 energy left over from the last thing you did. Your energy bar is only limited by your creativity; you can aggro a boss for a bump up, or facetank a catapult, or catch a scouting Ming's orb.

And finally, learn how to commit to kills; at some point in a fight, you'll feel like you're falling out of the sky, and you're not sure if your parachute is going to go off. Illidan players will empathise with this: at the tipping point, you have no idea if you're about to die or kill the entire enemy team. Remember that you're a big immobile turret, and learn when to sit and auto (when they don't have CC) and when to Q and run.

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Zarya has three main builds. Take feel the heat if you can zap their tank; take maximum charge if you need to scale; and finally, take demolitions expert if you cannot step up. That's also the order of difficulty, from most to least; start wherever you please.             


In addition, I'd strongly encourage you to mix and match; on Braxis Holdout for example, I love taking Give Me Twenty along with Cleansing Shield at 16; it gives you a 7 second CD shield that cleanses an ally, takes more damage, and feeds you more energy. Alternatively, a Feel the Heat Zarya can take Grenadier at 20 to provide some long range siege; with a full bar, you can chip a Keep down from incredible range, giving you an alternative win condition if the game is stalling out. A Maximum Charge Zarya could take Graviton, with the intention of getting to 20 for an AoE silence ultimate; with the scaling from her 120 energy and panic button (Pain is Temporary), she could very easily bait the enemy team into clumping to death. The above builds are just suggestions; by all means, experiment!

There WILL be a best build for the composition you are running and the comp you are facing; finding that build is the hallmark of a good Zarya.

Playstyles: Particle Grenade

Q-Build Zarya is a skillshot-based mage, with a grenade's center dealing a respectable 441 damage at level 10. Keep in mind that you have effectively five shots, as with the quest complete, one shot will recharge naturally while firing; secondly, expulsion zone provides an enormous burst to close kills with, dealing an additional 520.8 damage on top of your Particle Grenades. Totaled together, at level 10, that's 2725 damage potential at maximum energy. That'll kill anything up to a Zul'jin in HP, which is effectively every squishy in the game.


Talent, in this regard, is your ability to correctly lead your shots. While it's always more efficient to wait for CC to hit, when you're idling at maximum charges, you're constantly wasting a potential grenade. Try to lob one every time you circle back around to 4 charges; utilise this time to build energy with your shields, and unload at maximum charge. Remember to fire off your expulsion with your grenades! That's really all there is to it, as the skillshot aspect of any hero requires your time input to master.


At 20, you effectively gain infinite charges; at this point, sit at maximum energy, and literally mash your Q button. You can quite easily take keeps by simply lobbing grenades at maximum distance; make sure to communicate this with your team before stepping up!

Playstyles: Maximum Charge

Moving swiftly up in difficulty, Maximum Charge provides a teamfight-oriented scaling build that'll allow you to have a higher shield uptime as well as easier energy upkeep. Acquiring globes becomes a priority with Maximum Charge, as it sustains you through natural lulls in combat, and thus causes you to pair well with Give Me Twenty. A practiced Zarya can complete this quest in as little as three minutes without much difficulty, especially on teamfight maps like Braxis and Hanamura.


The main thing to remember with Maximum Charge is you need to scale. An enormous amount of your power is locked behind Born in Battle, which enables you to trade aggressively with enemy frontliners. With less dependance on your shields for energy, you can utilise them for HP trading instead; this is the main benefit to the playstyle, as once you're comfortably sitting at full energy, you generally will stay there.


It's thus imperative to keep your energy up at all times. Zarya needs to enter fights with some energy already built up; again, be creative! Aggro a boss, tank a wave, eat a cannonball; you're almost constantly rotating through some source of damage, and every globe you get is a big drop in the bucket.


At twenty, you are complete. You have four AoE nukes that deal 650 damage a pop and refresh every 6 seconds. You have an E every 5 seconds and a W every 9; your Expulsion hits for 760 in an enormous circle. You are the be-all end-all Queen of Sustain. Walk at the enemy team. Menacingly.

Playstyles: Feel the Heat

We've, of course, saved the best for last. Feel the Heat ranks as one of the most difficult builds for a "melee assassin" in the game. The reason behind that is simple; you need to pick a spot to stand, and stay there. Sounds easy, right?


Feel the Heat Zarya loses DPS every time she repositions. You cannot stutter step, only turret; you need to plant and hold your ground. Too far, and you're out of range; too close, and you're focused and nuked. But position just right, and you'll fry most near anything in the game.


Of course, there's a number of tools for us to use to get to this point; the first, and most impactful, is your tank. If your tank controls space well, Feel the Heat Zarya is a free win. In lieu of the wall, there is the melee assassin; a Kerrigan, Thrall, or Alarak draws aggro just as well, and locks down targets for you to fry. Failing that, you need to start getting creative; position within striking distance of the enemy team, bait an engage, and juke the followup. Bam, you've created your own teamfight - but make sure you can survive it!

Feel the Heat Zarya requires a new type of thought process most players will be unfamiliar with. It's actually quite similar to a dive thought process, that goes something like this: Either I'm about to die, or all of them are. I mentioned that near the start of the guide, that you'll need to learn to commit to kills; this is the evolution of that logic - converting battlefield presence into psychological pressure.

They only way to get good at this is to practice. Play with fire, just a bit, and slowly ram the difficulty up. It'll aid you in recognising how to temper aggression, and trade positively.

Of course, you're armed beyond your wints; I Am the Strongest and Unstoppable Competitor are the bread-and-butter defenses that you'll be abusing all game long. The larger shield granting a brief Unstoppable will create enough space for you to avoid being bursted, at which point you can turn, plant your feet, and pump damage numbers. This is one of the highest sustained damage builds in the entire game, and will positively shred tanks and structures alike. You are your own win condition regardless; give it a shot!


Support/tank/dps looking for energy near you. 24 viable talents. Large, sexy gun.


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Maximum Charge
Regen Globes now instantly grant 20 Energy. Quest: Spend 150 seconds at or above 50 Energy. Reward: Gain an additional 15 maximum Energy.
Demolitions Expert is the cornerstone of Ranged DPS Zarya. With it, you transform into a hard-scaling skillshot-mage. Your Particle Grenades scale very, very well, with a flat damage increase incoming at 7, a potential nuke followup with your Expulsion Zone, and a back-breaking near-infinite charges at 20.

Together We Are Strong is a numerically broken energy-crutch; with it, any teammate can give you an instant 40 energy just by auto attacking a few times. While it more than makes up for the talent it consumes, once you've practiced a little Zarya, you'll rarely need it to keep energy up.

Feel the Heat is the base of the Frontline Zarya build; pair it with I Am the Strongest and Unstoppable Competitor to become a steadfast tank-killer. This build is mechanically the most challenging, so don't be afraid to fail a few times before you get the hang of it!

Maximum Charge offers the middle-of-the-road path between the extremes. While it lacks the bombastic approach of the other damage talents, it more than makes up for it in teamfight scaling. At 16, being above 75 energy grants a 25% CD recharge bonus, effectively lowering all your cooldowns by a quarter. This is monumental for protecting your allies, especially when paired with Give Me Twenty. Too, it leaves the option of going Grenadier open, and at 120 energy your grenades CHUNK.

The talents highlighted here comprise my recommended beginner build!
Give Me Twenty
Quest: Regeneration Globes increase Shield Ally absorb amount by 15, up to 300 permanently. Reward: After collecting 20 Regen Globes, permanently reduce the cooldown of Shield Ally by 2 seconds.
I Am the Strongest pairs specifically with Unstoppable Competitor to allow you to stonewall frontliners.

Give Me Twenty functions as both additional energy stores on quest completion and a save mechanic for your over-eager diver.

Speed Barrier is an esoteric talent that pairs exceptionally well with very specific engages; Garrosh and Stitches are two such examples, with Wrecking Ball and Gorge, respectively. It also functions as a "save" button for poorly positioned teammates - an excellent talent for Storm League.

Defensive Shielding is your solution to heavy auto attacks, such as Greymane or Zul'jin. I'd recommend you take it with Maximum Charge and Born in Battle, to get more block procs.

Explosive Barrier
Upon expiration or breaking, Personal Barrier explodes, dealing 100 damage (+4% per level) to nearby enemies.
Pinpoint Accuracy is possibly the universal pick at 7, owing to the enormous damage spike it provides every single build; additionally, every build has the option to talent into Grenadier, giving significant ranged pressure irregardless of build at 20. Consider your 20 before picking your 7!

Explosive Barrier offers effective waveclear and splash damage on melee targets. I recommend it primarily for ease of use.

To the Limit is an incredibly esoteric talent, requiring multiple melee opponents to stack in order to gain value. To be paired with I am the Strongest and Unstoppable Competitor exclusively.

Hit Me is a weak energy source that acts only as a crutch; you could outperform this talent by playing better. Never take.
Expulsion Zone
Launch a gravity bomb that deals 124 damage (+4% per level) and creates an expulsion zone for 3.5 seconds. Enemies who enter the affected area are knocked back and have their Movement Speed reduced by 50% for 1 second.
Graviton combos well with allied burst damage, as the clumping it causes massively increases the value of AoE abilities. It also has one of the best 20 spikes in the game, creating a 3.5 second psuedo-rooting silence in an AoE. Note that movement abilities can still be used in this ult if you're not yet 20; that pesky Valla can just vault out, so conserve it for when escapes are unavailable!

Expulsion Zone is an excellent, straightforward nuke that serves as an excellent point-control and area-denial heroic. It's also good followup to a few well placed Qs!

Note that Born in Battle at 16 reduces your ult CDs!
Pain is Temporary
Activate to consume all Energy and gain a shield that absorbs 0.5% of Zarya's maximum Health per Energy consumed and lasts for 3 seconds. Zarya may only have one personal shield active on herself at a time.
Unstoppable Competitor is the saving grace of the frontline Zarya, and arrives just in time as most heroes have acquired CC by this tier. Time it well to zap diving assassins with Feel the Heat. It can also be taken independently to offer a pseudo-escape.

Spell Barrier is situationally excellent, and a hardened shield is nothing to sneeze at, especially at 13. Pick into burst mages, or Kel'Thuzads, and watch them fumble after they overcommit!

Endurance Training goes well when no other talent applies; a constant 25% armour stacks enormously with your shields, as it effectively increases the HP you receive from it. Particularly synergistic with Maximum Charge.

Pain is Temporary is a build-agnostic talent; it can always be taken, and will always be good. It functions well as a general burst prevention tool; note that the shield can be larger with Maximum Charge, since you have up to 120 energy to convert into shielding.

One thing to watch for is when you should take Spell Barrier over Pain is Temporary - often, armour will mitigate more damage than a shield, and the latter occasionally takes you out of the fight by consuming your energy.
Born in Battle
While at or above 75 Energy, Zarya's cooldowns regenerate 25% faster.
Plasma Shock offers some AoE soft CC to a Q build, making it easier to hit subsequent shots. A 35% slow from range is nothing to sneeze at, and provides excellent chase - or disengage!

Cleansing Shield pairs best with Give Me Twenty, further reducing your allied shield to a piddly 7 second CD - you'll get at least three in normal fights. The cleanse situationally destroys an enemy win condition; look for it into heroes like Kel'Thuzad, Taunt Varian, and Alarak.

Gain Train is the generic talent for when nothing else synergises or the opponent has enormous AoE damage. It also enables you to shield solely for protection, and get a full bar of energy anyway.

Born in Battle is the capstone to the Maximum Charge build, enabling you to get significantly more ability rotations in a fight. I'll occasionally take this without Maximum Charge if I'm floating energy often.
All Particle Grenade charges are returned at once.
If you took Graviton, upgrade Graviton, always. The only exception is if the game is ending and the ult is on CD.

Expulsion Zone's upgrade was nerfed into the ground. It used to provide more maximum energy, and was broken overpowered. Now it's garbage. Take only if you desperately need to ensure a boss point. Otherwise a dead talent.

Grenadier provides incredible game-closing potential with any Zarya build, and serves as a capstone for both Maximum Charge as well as Q build. I strongly recommend you take this just to close the game out.

For Feel the Heat players, you'll find yourselves significantly refreshed by Unyielding Defender. With double Unstoppable shields, the enemy will be hard-pressed to deny your microwave laser. It also offers burst protection for allies, in addition to you. Pair with I Am the Strongest/Unstoppable Competitor primarily, though.
Balance Patch - 08/28/19
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So cool guide
Great guide. This is basically my go to build, though I usually prefer the rewind on 20.
Loved the live reading of this article. Clever idea.