After months of hinting, Blizzard finally revealed which member of Overwatch’s colorful cast of characters counts themselves part of the LGBTQ community. The much-anticipated reveal came in a seasonal digital comic centered around Tracer, the spritely Londoner with gravity-defying hair who proved to be an early fan favorite and the literal face of the game.
The comic, “Reflections,” is issue No. 10 in the ongoing series. Each issue reveals a bit more about the back story of one of its 23 playable hero characters. Blizzard played its cards right in “Reflections,” eschewing a heavy-handed coming out story for a wholesome last-minute holiday shopping blitz that ends in a queer kiss between the speedy character and a cute redhead in a not-that-ugly Christmas sweater.
To its credit, Blizzard even tossed in a family moment to subvert the usual awkward narrative around queer people moping alone in existential abandonment for the holidays. Naturally, the eminently wholesome story is already banned in Russia because gay people are bad (duh) and should definitely never be depicted exchanging thoughtful Christmas gifts.
Overwatch players go wild for this stuff, and with good reason: Blizzard clearly dedicates significant resources into developing a ton of free, high-quality companion content that is ultimately just a perk for dedicated fans. Even a cursory dip into Tumblr is usually enough to reveal what hero pairing fans are shipping that week and a massive undercurrent of fan art crafting alternate realities for the well-loved characters. Sorry, WidowTracer fans — looks like she’s taken.
Lore and fan service are two of the things Blizzard does best, which is pretty much necessary if you’re going to keep a character-driven game alive and kicking for more than a decade. With Overwatch League and a promising first year, Blizzard is all-in on making Overwatch the next big e-sports phenomenon. But that player base is just a sliver of the whole, albeit a lucrative one.
With Overwatch, Blizzard clearly has its eyes on a bigger piece of a much bigger pie than your usual military shooter. While character choices around marginalized identities are positive PR for a consciously inclusive game, as a casual gay Overwatch player (both casual player and casually gay), I thought the reveal managed to avoid nearly every bad queer trope and hit the right notes. Even as the appeal to a broader base lines Blizzard’s pockets, I must reluctantly admit that my heart was indeed briefly warmed before returning to its normal state of solid ice.
To keep the casual players coming back, and to expand the game’s appeal well outside the bounds of a Call of Duty-style first-person shooter, Blizzard has built out a deliberately international parallel story universe for its diverse band of characters, who hail from an array of (only sometimes overtly stereotyped) cultures. Out of 23 characters, nine are non-white.
Beyond its heroes of color, Overwatch is marketing to another swath of the population so often ignored: 10 of the game’s heroes are female, and only one serves the hackneyed gaming role of a white priestess/angel lady. The Tracer nod to the queer community shouldn’t hurt either — after all, the LGBTQ community boasted a collective $917 billion in disposable personal income in 2015.
In spite of widespread excitement around the reveal, a vocal cross section of Overwatch’s community — much like (/eyeroll) any online gaming community — remains grumpily averse to not-straight-white-dudes all up in their game. But like, that’s super dumb. Deal with it.
Of course, you can play the game and not pay attention to the lore; it is a first-person shooter, after all. Whether you’re a Tumblr fan art virtuoso or an elite e-sports mechanical master, Blizzard is happy to keep building the game you’ve always wanted — as long as you keep coming back for more.