Within its first year of public release, Overwatch has made great strides to accommodate for the 20 million+ worldwide players who have joined since May 2016. By reading the forums and listening to the players, Jeff Kaplan and the Overwatch team have brought two new characters, two new maps, and countless updates that the players always appreciate and consequently awarded them with Game of the Year. However, it was the announcement of the first LGBTQ character in the newest edition of the Overwatch comics, Reflections, that placed this game at the forefront of progressive video games.
Overwatch is an online, team-based video game with groups of six that battle to complete objectives like pushing a payload or controlling a control point. Players choose from 23 characters with varying abilities and designs that allow for teams to create different combinations and build for certain strategies. The foundation of the lore is that Overwatch is an assembly of heroes constructed to defend the humans against a robot takeover (think Avengers, but bigger). The heroes vary from a Chinese scientist who worked in Antarctica to a sentient gorilla born on the moon.
Tracer, one of the newer members of Overwatch, is an English pilot who uses a “chronal accelerator” to speed up, slow down, and even reverse time. In the comic Reflections, she uses her ability to save the public from thieves, but cannot buy a scarf for her significant other because all of the stores close. She heads home empty handed until a child walks up to her, hands her a wrapped gift, and thanks her for her service. At home, we meet Emily, who, after catching up with Tracer, opens the gift (assuming it’s hers) to find that it was the scarf Tracer planned to give her after all. They share a kiss and leave for a holiday party with another Overwatch member. Michael Chu, the writer of the comic, confirmed that Tracer identifies as a lesbian through Twitter. The Overwatch team stated that the plan is to release multiple LGBTQ characters after receiving questions at Blizzcon in November.
For those who have asked specifically, Tracer identifies as a lesbian.
— Michael Chu (@westofhouse) December 23, 2016
While this isn’t the first LGBTQ character in a video game, Tracer may be considered the first main character to identify as LGBTQ. Tracer plays a main role in two digital shorts, including the cinematic trailer, and is often considered the face of the franchise along with Winston, the gorilla. Known for her energy, enthusiasm, and funny jokes, she also is well received by the fanbase.
Following the release of Reflections, the majority of the Overwatch community embraced the announcement with open arms and excitement. Many felt the December release satisfied the questions posed at Blizzcon in November because Blizzard not only acknowledged the need for LGBTQ characters but acted on it quickly and carefully. Lead hero designer Geoff Goodman even recognized the importance of introducing their identities through the lore (like the comics) to enhance the story and gameplay. Even though some have taken offense to the announcement, the Overwatch community has fought hard to minimize the hate by praising Blizzard’s actions or taking note of new discoveries in the comic, like one of the heroes having nine children.
The announcement of Tracer being part of the LGBTQ community is significant because it shows that a game team, for a source of entertainment played globally by over 20 million people, is not afraid of granting equality to Overwatch’s main characters. This isn’t the first time the Overwatch community has pointed out an injustice in the game. Many felt that the female characters of Overwatch were too sexualized and shared the same body type. Blizzard then introduced Zarya, a strong, powerful Russian tank character who ironically has become a symbol for LGBTQ rights in video games (Zarya is also featured in Blizzard’s “Heroes of the Storm”).
Big entertainment sources like Marvel have received backlash in recent years for not providing diversity in their universes. The first black superhero to receive his or her own movie will be Black Panther, whose movie will not be released until early 2018. There has not yet been an LGBTQ character. What Blizzard is doing is setting the standard of equality that should exist for all entertainment platforms, starting with the video game industry.
Overwatch is a game and story built on the diversity of characters. Every continent on the planet is accounted for by a member of the team, and every member of the team represents a unique backstory. Through its design, Overwatch is bringing to light the importance of equality in a job like saving the world.