Looking Back: The Impact Overwatch has had on the Growth in POC, Female, & LGBTQ Representation in Video Games
In 2014, Overwatch was announced at Blizzcon, an annual gaming convention in Anaheim, California that promotes Blizzard Entertainments popular games such as World of Warcraft and Diablo, and critics & gamers alike were astounded by the animated trailers and clips released.
The game’s original promotional footage featured a groundbreaking diverse cast of 12 heroes, featuring male and females of color, like Reaper, Hanzo, Pharah, and Symmetra, and several female characters including Mercy, Widowmaker, and Overwatch’s Iconic hero Tracer. Very few big name video games at the time had featured (unsexualized) female protaganists, let alone featured them as the sole character on the cover of the game.
In May, 2016, Overwatch was released on Windows, Xbox, and Playstation, and quickly grew in popularity, raking in over $1 billion in revenue during the first year of its release. Fans of all genders, races, and body types were finding themselves represented in the game. However, it wasn’t until six months after its official release that fans started to discover even more about their favorite characters.
On Christmas week of 2016, Blizzard released a comic focusing on heroes in the Overwatch cast, and one of the panels showed Tracer with a woman, exchanging holiday gifts. However, at the end of the scene, after Tracer presents the woman with the gift of a scarf, the two share a kiss.
This scene was massive for the gaming community. LGBTQ+ portrayals in video games are seldom shown unless its under a negative or joking light. Only a handful of popular games, such as Borderlands and Assassins Creed, feature realistically represented LGBTQ+ characters. Additionally, this confirmation also meant that Overwatch’s front cover character- depicted on billboards, promotional signs, advertisements, and video game cases in tens of thousands of Gamestops, Best Buys, Walmarts, and Targets nationwide -was canonically sapphic.
Over the years, Overwatch has introduced new characters of color like Doomfist, Sombra, and Ana, as well as a variety of other female characters such as Moira, Brigitte, Ashe and later confirmed in another comic in January 2019 that Soldier 76, a male Damage hero, was LGBT as well.
While this new revelation was met with some harsh feedback, there was an overwhelming amount of support and love from the fanbase for the confirmation that Soldier 76 was LGBT.
With Overwatch’s popularity explosion immediately after its release, other game companies have joined in on creating games with more diversity. New games like Apex Legends and Valorant pride themselves on their casts featuring a variety of races and sexes. Upcoming video game Cyberpunk 2077 features the option to play as a nonbinary character, and has been confirmed to feature same sex relationships.
Additionally, ever since the release of Overwatch in 2016, more and more video game & gaming accessory companies have begun to market to women. In early 2019, Razer released their Rose Quartz collection, featuring a pastel pink keyboard, microphone, mouse, controller, mousepad, headset stand, headset with optional attachable cat ears, & more. Autofull has a pink gaming chair with bunny ears at the head and a puff bunny tail attached the the bottom of the back of the seat. The streaming platform Twitch has begun to sponsor female streamers like Pokimane, one of their most popular streamers.
These marketing campaigns aren’t without purpose, either. Christina Gough, research expert in the field of video gaming and sports, gathered from a study with over 4,000 respondents that since 2012, significantly more women are playing computer and video games than in the 2000’s.
The future of video games is bright, with more and more video games featuring powerful female leads, accurate POC representation, and empowering LGBTQ+ characters and relationships, creating an increasingly welcoming environment for women and minorities in the gaming community. We can’t wait to see what else the industry has in store!