How Overwatch Won the Internet

May 24, 2016 — by David Radd



How Overwatch Won the Internet

May 24, 2016 — by David Radd

Overwatch is set to be the next big hit from Blizzard Entertainment when it releases this week. We look at the ways in which Blizzard has managed to get the community hyped up for a new IP in a crowded market for multiplayer shooters.

The plot behind Overwatch is an involved one (evoking memories of Watchmen), dealing with the Overwatch team ending a war between robots and humans and later being accused of corruption and, after their headquarters are destroyed, they officially disband, with suspicions of a secret conspiracy lingering. Blizzard has managed to put a lot of flavor into a game with no story mode, but it’s still managed to get people excited for the game, and it’s mostly through the venue of…

Animated Shorts

Blizzard has released multiple digital comics and a graphic novel detailing the characters and setting of Overwatch. However, what’s received by far the most attention from fans are the multiple animated shorts they’ve done, which have mostly focused on the main characters.

Blizzard has long been celebrated for the quality of their pre-rendered cinematics and what they’ve done for Overwatch are of similar quality. One major difference from most of their previous games, however, is the choice of a more stylized aesthetic similar to that of most CG animated movies these days. This gives the shorts a real Pixar charm to them, with big eyes and exaggerated movements.

These videos have gotten millions of views and pushed the Overwatch IP in front of people that might otherwise never see or consider a multiplayer focused shooter game. They’re also evocative of Valve’s seminal “Meet the Team” trailers for Team Fortress 2, which famously detailed the various personalities in Team Fortress 2 while also informing the watcher of their different abilities in the game. There’s enough excitement around these animated shorts to prompt reaction videos on YouTube and Blizzard is showing the trailers at theaters for limited screenings.

You can enjoy Overwatch game if you’ve snapped up everything related to the story that Blizzard has released or haven’t looked at a single trailer. People have found quite a lot to like in Overwatch and they had multiple chances to try it out…

Multiple Betas

Blizzard rolled out multiple different betas in order to get people excited about Overwatch. They have used it’s Battle.net platform to better push out the game in front of millions of faithful users worldwide, from StarCraft II and Diablo III to Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone. This seems to have worked, since the recent open beta had nearly 10 million players put in roughly 5 billion collective minutes into the game.

The total stats for the Overwatch open beta.

Blizzard did not stand idle during the beta either, merely using it as a marketing tool. They added and tweaked maps, balanced the different characters and made Overwatch a more fully featured product. One of the major changes was the implementation of a leveling up mechanic for a player’s account, letting them unlock cosmetic items for players to customize their characters and giving more incentive for players to play even more. There will also be a competitive mode, which will be something like a ranked system for players to face off against more serious competition.

A subtle part of Overwatch’s design (and something else that was likely borrowed from Team Fortress 2) is the distinctiveness of the various heroes and villains in the game that not only let’s players know who their allies and opponents are, it has also helped fans gravitate to characters whose design and personality speaks to them.

Strong Character Design

From the first trailer of Overwatch, there have immediately been some characters for players to gravitate to. There’s Tracer, a quirky speedster with a light personality, Winston, an ape with an articulate dialect, Reaper, a masked villain moving in smoke, and Widowmaker, a femme fatale and deadly marksman. Each of these designs are cool in their own way and have proven to be four of the more popular characters designed for Overwatch.

Subsequent characters designed and released in Overwatch have shown a similar level of attention to detail. Reinhardt wears a suit of knight-like armor and wields a giant hammer, which properly suggests his combat role as a focus of enemy fire with melee attacks for offense. Bastion is a robot with weapons not immediately useable in its default humanoid form, suggesting its transformable nature, which it does to turn into a turret and a tank. Jesse McCree is, from his hat to his spurs, obviously a cowboy, using his peacekeeper pistol to gun opponents down. Through coloration and silhouette all of the characters of Overwatch are immediately distinct, even in still images.

A sign that people were becoming attached to the characters can be evidence in the controversy over Tracer’s win pose. The argument was not specifically that it was sexualizing her, but that it was not in line with Tracer’s character. Interestingly, Blizzard agreed and revised it to something still slightly titillating, but generally agreed to be much more suited to the character of Tracer.

The total stats for the Overwatch open beta.
The total stats for the Overwatch open beta.


While Tracer could be considered the face of Overwatch, it’s fandom surrounding the female characters that has spurred so much of the Overwatch fandom…

Awesome Female Characters

There’s really no way around it: gamers really love the women of Overwatch. While the game in its original form was criticized for having women exclusively with idealized body types and tight outfits, this was later intentionally corrected with the addition of Zarya and Mei. Still, that didn’t stop a post on the Overwatch sub-Reddit with an animation of Rei’s posterior from getting over 2,000 upvotes – we’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether this is “progress”.

While it’s hard to objective measure a fandom, one sure sign of character loyalty is how much fan art has been drawn on a particular character. By that measure, it’s easy to see the most popular characters as being Tracer, Widowmaker, D.va, Mercy and Mei. It’s not hard to see why – Tracer has an affable charm about her, Widowmaker is a deadly knockout, D.va’s a gamer who pilots a mecha, Mercy is elegant and angelic while Mei has a goofy but sweet disposition and is a nerdy scientist.

Widowmaker, Tracer and Reaper in cosplay form

To be completely fair to both sexes, there’s a decent amount of art out there for Reaper and as well, not too surprising given how much he looks like a badass. And among cosplayers, he’s become a favorite as well, along the many of the above named female characters. A true testament to how the appeal of these characters extends beyond just male gamers is the cosplay, since people generally only dress up as character concepts that they like. It’s certainly not unprecedented for characters in unreleased games to be cosplayed, but Overwatch has already received a disproportionate amount of cosplay attention given the fact that it’s a brand new IP with new characters.

What Can be Gleaned from This

For other developers that aren’t Blizzard Entertainment, there’s a couple of things to pick up from this experience. Firstly any sort of testing one can do for a game (whether it’s a beta or early access or whatever) can be a huge help in getting the word out and also improving the final product. That much is obvious, but it’s also not a bad idea to put character concepts out in front of people early to affirm whether it’s going in a direction people like. While often the focus on creating a fandom occurs after a game has become available, anything that can be done to plant the seeds before a game is released is beneficial as well.

Finally, there’s a lot to be said for intelligent character design as well. A lot of Overwatch’s various characters are instantly recognizable with obvious distinguishing features, and that goes a long way towards selling Overwatch to people. There’s a soul in Overwatch and it goes beyond the gameplay into a fully realized world around the game that people enjoy, and that’s clearly worth a lot.



David Radd

David Radd

David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.