By now, Overwatch has penetrated mainstream gaming culture so pervasively that it’s easy to forget that the game is still, at least relatively speaking, fairly young. I had to do a double-take myself when I saw Blizzard’s video announcing their one year anniversary. Has it really been twelve months since we first started playing Attack Torbjorn? At this point, Tracer is starting to feel as iconic and familiar as Sonic or Mario.
As the game’s Anniversary event draws to a close today and we admire our sweet new skins and dance emotes like kids gloating over a Halloween candy haul, let’s take a moment to look back at what Overwatch has — and hasn’t — accomplished since the game was released on May 24th, 2016.
Gaming for Everyone: Diversity and Inclusion
Even in the esports industry where gameplay is supposedly king, there’s no denying that the diverse and entertaining cast of characters in Overwatch has played a crucial role in its success. Each hero is colorful, unique, and easily identifiable from across the map thanks to their recognizable silhouettes. If you’re a Dota or CS:GO player, you’ve probably heard people complain about how certain cosmetics hurt the “glance value” of player models, and while Overwatch definitely has some issues with visual noise, it’s easy to recognize what you’re shooting at, whether it’s a Junkrat or a Lucio.
With a growing roster of 24 playable, the Overwatch team continues to push the boundaries of character design. This spirit of experimentation isn’t just limited to mechanics and abilities. The Overwatch team has their sights set on creating perhaps the first truly global video game, with a hero pool that’s designed to be as representative and inclusive as possible.
It’s not just the existence of diversity in the Overwatch universe that’s important. It has far more to do with the fact that, for the first time, there’s a popular video game where people other than white men are being represented in a positive light. Blizzard has gone to great pains to make sure that the game is as welcoming as possible for groups who may have previously felt alienated in other gaming communities. Of course, it’s not easy to gather definitive data about how many women or minorities are playing Overwatch, as most surveys only reveal what kinds of people take surveys. Like this one, where more than one participant reported their gender as “Attack Helicopter” or “McCreekin.”
It might be a sign of the times that gaming communities, in general, are slowly but surely becoming less toxic. You pop into a game of Overwatch and people from around the world are more than happy to be badass invisible ladies or shirtless gay ninja archers. In the Overwatch universe, women are Olympic weight-lifters, moms with sniper rifles, and scientists decked out in weather-appropriate clothing. There’s a powerful message in all this: there’s no requirement to be a hero other than acting like one.
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Whether or not Blizzard is a bit heavy-handed with their emphasis on inclusivity is a discussion for another article. What is important to note that is that Overwatch provides a very welcome respite from video games designed to let neckbearded gentlesirs experience life as a grizzled and remorseless mass murderer.
World Domination: 30 Million Overwatch Players
If 30 million players seems like a lot, that’s because it is. For reference, that’s more than a little over the population of Texas. That’s also more than twice the number of players subscribed to World of Warcraft during the peak of the MMORPG’s popularity.
It’s difficult to make an accurate prediction about how many people will be playing Overwatch by this time next year. The game’s explosive growth in 2016 was both unexpected and unprecedented, and while we mostly focus on PC players, don’t forget about how many people play — and enjoy — Overwatch on console.
How big will Overwatch get? Well, seven billion is the limit unless we start teaching chimps and labradors to pick up the controller and go support.
But what draws such a rapidly growing player base? Honey? Vinegar? Vegemite? How bout all them awards, yo? This game is decorated like Mattis. Best Multiplayer Game. Best Competitive Game. Best Original Video Game Score. Best Jeff Kaplan Award. Overwatch has six wins and eight nominations from four different gaming awards ceremonies. In other words, Overwatch has earned more accolades in twelve months than I have in 26 miserable years of existence.
The Future of Overwatch
Overwatch League cities are being revealed, and with several widely publicized international tournaments under their belt, Blizzard is clearly determined to make the esports component of the game as accessible as possible for Western audiences. The US has plenty of gamers, but we seem to lag almost a decade behind the pro gaming scene in Asian countries, especially South Korea. Overwatch could play a vital role in bringing Western esports up to speed, and not just in terms of investment. CS:GO has massive appeal as a spectator esport due to the intuitive game mechanics. Overwatch isn’t quite there yet, but with time and proper attention from the dev team, it could easily reach that point.
We’re sure to continue to see the playerbase grow, expand, and diversify, and find common ground in hating Hanzo mains.
Of course, the Overwatch community isn’t perfect. The balance could use some work. Spectating is clunky and confusing, especially for new viewers. But Blizzard likes listening to the community, and players can expect to have major issues dealt with quickly.
Overwatch isn’t going anywhere.