Female characters have become a hot topic in the eSports world over the past few years, after accusations of entrenched sexism and hostility towards women have been leveled at some of the biggest gaming scenes. With very few women competing at the highest tiers and a shortage of female casters, which is only now slowly being resolved, all developers agree that opening eSports up to a more diverse range of players is a top priority. Whilst transforming the attitudes of entire communities is a tough process, the obvious place to start with is the games themselves. Oversexualised female character models, who are typically displayed as slim, curvy figures wearing tight or skimpy outfits, have been a large source of frustration for many. We’ve already seen adjustments being made though, with Smite’s developers announcing that they’d be mindful of this topic with future character releases and Valve removing a Dota 2 bug that made Crystal Maiden lose all her clothing whenever she died. Let’s take a look at how Blizzard have handled these issues with Overwatch.
Diversity has been a key feature in the development of Overwatch and the heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Whilst Widowmaker does fulfill the trope of the alluring but cold-hearted female assassin, this stereotype is balanced out by other, unique character designs. With Symmetra the brilliant Indian architect who grew up extreme poverty, Pharah the battle-hardened Egyptian security chief who worked her way up the ranks, and Zarya the Russian bodybuilder and national hero, there are plenty of diverse female heroes for players to enjoy. Whilst D.Va might have painted her mech pink, she’s an elite pilot and a fierce combatant and no one is going to underestimate her prowess on the battlefield. No doubt with future hero releases we’ll see further, wacky designs for powerful female characters that all players can enjoy using.
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To a large extent we can see that Blizzard have managed to avoid needlessly sexualising characters purely to entertain a narrow-minded section of the male audience. We’ve even seen that one of the modes for the Weekly Brawl feature (like Hearthstone’s Tavern Brawls a brand new mode will cycle each week) will be called ‘Girl Power’, where only female heroes can be used.
There have been a few controversial moments for Blizzard however. A recent thread complained about the above pose for Tracer, claiming that it reduces Tracer to just another female sex symbol and has absolutely nothing to do her character or background. Fortunately, the developers were quick to respond. Jeff Kaplan agreed that it was not in fitting her character design: “We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented.” Whilst some fans were unhappy to see Blizzard giving in so quickly to community pressure, and there were plenty of jokes about people cancelling their pre-orders, Jeff Kaplan went on to clarify the decision. He said that they had already been unhappy with the pose and had another excellent one to quickly replace it with, so he was happy to resolve the issue right away. It’s great to see a developer making a real effort for their game to feel inclusive to all players and hopefully the attitude will put Overwatch in a good position over the years to come.