Blizzard Entertainment is giving fans one more Overwatch present this year, in addition to their winter update. The company has confirmed its first queer character in the game, and it’s none other than Tracer, whose girlfriend appears in a new Overwatch comic, “Reflections”.
Since the game’s release in May 2016, the Overwatch fandom exploded with fanart, fanfiction, and cosplays of their favorite character. This, of course, included “shipping”, the romantic pairing of characters who are otherwise not in canon relationships. Thanks to the diverse characters featured in the game, queer ships have been especially popular, with Tracer a particularly popular choice for ships.
A popular Tracer ship, WidowTracer (complete with its own Subreddit), pairs the British Overwatch agent with the assassin Widowmaker, but there’s plenty of fanart of her with female characters like D.Va, Mercy, and Zarya.
In a strange way, the overflow of queer Tracer fanart makes the reveal of her canon relationship with another woman, that much more powerful.
Back in November, Kotaku interviewed Overwatch lead hero designer Geoff Goodman, and artist Rachel Day about the possibility of introducing a canonically gay character in Overwatch seeing as how the fandom has been producing LGBT works with their characters. Goodman responded by saying, “There is an LGBT character in the game. It’s difficult, because we don’t want to just be weirdly heavy-handed with this. We have comics and a bunch of other media to show this. We don’t want to force something in the game that is just going to feel like its in people’s face…There is a character, though, and we’re going to go into that more soon.”
As it turns out, “soon” mean the holiday update, and the decision to reveal Tracer’s sexuality must have been planned for some time, given that Goodman’s original comments of using other media like their comics to reveal this news is largely accurate.
In the past, fandom culture has sometimes clashed with content creators, largely because the desire for popular fan pairings to become canon sometimes go unheard. There are a lot of reasons why this happens such as fear of backlash on the side of the creators, and aggressive cases of entitlement from the fandom.
That said, it’s nice when companies see the work put out by fans, and contribute in their own way to the fandom culture, especially with Blizzard who has a long track record of engaging with fans on their games.
The company has already incorporated some memes produced by fans including “D.Va Gremlin” into the game proper, so there might be a chance Tracer’s girlfriend Emily will make a reference in the game as well, though there could be some complications.
Overwatch is a global phenomenon, but there are parts of the world where the status of the LGBT community is even more uncertain. It’s been revealed that the Overwatch comic is self-censored in Russia, with Blizzard choosing to not engage with the country’s strict, what they call, LGBT “propaganda” laws.
While it is disappointing to see this happen to what should be a pleasant moment in video games 2016, hopefully the company will respond in the future with even more revleations of inclusiveness in its fandom, and to fans in more countries as well.