Overwatch 2 Pride Event Is an Olive Branch to the Community

2016 me would be ecstatic to know Pharah is canonically a lesbian.

Overwatch 2 Pride group shot
Blizzard Entertainment

June 1 marks the beginning of Pride month — and this year Overwatch 2 is getting in on the celebration. This will be the first in-game Pride event the game has held, and it is a meaningful step for a game that has struggled since its late 2022 launch. While the fanbase still grumbles about some of the changes in the sequel, making canonical queer content in recognition of the game’s sizable LGBTQ+ community is a welcome olive branch.

Ever since the original Overwatch launched in 2016, fans of Blizzard’s FPS/MOBA have created a thriving fandom community. While there is some in-game lore, Overwatch’s lore and heroes are largely left up to interpretation. That makes it a perfect playground for fan artists and fanfiction writers. It also lets queer fans of the game create a whole fleet of ships.

Pride comes to overwatch with in-game celebrations.

Blizzard Entertainment

Overwatch has officially stated that some characters (like Soldier 76, Tracer, and Lifeweaver) are canonically part of the LGBTQ+ community, but with representation, more is always better.

For the 2023 Pride event, Blizzard is seeking to be more explicit with its LGBTQ+ content in two ways. The first is in-game. The event will see new player icons and cosmetics released to all players for free that span the spectrum of queer identity and flags as well as updating the Midtown map with Pride flags and rainbow celebrations throughout. Secondly, the Overwatch devs confirmed that Babtiste is bisexual and Pharah is a lesbian in the short story “As You Are.”

The official Overwatch developer blog made a post in which the team discussed the importance of having the pride event.

One thing we have heard from both players and Overwatch team members alike is that seeing themselves in the game over the years has helped them find the strength and courage to show the world who they are. We are a diverse development team and it's important to us that the universe we are creating–the world that we pour our passion and energy into–represents us, and represents a world that we want to be a part of. The work that we are putting in front of the world is an extension of ourselves.

Overwatch 2 has had a contentious relationship with its fans in the months since its launch. Most recently the announcement that a long-promised PvE component would be cancelled left fans feeling betrayed. Though the team’s candidness with the game’s direction and the introduction of a Pride event show that despite past failings, the team wants to make a good game for the fans. And that extends to how the world they have built speaks to the LGBTQ+ community.

“As You Are” confirms Baptiste and Pharah are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Blizzard Entertainment

Even when Activision Blizzard as a corporation is in the midst of acquisition and CEO Bobby Kotick continues to put his head in the sand regarding the company’s troubled history of a harmful culture, the developers behind the games are attempting to make the games and the culture of the company better.

While corporate events related to Pride are often seen as rainbow washing (using the queer community to benefit business) this often erases the queer members of a company that also works for representation. Many members of the Overwatch development team have come forward stating how proud they are of making the Pride event happen, and how the team pushed for something substantial that would reflect the diverse Overwatch community.

As a fan of the series that constantly falls in and out of playing Overwatch, this gesture is enough to make me want to get back in for the time being. It is as simple and silly as wanting to play as Mercy and put the new transgender pride name card on my profile.

One of the most meaningful aspects of this year’s Pride event is the reveal that Pharah is a lesbian. As one of the original Overwatch heroes, she has long been the subject of headcanons that identify her as such. Now, after seven years, lesbian Overwatch players can actually know for certain without question that they can see themselves in Pharah.

In addition, the short story “As You Are” leans into the fandom of Overwatch by heavily hinting at a romantic relationship between Pharah and Mercy. This ship, Pharmercy, is one of the most popular in the fandom and has over two and a half thousand fics dedicated to it on Archive of Our Own (a prominent fanfiction site).

As games like Apex Legends have shown, representation for a wide spectrum of humanity is important to a player base that so often is made up of queer players. And it goes beyond just lip service, the developers put in the work, and openly making this content part of the game in a way that cannot be ignored is a strong statement.

While there will always be those in the community that decry this move as shallow or woke, the developers are communicating that Overwatch 2 is a queer-friendly space. That is enough to make me want to keep playing.

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