Overwatch is Over Male-Dominated Shooters: Why Blizzard’s New IP Matters

Blizzard's new title, Overwatch, is one to 'watch' out for
Blizzard’s new title, Overwatch, is one to ‘watch’ out for

If you’re not a Blizzard fan, you might not have been following the explosion of excitement that has erupted after the California-based company, most known for their MMORPG World of Warcraft, announced their new project at annual fan convention BlizzCon: Overwatch, a team-based multi-player shooter in the same vein as Valve’s Team Fortress and Team Fortress 2. This is Blizzard’s first new world in 17 years, as the rest of its games have all taken place in or involved the universes of Warcraft and Starcraft, and it’s an interesting new evolution in the realm of shooters that combine MOBA and FPS principles and characteristics.

But Overwatch represents a lot more than just another entry into the shooter genre. It’s an amazing step forward for women and gaming. Read on to find out why.

Overwatch isn’t just a team-based shooter. It’s a class-based one, meaning that it centers around characters that perform very particular actions and have very particular skills. So far, Blizzard has revealed 12 classes for the game – and the amazing thing is, they’re dominated by women. And not just white women, but women of color, too. If you need to take a moment to process this information, that’s understandable. I sputtered and stammered for a good ten minutes before realizing that this was real life.

Overwatch’s twelve classes are as follows: Tracer, a snarky British pilot, Winston, a hyper-intelligent gorilla, Symmetra, a teleport-creating reality bender, Bastion, a robot sentry, Reaper, a dangerous dude with dangerous pistols, Torbjorn, an engineer dwarf, Widowmaker, a mysterious assassin, Hanzo, a bow-and-arrow wielding samurai, Zenyatta, a self-aware monk, Reinhardt, a robotic tank, Pharah, a kickass soldier, and Mercy, an angelic (literally) healer. Of these twelve characters, nine are human or humanoid. Of those nine, four – Winston, Reaper, Torbjorn, and Hanzo – can be identified as masculine. And five, yes, one more than four, can be identified as female. Not only are there women in this shooter, but there are more women than men.

This is already a huge step forward; Team Fortress 2, the game to which Overwatch is being most readily compared, has nine classes and all of them are male.  Just having a single woman character in a genre that is so male-dominated would be great, or even just having the option to choose a female gender for a class. But Blizzard went above and beyond, and gave us not only a female character, but five, two of them POCs, and representing a larger percentage of the team than the recognizably male characters.

This is great, you might be saying, but what do these women look like and act like? I mean, that’s the age-old conundrum, right? We get representation, but then that representation takes the form of scantily clad females or ones that fulfill typical gender roles. Well, get ready to be even more blown away. Tracer, that snarky pilot I mentioned that can manipulate time, is not only fully clothed in an awesome bomber jacket and snazzy yellow pants, she also has a fantastic pixie cut and wields two powerful “pulse pistols.”

Symmetra, a POC, has a fascinating prosthetic arm – not all women have to be able-bodied, a problem of representation that faces video game characters as a whole – and Widowmaker, while, yes, conforming to the sexy stereotype, is also a sniper, a trade that is traditionally male-dominated, and certainly is so in the video game world (except for you Lara Croft, you go Lara Croft). Pharah, another POC, is a soldier, clothed in a Master Chief-esque suit that emphasizes her power and not her womanly physique. Mercy is a super-intelligent scientist, fully clothed in some kind of cool hyper suit.

These women can hold their own in this world, and will certainly be an integral part of any team. This is a move towards a more equal future, not just for Blizzard, which has faced gender issues in the past, but also for the world of eSports, which continues to be marketed to and dominated by men. Having more women in the game itself is a great step towards getting more women involved in playing the game. With Overwatch setting the example, I’m very interested to see where competitive and FPS/MOBA gaming goes from here.

Have you heard of Overwatch? Excited about its gameplay and/or representation? Tell us about it in the comments!

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6 thoughts on “Overwatch is Over Male-Dominated Shooters: Why Blizzard’s New IP Matters

  1. I feel Team Fortress 2 Only has men as a part of its theme of the art style, a representation of the way wars were fought during the time they represent.

    1. The issue is less that TF2 only has men (which, as you point out, is a reflection of mercenary teams during the 1960s/Cold War), and more that team-based shooters being released after and in the vein of TF2 should try for more representation. TF2 did a lot to define the genre, now let’s shake it up and try new things.

      1. True true, although in a market as dangerous as the current one for games that don’t sell tremendously, following inspiration so closely is an easy pitfall.

  2. I haven’t heard of this game before so it’s news to me. And mostly it sounds like good news, and the representation by number is great.
    I’m just a little bummed out that despite being adeqautely covered for combat situations they are still over sexualised by tight fitting clothing. Maybe I can’t actually see anything so it does leave something to the imagination but my imagination doesn’t exactly have to work that hard either.
    Male characters get armour, female characters get latex, wha’?

    Oh well, silver linings I guess.

    1. I agree, it’s a shame that some of these women are still sexualized, but I think it’s great that Pharah’s outfit is full-on armor! Not tight/hyper-sexualized, but fitting for her role as a tank and soldier. Pretty cool!

      1. Must have missed that one, thanks for letting me know. Also did I say latex in my original reply? I meant spandex, woops! XD

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