This week marks the second anniversary of Overwatch, and it’s terrific to see how far Blizzard’s team-based shooter has come, with new heroes, new maps, new modes, as well as the launch of the Overwatch League. Of course, as the game continues developing, adding and tweaking features, plenty has been discussed on the future of Overwatch besides its core game as an FPS capturing points and moving the payload. Notably, since the introduction of PvE events, now under the banner of Overwatch Archives, players have been wondering if Blizzard shouldn’t just expand on this and make a full-on single-player campaign.
Game director Jeff Kaplan has already mentioned that a campaign would require “a significant amount of work,” which would be more like creating a brand new game as opposed to just small contained missions like they have now — though the latest mission ‘Retribution’ and its accompanying map Rialto had apparently been in development for at least a year.
However, if Blizzard were to put in resources to expand the Overwatch universe with a story that its fans want, they could do one better: make a dating simulator.
I know, it’s a complete genre change from skill-based first-person action to choosing relationships and getting to know more about the characters, which have so far been left almost entirely to its hungry fandom to interpret. But that’s why it would work.
There’s something to be said about Overwatch’s fandom that people are so invested in the characters but who may not have any interest in playing the actual game. Because while Overwatch promotes a utopian and inclusive universe very much welcomed by the LGBTQ+ community, this is often at odds with the aggressive and hugely toxic behavior that exists during play, something that even the professional Overwatch League hasn’t managed to avoid.
It may be fair to say its most obsessed fans aren’t interested in getting on the point or timing an Ult nearly as much as they are interpreting the relationships between its heroes, whether it’s shipping Pharah and Mercy, Hanzo and McCree, or discussing who’s transgender. None of these have actually been made canon by Blizzard either, apart from the reveal that Tracer is a lesbian and has a girlfriend, though this is only depicted in an online comic book chapter rather than in-game.
But hearing about all these different stories and fanart, if you didn’t know any better you’d almost think its fans were talking about a Bioware RPG instead of a team-based multiplayer where you basically kill each other while scoring objectives.
The irony is that Blizzard has written itself into a corner by actually not doing anything. The Overwatch comics and short films do a little to clue you into a hero’s backstory but nothing too deep about their personal lives, which leaves some to say that the developer isn't not doing enough to expand on character relationships, and are only paying lip service to LGBTQ+ by just adding a label and nothing else. At the same time, if you thought only homophobes were upset that Tracer is a lesbian, it turns out some fans aren’t pleased that this canonically makes her spoken for, and just imagine her in a different coupling anyway.
Now imagine if Blizzard tried to write a full-fledged canonical campaign: What if one hero doesn’t get enough screen time? What if a romantic pairing is made that upsets one section of the fandom? What if it’s just purely plot-driven and inoffensive to the point of being dull? Blizzard can’t win. The fandom has taken ownership of Overwatch’s characters and there’s nothing the developer's own writers will be able to do to satisfy everyone.
But think outside of the box (and outside of the genre). Imagine if you could set the weapons aside and let your heroes catch some R&R with one another in the form of a visual novel or choose-your-adventure with multiple outcomes? It’d almost certainly be less costly than investing in making a full blockbuster campaign with a linear story. Maybe outsource it to a developer like Telltale Games, who did something similar for the Borderlands series. Hell, they can even recruit some influential artists and writers from the Overwatch fandom and get them involved so that the myriad possibilities of relationships do reflect what’s been imagined by the community.
After the past couple years of being matched into hostile multiplayer sessions, isn’t it about time Overwatch fans get to play matchmaker?