Back in November, Blizzard told us that we would soon hear about an “LGBT character” in Overwatch. Today, a new comic was released as a part of the Winter Celebrations, in which Tracer—who is the face of Overwatch itself—can be seen kissing another woman. Everything leading up to this moment feels complicated.
You’ve got fans who strongly believe that having representation in such a big game is important, because it cements that the game is for everyone. You’ve got fans who don’t see why the preferences of a character matters in a game about shooting people and capturing points. Then you’ve got Blizzard, a developer who presumably wants to do right by fans, taking months to “reveal” this tidbit. Fans didn’t idly wait, though. Instead, “shipping” has become the most visible aspect of the fandom, and infamously, gay character pairs are some of the most popular within fanart and fanfics. In the minds of players, there is no single character who is gay. They’re all gay, at once, depending on the scenario you want to build.
Now that we know that there’s a canonical gay Overwatch character, the fandom finds itself at a crossroads. Does it continue mixing and matching however it sees fit, canon be damned? Does it embrace the lore and start building more opportunities for Tracer to explore her sexuality outside of the game? Will fans feel slighted that their favorite pick isn’t the one? What the hell do you do when there’s only one (to our knowledge)?
The other big awkwardness around the fandom is that, after the butt fiasco in which Blizzard toned down a victory pose for Tracer, the myth around Tracer changed. Outraged players started taking Tracer’s butt and plastered it everywhere in fan works. For a while, there was even a fad called “showbutting,” in which players used the play of the game camera to linger on a character’s butt. Tracer’s butt became Overwatch culture, so much so that an image of Tracer caressing another butt is probably the most infamous and popular meme for the game. In other words, Tracer was used to remind the community of the importance of the straight male gaze, and she inadvertently became a symbol for it. Despite the fandom’s queerness, it’s clear that there will be some reclamation efforts surrounding Tracer, too.
Growing up, it took me a long time to understand and accept my sexual orientation. The idea around “gaydar,” that you could just know by looking at someone, made me rebellious and indignant. How dare someone try to tell me what I am, based on whether or not I present in a certain way? I gritted my teeth as people debated whether my characteristics supported a label everyone could see and understand. Leading up to the comic, I watched as people debated who the “real” gay of Overwatch was, based on character designs, short videos, and sound bytes. This one is too butch, I’d read. This one is too feminine. This one would send the wrong message. The gay one had to be the right one, whatever that meant. And as fans argued, Blizzard took its time in outing any specific character.
There’s a part of me that feels a tiny bit resentful and exasperated at this whole mess, even if arguably Blizzard eventually handled the comic tastefully. Tracer’s sexual orientation is not scandalous, and it’s not the point of the comic, either. She just is, and that’s wonderful. Yes, the comic is an aside that has no bearing on the actual game, and yes, some players may never read it or even care. Even so, there is a part of me that gets sentimental thinking there might be a little boy or girl out there who can look at Tracer and see themselves, without fear that they’ll get rejected by the world simply because of who they love.