It feels like Overwatch 2 is gayer than it’s ever been. First Lifeweaver was revealed as the series’ first pansexual hero, then dialogue seemed to hint that Baptiste was also queer. Now, a Pride event has confirmed that Baptiste is indeed, queer, and veteran hero Pharah is also a member of the alphabet army.
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I was ready to be disappointed with the game’s Pride event because it’s easy for a company as big as Blizzard to give what feels like a pandering token to the queer community. But while I think Overwatch 2’s Pride content is lacking in some ways, it feels like an earnest attempt to finally acknowledge a community that has kept its heroes in their hearts for this long.
What does the Overwatch 2 Pride event include?
Overwatch 2’s Pride event starts on June 1, and includes player icons, profile banners, and one spray for Tracer that’s a photo of her and her girlfriend Emily. The player icons and name cards are pretty extensive, and represent plenty of people across the queer spectrum, from sexual orientation to gender identity. But while the broad strokes of representation are nice, one of the things that sticks out to me as a long-time Overwatch fan, especially as one who got into this game because of its queer heroes, is that the upcoming Pride event also takes time to highlight its specific LGBTQIA+ heroes.
Alongside the general Pride cosmetics, each of Overwatch 2’s queer characters gets dedicated name cards that both broadly represent the queer community and their specific identities, as well. This means Tracer gets a lesbian flag banner, Soldier gets a gay one, Lifeweaver gets a pansexual one, and the two new additions to Overwatch’s queer line-up get their own: Baptiste has a bisexual banner, and Pharah has a lesbian one.
Baptiste may not be a surprise to fans who have been paying attention, as his dialogue with Lifeweaver more than implied the two had the hots for each other. Pharah, meanwhile, has been the subject of a core ship within the community between her and Support hero Mercy, but has never been explicitly said to be queer in the Overwatch universe before now. But now, it seems like that relationship, though perhaps one-sided, has some truth to it in official game lore. It’s interesting because that ship has largely come from how compatible the two are in the actual gameplay of Overwatch because they’re both airborne heroes who complement each other well, but I won’t complain about it resulting in some explicit representation within the world.
Both Baptise and Pharah talk about their crushes for Mercy and Cassidy in a new short story called As You Are, which launched alongside these cosmetics today. Even by Overwatch short story standards, it’s a quick read that’s mostly just Pharah and Baptiste dealing with their feelings together. But you know what? That’s enough. I don’t need a big action sequence every time I get a new Overwatch story. We love lore that acknowledges these characters for who they are, rather than existing in a state of plausible deniability. But that gets us to the part about the Pride event I hope Blizzard improves upon next year: the lack of tangible permanence.
How does Overwatch 2 celebrate Pride in-game?
Alongside the icons and name cards, the most substantial in-game aspect of the Pride event is flags around the New York-based Midtown map. According to Blizzard’s Aaron Keller, the idea is that before the Overwatch squad rolls through, New York has just wrapped up its own Pride parade, which is why all the decorations are still hanging up. It looks fun, and I already love going to Midtown because of its banger intro music, but once June ends, the rainbows will disappear and the map will go back to what it once was. Keller also points out that the Tracer and Emily photo spray will be a fixture within the Watchpoint: Gibraltar in the barracks map moving forward, but I can’t help but wish more acknowledgments of the queer heroes and players of Overwatch would stay longer than the 30 days of June.
Midtown is just one of the dozens of maps that players may very well not see in a given play session, and even then, this is a limited-time change. It’s nothing that will tangibly stay in the game when the clock strikes midnight at the end of June where other players can see it at all times. This is the problem queer people deal with every time Pride comes around. Corporations will slap a rainbow on their logo on social media, then when July comes around, it’s suddenly the same shade of gray it was in May. Overwatch 2 is more than willing to fly a Pride flag during the designated month, but it will fold it up and throw it back into the closet after the month is over.
All the Overwatch 2 Pride event cosmetics, from the icons and banners, are neatly tucked away in your career profile. You’ll see Pride flags flying in New York City while you and your friends push the payload this month, but there are no Pride-related skins for Solider: 76, Pharah, Baptiste, Lifeweaver, or Tracer to wear, no sprays for heroes other than Tracer to throw up on the wall after pulling off a Play of the Game-earning sweep, and no voice lines of Soldier: 76 telling people “move, I’m gay” as he sprints past. This is the biggest step forward Overwatch has had all once for queer representation, but there’s only so much here that will last after June and will be visible to all players.
When I started playing Overwatch in 2019, it was because of Soldier: 76. Yeah, you might think he’s basic and boring, but he was a tortured gay soul in an industry where gay men are seldom given the spotlight unless we’re an option. But even then, I never thought I’d see a banner to put on my profile that had Soldier adorned with a gay men’s Pride flag.
Activision Blizzard has been under a ton of strife as its workers are fighting for tangible change in its toxic work environment, and I imagine even something like profile icons, a limited-time map change, and a short story entirely dedicated to revealing more queer heroes was an uphill battle to implement. Blizzard devs have even said as much since the event was unveiled. I just hope that as this becomes a fixture in Overwatch’s annual event rotation, we see more progress and more representation, especially in ways that can be seen between gunfire and payload pushing.