Tracer, Overwatch’s British and jovial promotional figure, is gay.
The news came just a few days ago, courtesy of a promotional comic for the game called “Reflections”, which captures Tracer frantically searching London’s bustling streets for the perfect Christmas gift, which she eventually receives after a bizarre set of circumstances. Tracer then brings the festively wrapped gift home to an elusive and never-before-seen secondary character: a redheaded woman with a gentle smattering of freckles known only as Emily. Tracer presents Emily with her gift, which she excitedly unwraps. Then, she plants a big wet one on Tracer, thus declaring, rather nonchalantly, that Tracer favors the fairer sex.
What’s surprising about this announcement is how shoulder-shruggingly light Blizzard, the game’s developer, chose to approach the big announcement considering that Blizzard itself was under fire for being homophobic just five years ago. In 2011, the developer controversially aired a clip rife with homophobic slurs at an annual convention, which led major publications like Forbes to ask, Is the gaming community inherently homophobic?
Since then, Blizzard has been desperately trying to separate itself from their earlier days of homophobia. (It once wouldn’t allow an LGBTQ-friendly guild be created on World of Warcraft). It appears that Tracer’s story arc is the developer’s first attempt at doing so.
This isn’t the first time Tracer’s been under fire, either. Before the title’s release, early images of Tracer were chastised for being too sexy, courtesy of a particular victory pose of hers predominantly featuring her glutes. These sexy character designs, which seem to be solely reserved for their female characters, then led to a plethora of Overwatch-themed porn, which Blizzard then had to abolish.
INTERNET: Let Tracer’s butt be the way Blizzard wants it’s their vision— Andrea @ #DICE2017 (@andrearene) December 20, 2016
BLIZZARD: Tracer has a girlfriend
INTERNET: Tracer can’t be gay WTF
Blizzard’s approach to Tracer’s sexuality feels like a giant middle finger to the those who may not agree with LGBTQ rights, and they seem rather insistent that this announcement shouldn’t be a big deal. “It’s something we decided early on when we were exploring the story of her character,” a Blizzard spokeperson tells Playboy.
However, it is a big deal some. The comic has been blocked in Russia in accordance with their laws forbidding gay propaganda. (The country recently asked for a ban on FIFA, for an LGBT-supporting shirt.) It should also be known that much of the game’s narrative is set in Russia, so to say this was a bold—and some have argued “unnecessary”—move for Blizzard to make is an incredible understatement, considering Overwatch is already a best-seller and recently took home top honors for its superiority over other titles this year, including Game of the Year at The Game Awards.
So why, with all its success, did Blizzard opt for an announcement they knew would spark controversy? They addressed the decision a statement to Kotaku:
As in real life, having variety in our characters and their identities and backgrounds helps create a richer and deeper overall fictional universe. From the beginning, we’ve wanted the universe of Overwatch to feel welcoming and inclusive, and to reflect the diversity of our players around the world. As with any aspect of our characters’ backgrounds, their sexuality is just one part of what makes our heroes who they are. From the very beginning of our work on Tracer’s story, it just felt right to make this an aspect of her character.
Considering the current state of the gaming community, which is still full of people who’ll absentmindedly shout a homophobic slur over their headsets if you don’t play in accordance with their plan, this revelation predictably sparked an eruption on social media, both good and bad.
I hate competitive mode Overwatch. My whole team just called me gay for “being bad” 🙄— Meder Taab (@MederTaab) September 3, 2016
But I got 3 gold medals, including most kills 🙄🙄🙄
Tracer can teleport. Tracer is gay. Logically, I think it is safe to assume that all gay people can teleport. Someone check my math.— Travis McElroy (@travismcelroy) December 21, 2016
Tracer, cover girl for the massively popular Overwatch, arguably the best game of the year, is gay y'all. pic.twitter.com/FkEF3jxPnN— Joshua Yehl (@JoshuaYehl) December 20, 2016
Tracer being gay makes lots of sense tbh, my teammates could never shoot straight with her— SuperBlah (@SuuperBlah) December 22, 2016
My appearance goals are Tracer bc I want to be fast, gay, deadly and adorable— Dead Girl Walking (@MilkyKohai) December 3, 2016
While many have rushed to Tracer’s aid, supporting Blizzard’s promise that “multiple” heroes in the roster are LGBTQ, others are predictably offended, with threats that devoted gamers will never play the title again. But thankfully, the support for Tracer far outweighs the hate, suggesting that there are far more important issues at stake here. “We love that we have such a passionate and dedicated community of players who are so invested in the Overwatch universe and its fiction,” the Blizzard spokeperson says. “As with any story element, we knew that readers would have lots of different reactions to all of the different revelations in the comic—but in the end, we just want to do what we feel is right for the story and the characters.”
For people who identify as LGBTQ or have friends and family who do, it goes without saying that Tracer’s sexuality is a progressive, necessary and long overdue achievement to introduce to the traditionally homophobic gaming community. Representation of queer people in the media (especially gaming, where representation is admittedly sparse) is important, even moreso when the character is a frontrunner in the title. This is, without a doubt, a very necessary decision for Blizzard to make. A decision that affects many of us on a personal level. Perhaps Tracer’s sexual identity will help others with their own. But even if the impact isn’t as spectacular as some are hoping it will be, it’s nice to know that Blizzard has recovered from their homophobic roots and is encouraging their community do the same.