How Blizzard is Killing It with Their Overwatch Hero Backgrounds

By Jeff Francis
How Blizzard is killing it with Overwatch hero backgrounds

There are a lot of elements that come together to make a good online game. First there are the underlying mechanics of the game, such as combat and character/class balance. An equally important part is the story and the characters that exist in that story. In this regard, an online game, even an mmofps like Overwatch, could be considered analogous to a movie, book, or TV series. Blizzard has devoted considerable resources to crafting some very interesting backgrounds for their Overwatch heroes, and it has certainly paid off. Let's take a few moments and examine how Blizzard is killing it with their Overwatch hero backgrounds.

The topic of Overwatch hero backgrounds cropped up again recently when Blizzard released a new online comic diving a little bit deeper into the origin of Doomfist, the next character being added to the mmo fps. From the comic, we get a little more insight into what makes Doomfist tick, not to mention how powerful he is in combat. Of course, this is par the course with Blizzard as they have carefully cultivated the personalities and backgrounds of the Overwatch heroes that gamers play. While a lot of companies would just release some bare-bones info on their game's characters, Blizzard has pulled out all the stops into making their heroes come across as flesh-and-blood people that have real feelings and motivations.

The emphasis on the Overwatch hero backgrounds was forefront from the very beginning. While some shooters would focus their attention on the madcap action that they have to offer or unique mechanics, Overwatch instead touted the actual characters found in the game as well as a fully realized setting. All of the game's cinematic trailers focus exclusively on the various Overwatch heroes and what makes them special. In the "Hero" trailer, we see that Soldier: 76 is old and tired but still fighting for what's right. Bastion takes the spotlight in "The Last Bastion" in which we see that the fighting machine just wants to live in peace with nature. "Dragons" shows us the remorse that Hanzo feels for believing that he had killed his brother, Genji.

So why did Blizzard go to so much effort in crafting the various Overwatch hero backgrounds? There are several reasons, and the first is that the characters help provide a narrative framework for the game. In a normal mmo game, the story would be pushed along with updates, but such is not the case in a shooter like Overwatch. The most important facets of a shooter are the constant action as players battle each other in matches and how the various heroes are implemented in such matches. The lack of an ongoing storyline means that Blizzard had to turn to another source, the characters, to serve as a narrative foundation for the game.

The second reason why Blizzard worked so hard to create and share their Overwatch hero backgrounds is to forge an emotional attachment between the players and the heroes. A lot of players find the grief and sorrow that Hanzo feels compelling, and his quest to redeem his honor resonates with players. Many players found themselves loving the plucky, never-say-die attitude of Tracer. Many of the Overwatch heroes have compelling origin stories that gamers can feel a connection with. Even if they don't play as that character in the game, they may still really like that character and want to learn more about them. The comics that Blizzard has done do a pretty good job of exploring the Overwatch hero backgrounds in greater detail. Many gamers were ecstatic to learn that Tracer was in a committed, same-sex relationship that was first shown in the comics.

The overall effect of these detailed Overwatch hero backgrounds is that the game becomes more than just a bunch of fragfests to see which team can rack up the most kills. Players love or hate a hero, not just because of how they play within the game, but how they are as unique individuals that feel real. It's one thing to have players into a game just because of its mechanics, but it's quite another to layer that enjoyment of the game with an actual fondness (or hate) of each of the individual characters. In this regard, the game becomes much more immersive than your typical shooter.

In the end, an online game is much more than just blasting away at your foes or maximizing one's crafting abilities. The best online games feel vibrant and alive as the player actually cares about the characters found in the game. I've known players who get upset if a notable NPC dies in their favorite mmorpg, which is due to a prolonged exposure to that character through a lot of story arcs and quests. Blizzard did not have this luxury with their shooter, so they concentrated on forging that emotional connection by creating really detailed Overwatch hero backgrounds that players could empathize with. In this regard, they have really nailed it as it pertains to most of their heroes.


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