Overwatch has balance issues.
I sat down recently to read all the Overwatch comics Blizzard has published since the game’s release. It’ll be two years in June since I (and many other Sidequest contributors) first picked up the game, intrigued by the wide range of diversity I saw among the characters, but I’ve never played competitively. I only spend a few hours a week on it overall, and it’s hard not to get sucked into the bright and colorful locations and the thrill of yelling at your team to get on the payload.
Still, the lore is what really drew me in. The intrigue of what actually happened with the Overwatch organization, what’s happening now with Talon, and the ongoing dynamics between characters who have history scratch a storytelling itch that keeps me anticipating every new comic and animation release with excitement. Over time, though, it’s become clear to me that as diverse as the cast of characters you can play in the game is, within the lore things are a little off-kilter. Within the lore is where the side each character is on becomes clearer, and it’s suddenly easy to see that certain groups are a bit more, hm, colorful than others, to the story’s detriment.
Nowhere is it more obvious than when looking at the composition of the most notorious group of adversaries within the story so far: Talon.
One of the ways Blizzard introduced the character of Doomfist was through the thirteenth issue of its Overwatch comics, Masquerade. In it, we finally see Doomfist round up the core team of Talon operatives that he needs to set off his eventual master plan, and here is where we finally get a solid look at what the team consists of: two Mexicans, a Black man, a hypersexualized brainwashed woman, and a gender nonconforming woman, which altogether still doesn’t make for stellar presentation. It would have frankly been a lot better if it had turned out that Mercy, a conventionally beautiful woman who literally dresses like an an angel had been in Talon, but it’s not a coincidence at this point that the scary, menacing gender nonconforming woman is the one in Talon instead.
Yes, diversity is one of the things that makes Overwatch as a property great, but when your main team of bad guys is composed largely of people who have dark skin and a hypothetically unwilling light-skinned participant, it’s hard not to feel a little singled out as a person of color.
This gets especially hairy if you happen to be Mexican and all of the main explicit canonical representation you have in a series is a vengeful harbinger of doom who’s known for murdering Overwatch operatives, and a morally ambiguous hacker.
Both from Mexico. They’re Mexican. Mexicanos.
I focus on that specifically because while many count Lucio as Latinx due to Brazil being not only in Latin America but sharing many cultural aspects with Spanish-speakers, I find it particularly strange and distasteful that the only two Mexicans in a game known for being diverse in its representation are morally ambiguous and/or downright villainous.
Sure, Gabe didn’t start out that way (as evidenced by issues #8 and #9 of the comics, where he’s shown as a friendly and cheerful member of the original Overwatch group) but he sure wound up that way. Furthermore, Reaper, not Gabriel, is how most players will experience his character within the game. Not to mention, he only shows up as Gabriel Reyes twice over the course of his numerous appearances in the Overwatch comics. The rest of the time he shows up as the menacing Reaper. Gabriel’s backstory is very clearly a villain origin story.
As for Sombra, we still don’t know what she wants. We only know that she’s been allying herself with Talon, and, before that, the notorious Los Muertos gang which also operates in, again, Mexico!
It’s a genuinely terrible sign that when Sombra’s introduction was first being teased, I prayed up and down to whoever was listening that she wouldn’t be a full-blown villain. I was willing to accept “morally ambiguous anti-hero” because that’s just how low my expectations have fallen these days, when anti-Mexican sentiment is high, when Mexican immigrant children are threatened with being separated from their parents at the border, when potential Georgian governors drive around in “deportation buses” to gain votes.
The real world is currently a cruel and scary place for Mexicans, who keep being painted with the same brush of criminal, murderer, drug dealer, by large swaths of the white population. Games and comics are often means of escaping from the dark parts of life, if only for a short while. But what do you do when the property you love frequently reminds you of the darkness you’re facing in the real world right now?
Blizzard could remedy this issue easily in a few ways. Introducing another Mexican character solidly on the hero’s side would work. Revealing that Sombra has been working for the heroes’ side all along in some capacity would improve matters. Or even just cementing that Jesse McCree is Mexican, the way many fans have speculated, would be a step in the right direction.
Whether Blizzard will do anything to remedy this egregious balance issue, however, remains to be seen.
Editor’s Note: A previous version omitted Moira’s role in Talon. This article has been updated to include the author’s thoughts on Moira’s inclusion in Talon.
Azha Reyes spends entirely too much time playing video games, and even more time rambling about them. They’ve been known to cry about character development on occasion. They rarely shut up at @writethenoise on Twitter, if that’s your kind of thing.