In Overwatch, sound is key. Aural cues tell you when enemies and allies are using their ultimates, and (good) teams regularly coordinate over voice chat. For deaf fans, those are some pretty big hurdles to get over whether they’re playing or watching.
Fourteen-year-old Danik Soudakoff is a deaf Overwatch League fan who was recently spotlighted on an episode of Blizzard’s weekly Watchpoint series.
“When I watch on Twitch, I don’t understand anything,” said Soudakoff. So he attends matches in-person at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California, where he collaborates with an on-site interpreter to come up with creative signs for game elements, including heroes. (The segment featuring Soudakoff starts at around 30:00 in the video below.)
In ASL, these are known as name signs, which are separate from finger-spelled names and often differ from people’s official names on birth certificates and things of the like.
So for Genji, Soudakoff makes a hand motion that traces the arc of drawing a blade, a la Genji’s ultimate. For Mercy, he swipes his hand upward, like she does when she resurrects someone. And for Widowmaker, he pantomimes holding a sniper rifle, because that’s pretty much her whole thing.
It’s cool that Overwatch League spotlighted this fan in particular, but there is some irony to it, given that, outside of the arena, Overwatch League isn’t exactly accommodating of deaf fans what with its lack of subtitles. Overwatch itself lacks gameplay subtitles or other options for visual indicators of important sound cues.
I’m sure Soudakoff is far from alone in wanting to better enjoy Overwatch, so maybe it’s time for Blizzard to get on that.