Blizzard Explains Why Overwatch Still Doesn't Have A Black Woman Hero

Early concepts for Overwatch’s newest hero, Ashe (Image: Blizzard)

Overwatch fans disappointed with Ashe should know that six new heroes are in the works, Blizzard has told Kotaku, and that fans hoping for more diversity in the popular game’s cast of characters will hopefully find what they’re looking for in upcoming updates.

“I think if you look at the history of Overwatch, there’s been such a wide variety of people that we’ve represented in the game,” game director Jeff Kaplan told Kotaku at BlizzCon last weekend.

“We have no shortage of heroes that we’re currently working on secretly back in Irvine. Right now I think the number’s around six that we have in development. I don’t think people are gonna be disappointed.”

“I think there’s... I don’t want to say something for everyone, because six is not something for everyone,” Kaplan said. “There’s a lot more people who walk Planet Earth than that. But I don’t think people will be disappointed. We have a lot of really cool, interesting characters that are gonna come out over the next few years.”

When Ashe, a diabolical cowgirl with a robot buddy, was announced at BlizzCon on Friday, people were excited. Some wanted to play as her. Others wanted to be stepped on by her. But once the excitement started to die down, the discussion shifted: Ashe is another skinny white woman, people pointed out, in a game that still doesn’t have even one black woman hero.

“On one hand, yay, new Overwatch hero! Looking forward to seeing what Ashe can do. On the other hand.... where is my black female hero, Blizzard????” wrote one fan on Twitter, echoing an almost endless avalanche of similar sentiments.

Those fans’ disappointment grew when Blizzard revealed in a subsequent BlizzCon panel that Ashe had darker skin in a very early design. They couldn’t help but see a pattern forming, noting that an early iteration of the character Mercy was also black.

There are also potential black heroes who’ve been on fans’ radars for years, but who’ve yet to make it into the game.

“So uh, Overwatch, what’s good?” said illustrator and game designer Chris Kindred on Twitter, linking images of two black characters briefly shown in Winston’s animated short from all the way back in 2016. “And like, the hamster’s cool or whatever, but the streets been hungry for these two since the Winston cinematic.”

Some fans even went so far as to create fan art of what Ashe would look like if she was black:

Overwatch now has 29 heroes, which include men and women from all sorts of backgrounds that aren’t often represented in big-budget video games. Doomfist is a Nigerian man, Pharah is an Egyptian woman, and Lucio is a Brazilian DJ. There are even black women in the game’s supporting cast, like Orisa’s creator, Efi Oladele.

After all this time, though, black women are still conspicuously absent from the hero roster, even as the game faces criticism for a lack of variety in women heroes’ faces and body types.

While writing this story, I asked Kotaku’s Gita Jackson, who has also been looking into this issue, for her input. “Every time Blizzard has announced a new hero, there have been fans asking when there will be a black woman. There are so few playable black women in games in general that to be consistently overlooked by a development studio who explicitly wants Overwatch to feel diverse and international feels upsetting,” she said.

“They made a hamster and a second cowboy before they made a black woman. It just feels like we’re not a priority, and while I can’t tell them what to do, I feel like they’re under-serving a part of their fanbase that clearly wants to throw money at them.”

Jeff Kaplan told Kotaku at BlizzCon that Ashe as we now know her was born of timing and sudden inspiration, which played a role in her appearance. Originally, she was just a supporting character in “Reunion,” the new cinematic revealed during BlizzCon. It was conceived as a “McCree piece,” but the Overwatch team saw an early, pre-animation version of the video created by the cinematics team and were taken by Ashe’s look and personality — and also B.O.B. They decided that Ashe would be the next hero.

“We absolutely have intentions to make a really diverse cast,” said Blizzard senior software engineer Julie Anne Brame. “But again, this came from cinematics, and she was just so special out of that wonderful cinematic. And it wasn’t, like, out of all the things in the world to pick, we want to pick this particular character; it was ‘Wow, that’s a really special character that needs to come to life and really would contribute a lot to our universe.’ I think that’s what made Ashe stand out.”

But that doesn’t explain why Ashe couldn’t have ended up as a black woman, nor does it do much to assuage the concerns of fans who’ve been waiting so long for a hero who speaks to them on a personal level. More characters are on the way, so here’s hoping that Blizzard decides to show its hand sooner rather than later.

We’ll have more from my Overwatch interview soon.


Comments

    "We want diversity!"

    *makes another slim, good looking character*

    I would honestly love for the next female character to be less of a babe regardless of skin colour, and be something like a hunched ole crone or a big monstrosity like Roadhog but it seems Moira and Zarya is as far as they're willing to swing in either direction. They can seemingly go as far as they want in terms of exaggerating male proportions but it's like they're afraid to craft an "ugly" woman.

      So in summary you think Ana is hot and not a crone? Got it. Grin.

        She's older, that's about where it ends. Have you seen her Captain Amari or Horus skins?

      The amount of anterior pelvic tilt that most of the female heroes have bothers me.

      How much lower back pain must those women have? :\

    Given the diversity in the entire roster, and how they aim to have many different nationalities not normally found (let alone be playable) in such games. To say nothing that the game also includes a playable grandma. they are still way ahead of the curve and shouldnt cop things like this.

      *sigh*

      I will cop flak for this....

      But see your statement pretty much encapsulates why a lot of people are switching off the diversity discussion. Here we have a great fantasy/sci fi setting that has tried its best to diversify its cast and have them all of equal standing and yet instead of being applauded for the efforts we will nitpick on that 1% thats been missed so far and amplif it as a massive issue.

      And people eventually get tired of excesive nit picking. Why bother if youre going to be "problematic" regardless of how much you try to be positive?

        Overwatch is probably the most diverse game out there, and it's still not good enough. They'll put a black woman in and it still won't be good enough. As soon as one checkbox is ticked, the "what abouts" start again over something else. Blizzard will be 100 unique characters deep and it still won't be good enough.

        Obviously this is no excuse to not try at all, but can't these people see how this hurts their cause?

          honestly I kinda doubt their cause, it is far more likely maybe a few people honestly believed in what they were saying (I dont doubt their belief in what they are saying) and then the 'mob' that loves to jump on such things to make it trend for the lol's comes along and because of the numbers now talking about it, kotaku comes along and makes it a news article.

        Why bother if youre going to be "problematic" regardless of how much you try to be positive?

        Because while there will always some extremist pointing out the flaws (and lets face it, do many of these listed really care? or they just doing it to troll?) social change starts with many, many, many individual people doing the best in their own little universe, inspiring those around in little ways, to let go of old school prejudices. Now we all know how big of a gaming Juggernaut Blizzard, so imagine how many people Overwatch has inspired from their diversity. The numbers are staggering. They 'bother' for those people who they have affected not the ones they havent, because lets face it, more than likely the ones they havent reached, dont want to be reached.

        Mate, what's this "1%" rubbish? They're not asking for a pansexual, Scottish-Japanese set of cojoined twins. Black women are pretty fuckin' standard in terms of basic diversity. Chop-chop, Blizzard.

          You're spot on, why are you getting down voted? It's like the Right media that go on and on and on about Trans people. It's like, they make up about 1% of the population, but they act like there's an army of them out to turn your girls into boys. I have family members that are "born again" christains. All they _ever_ talk about is gay people. I sear to Dog, they talk and think about gay people more than gay people do, that's all they obsessive talk about, even if we're out at a nice restaurant for a meal, I really think there's something deeply wrong with them.

    I will not rest until we have true diversity in a game where (pretty much) every character is violently trying to kill people.

    Only then will we have properly represented the people of the world.

    While I understand the sentiment, especially since black people form a significant part of the American population, how deep do people want this rabbit hole to go? Where are the Middle Eastern characters, the Eskimos (Mei is Asian and doesn't count), the Native Americans and the Aborigines? Do we need to have 1 female for every male? What about genders? Does a male identifying as female count as the female representation or do we need another character? Do we start getting into religions as well as economic dispositions and marital status?

    There are a lot of factors to diversity other than race and sex and the more you start supporting them, the more people are going to use that as a reason to ask "Why not this if you've already supported that?" But yes, we didn't really need another white female.

      As a white person I always appreciate having more representation in my games. It helps me connect with the characters and gets me more immersed in the story. I can see how the same would be true for people of other races. I can see how the same would be true for women, or trans people, or gay people, or... you get the picture.

      At the end of the day, everyone likes things to be a certain way. A company making a commercial product is generally going to do its best to make a product that appeals to the widest number of people. Nothing will ever please everyone, and there will always be people who feel 'left out'.

      I think the company's response 'we are always working on possible hero options' is very diplomatic. No matter how many heroes are released, there will always be someone who finds fault with the selection available. Some people are genuine about it. Others, like me, just like to see an interesting conversation about representation and racial/gender divides versus commercial/artistic success. Life goes on :-)

      I enjoy diversity in my games (I connect about as much to a white male action hero about as much as I do to an Egyptian grandma), but diversity by quota (and outrage by quota) is bloody irritating.

    But there are black female heroes? Ana, Pharah and Sombra?

    So are Ana and Pharah not "black"? They're dark skinned women from North Africa. What's our definition here?

      Shanice Ebony Precious Aliyah from "da block" in Harlem.... Aka the loudmouth American version of African American

    Has anyone else thought that maybe the reason why they haven't got an African-American Woman playable in the game is because maybe they haven't gotten around to the law for her or that the current law hasn't gotten to the point where a playable character is available?

    Overwatch already has a black female - Orisa! Excluding her on the basis of her being a robot seems discriminatory.

    So - I had a look at their roster and wouldn't you know it - you can play as a black african grandma. And her daughter.

    There is also a dark featured Indian and a dark skinned Mexican in the game.

    Why does the game require a black hero? Or a fat one? These are heroes meant to be at their physical peak. The only fat guy is Roadhog, and thats only because he's lugging a huge gun around. A fat person doesn't really fit into the game's story.

      A "story" involving genetically enhanced hamsters competing in mech fighting tournaments? I think I can overlook a fat lady. Hell, give me a paraplegic character in a souped-up wheelchair. As long as they're zany and fun I can get behind that.

        Even the developers themselves admitted that that one was pushing the envelope and they're unlikely to get that wacky again. And its not so much you can overlook a fat lady. Or a black lady. Or any kind of person or animal or omnic or whathaveyou. But the game shouldn't be held to a quota standard because if it is - it stifles the teams creativity. Who cares if there is more of this character than that character - I just want to be attached to the characters, enjoy their stories and feel heroic playing as them. And I have never actually picked Hammond - he's hard to play as and I dont like the character.

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