It's not often you witness a competitive first-person shooter's developer allow its characters to indulge its audience's romantic fantasies. But then again, it's not often you have a roster of characters as charismatic and swoon-worthy as Overwatch 2's.
Since its release in 2016, the Overwatch series has garnered a reputation for creating diverse, compelling, and extremely attractive heroes. It comes as no surprise then that if you search "Overwatch" on An Archive of Our Own, a popular fan fiction site, nearly 40,000 stories featuring these characters are available to read. However, Blizzard itself greenlighting a project focused on putting these characters in romantic situations is a bit of a surprising choice, albeit one I absolutely stand behind.
Released on February 13, the cleverly titled Loverwatch is a limited-time dating sim set in the world of Overwatch. In it, you can romance two of Overwatch's most acclaimed heroes, Mercy and Genji, as well as relentlessly tease a toga-wearing Hanzo. To clarify just how this free browser game came to be, three Overwatch developers who worked on the project, Senior Narrative Designer Miranda Moyer, Narrative Designer Kyungseo Min, and Overwatch Brand Manager Beth Bryson, hosted a group interview exploring the process of creating the game, as well as some of their favorite moments from it.
"[The origin of Loverwatch] is really funny," Moyer said. "We've expanded the narrative design team over the past couple years and every single new narrative designer who joins the team, within a week or two, is like, 'Have we ever thought about doing a dating sim?' And it's like, 'Yes, we have actually, and we're very, very enthusiastic about it.'"
Moyer continued to say it was not solely the narrative team that was enthusiastic about the idea. After announcing they were going forward with the project on the studio's Zoom chat, Moyer described the energy as "raw enthusiasm."
"Everybody was going crazy. They couldn't believe we were actually making it happen. And I think that enthusiasm really shows in the amount of dedication and passion that we've put into this project."
"I could not believe that we were actually taking this step with our overall game and the heroes involved," Bryson added. "The reaction from the community has been somewhat similar. Announcing the Dating Sim was a part of my responsibilities, so it was a very exciting and very passionate time on our team."
According to Moyer, Min, and Bryson, Loverwatch is merely the first step in an "initiative to expand the Overwatch universe." While Blizzard has released shorts and graphic novels injecting more personality and backstory into its characters, Min explained the team wanted to find a way to do this while also ensuring there was an interactive element to the experience.
"And we wanted to do it in a way where we [could] include members of the community who felt left out by the PvP experience. I can attest I get FPS nausea, but I still love the Overwatch universe and I wanted to still interact with it in a gamified way," Min said. "So this visual novel, this dating sim, was perfect because you could still experience the universe and the characters. ... We get to be really inclusive with initiatives like these."
"Finding ways to expand this universe and give more players different ways to interact with our heroes is absolutely part of the objective for Loverwatch," Bryson added. "[This is] part of this new introductory path to some of the different ways that we're going to allow people to interact with the Overwatch world."
After announcing the project, Moyer, Min, and Bryson quickly got to work, with Moyer predominantly writing the game's Genji path while Min focused on bringing Mercy's story to life. However, settling on these two heroes was a "harrowing" process, Min said.
"Ultimately, we decided on Mercy and Genji for a variety of reasons, one of which is [that] they are long-standing heroes in our roster," Min added. "There's a wealth of lore and also a wealth of community jokes and memes. So we wanted to really pull on those for Loverwatch, as you probably played and noticed. And second, they're very different personalities and we really try to emphasize that. We wanted to give players a variety of experiences."
According to Min and Moyer--and despite the game being explicitly non-canon--lore and remaining faithful to the game's characters was vital to creating Loverwatch. While both said they had a lot of freedom to explore sides of these heroes players have never seen, it wasn't a "blank check." Min said she often referred back to the conversations and quips made in Overwatch's PvP mode to firmly establish the character's personalities, taking "larger-than-life" figure's interactions and translating them into small, intimate moments.
"I know for Mercy, my immediate thought as a writer was she's probably really socially awkward because she was busy getting two PhDs before she turned 18. So I wanted to really emphasize that," Min said.
Moyer, on the other hand, said one of her favorite things about writing Genji's character was his acceptance of "a ton of weird stuff."
"I know one of [my] favorite new conversations in Overwatch 2 is Lucio goes around and asks everybody what their favorite animal is and Genji answers, 'Oh triceratops,'" Moyer laughed. "And it's such a random answer to pick a dinosaur."
However, both Moyer and Min agreed they also wanted to use this opportunity to showcase these characters in a genuine way. For Mercy, this included examining her constant self-sacrifice and how she felt many viewed her as more of a concept of goodness rather than a person. For Genji, the team was interested in exploring his "dark past."
"Genji's whole conflict of who his character is, as far as, 'Who am I? Am I a good person?' [was an important narrative beat]," Min said. "Because he comes from a dark past and you as the player get to help him heal him. You get to tell him [if] you think one can know their true selves. And just bringing that crux of the character design back into something that's very ridiculous and something that's actually very heartfelt and deep."
As for writing Hanzo--er, I mean, Cupid's dialogue--the pair said they primarily tackled that challenge by acting it out. Moyer explained she and Min would schedule calls to establish "the most comedic way" to interact with the "stoic and grumpy" assassin.
"I know specifically when I was writing [his character] during the Genji Path, the immediate joke that came to me was, 'This is his brother and how would he feel about that?' And the answer is obviously he wouldn't be happy. He'd probably be very, very hostile towards Genji. And I feel like that bit has been very well received by the community, which makes me happy because a lot of people are like, 'This is exactly what a sibling would act like to their sibling in this exact situation,'" Moyer said.
And those bits aren't the only part of Loverwatch being embraced by the community. According to Bryson, the traffic for the browser game, a little over 24 hours in, was "pretty strong." Considering the team wrote the game as "a love letter to Overwatch's fans and community," one that's filled with in-jokes and turns popular feedback into laughable moments, it makes sense the narrative-driven experience is already popular.
Bryson said the team is paying particularly close attention to Loverwatch's metrics and overall performance in hopes that it is merely the first of many dating sims or one-off experiences the team develops. As for what heroes might be next to receive their own sentimental spin-off, the trio explained that no hero is off limits--though the game's various baddies could be quite a bit of fun.
"Any of the Talon heroes seem like they would have a ton of comedic potential. They're so edgy and I could see that playing really well to comedic tropes in dating sims like, 'Oh, I'm too cool for love, but maybe someone could reach my cold Reaper heart. Then one day I could know what love really is,'" Moyer said, unknowingly fulfilling my one true Overwatch fantasy.
Bryson, however, has her eyes set on a different ne'er-do-well and the newest member of the Overwatch roster: Ramattra.
"It is deeply important to me that we reach our metrics for success on Loverwatch because I must see an option to date Ramattra. It is important to me. I am invested," Bryson laughed. "In terms of a full game potentially coming, I can't make any promises. Obviously I would love to see that happen."
Loverwatch is available to play now through February 28. For even more Overwatch 2 content, be sure to read the Season 3 patch notes and give the game's extensive battle pass content a look. Blizzard also recently announced Overwatch 2's first IP crossover event, with skins inspired by the hit superhero anime series One Punch Man available beginning March 7.
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