What Overwatch Does Right
Overwatch is Blizzard's wildly successful competitive first-person shooter title. It came out in 2016 and took the Esports world by storm, marching its way into the upper echelons of Twitch viewership numbers, and carving out its spot in the competitive gaming niche.
It had plenty of competition trying to stop it from doing just that. Most notably, Counter-Strike Global Offensive (CSGO) and Call of Duty (COD).
These two ruled the roost of the FPS Esports field until Overwatch came and shook things up. It managed to surpass COD in popularity, unsurprisingly, but has yet to make a dent in the armor of CSGO, again unsurprisingly.
There are plenty of factors contributing to this success. The gameplay is flawless and fun, the world is vibrant and unique, but I would argue nothing has done more for the game's dominance than its characters.
To say Blizzard writers and character designers knocked it out of the park on this one would be an understatement. Given the initial lack of anything resembling lore, I'm frankly shocked that they did as good of a job that they did.
They made each and every single character feel like a distinct personality, not just a different set of skills.
It is a tool I believe they borrowed from MOBAs. Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas are well known for their dynamic cast of heroes, each unique in so much more than just ability.
Taking this little factor and employing it in an FPS game was ingenious. They not only created memorable, engaging characters, but whipped up a whole cult of personality around various players favorites (I'm Mei until I die, in case you're curious.)
Each character ended up with massive fandoms, and the quirky, cute, and exciting roster spread across the internet like wildfire.
The game went viral in more ways than one (if you know, you know), and soon you were hard-pressed to find someone online who didn't at the very least see what the game was all about.
You see, up until this point shooter players didn't get that sense of fandom, or a character to fawn over.
Both Call of Duty and Counter-Strike see you play as generic nameless soldier number 73 for the majority of the time. Well, all the time for CSGO, while COD tried some characterization, and failed miserably.
You can argue it's because of the more realistic setting, but CODs inclusion of unique specialist characters was dead on arrival from a narrative perspective. They did little to nothing in-game to promote these characters and what they are all about, and absolutely no marketing outside of the game.
Compare this to the level of effort Blizzard put into its individual characters, and it's easy to see why one was more successful than the other.
Addressing the elephant in the room, the girls of Overwatch are also designed to look incredibly cute and bubbly, and if there's one thing we know about the internet, it's that it loves cute girls.
It's just some food for thought, but I believe that this was the critical factor that pushed the game over the edge. You may disagree, that's fine. Either way, it was certainly a unique approach that paid off.