Community, Artistry, and Engagement in Overwatch

In the first person shooter Overwatch, developed by Blizzard Entertainment, the player engages in team-based combat, tactically picking from a list of 23 playable characters which fit into four categories of hero roles: attackers, defenders, tanks, and support heroes. The game has become an instant hit with the first person shooter player base, thriving on the success of prior team based shooters, such as the Team Fortress franchise.

Asking the question of “who is the artist” is somewhat easy within the realm of paint, given that it is most likely the case that one individual was responsible for the brush strokes. However, Becker has complicated this for us, showing us how “all the arts we know… involve the cooperation of others” (7). For any video game development team, there are level designers, lore-crafters, dialogue writers, and character-designers. Overwatch especially exceeds the normal standard for a traditional development team, employing artists to draw, organize, and write their Overwatch comic series. Hence, this question is most certainly a leading one, or maybe even an intentionally tricky one.

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But, to give this question some proper credence, I believe the clearest “artist” of Overwatch is Jeff Kaplan. Operating as the Vice President of Blizzard Entertainment and the game director of Overwatch, Jeff even acts as a sort of community manager, putting him in front of the camera for his “Developer Update” series.

As an artist should be, Jeff was with the Overwatch team from its very genesis, in an AMA on the /r/Overwatch sub-reddit, Jeff explains how the idea for Overwatch originally came about:

We were working on a game that got cancelled. We had 6 weeks to pitch new game ideas to the studio. If we didn’t come up with something compelling, our team was going to be redistributed to work on other projects (WoW, HS, HotS, D3 etc). Arnold Tsang was drawing these amazing characters. And during some of our game idea sessions Geoff Goodman was pitching really cool class ideas for a class-based MMO. We merged these concepts into what was to become Overwatch.

Jeff was part of the Overwatch team when all the team had was concept art and a simple draft of a story. The “game” he alludes to is a gaming project under the codename Titan, and after the game was cancelled, the Blizzard development team scrapped their original concepts and appropriated them to the title that became Overwatch.

In the same AMA, Jeff describes the initial development of Overwatch, where “the first hero [they] implemented was Tracer. [They] did not have any animations or gun models. So she shot laser beams from her eyes.” This depth of early knowledge at the beginning of the game’s life cycle must make him equivalent to the artist, or at least makes him a primary artist. Additionally, Jeff was the artist who accepted the award for Best E-Sports Game of 2016 at the Game Awards, paying homage to fans, supporters, the community, and the late-great Harambe.

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Although Jeff is an individual constantly in the limelight, the community  of fans and players has made the game engaging and fun. One Youtuber, named dinoflask, has crafted video mashups of the developer updates to parody the game, the community, and the meta (or the commonplace strategies and motifs found in higher level play). These videos are hilarious, and are often acknowledged by the Overwatch team, Jeff included.

While this is all fine and well, the collectivism of the game sphere must be underscored here. It’s not simply the developers, the writers, or the artists who make the game, it’s the community of players and thinkers which make a game possible, pushing it towards success, approval, and a fun, engaging ludic experience. While Jeff and the Overwatch team made the game possible, the community has made the game what it is.

Citation:

Becker, Howard Saul. Art worlds. Univ of California Press, 1982.

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One thought on “Community, Artistry, and Engagement in Overwatch

  1. Well written. Interesting take. I particularly like the idea that Kaplan has elected himself author by putting himself out there as the target of AMAs ire. Responsibility as authorship.

    Like

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