You would think with two different LGBT characters in your game; you would have a pretty diverse community behind you, right?
Well in the case of Overwatch, that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening. But let’s be honest, everyone knows gay people can’t play video games. We all know they’re too busy shopping with their girlfriends to pick up a controller. That's why fans were rightly outraged when Tracer, one of the game’s playable characters, was revealed to be a lesbian. How dare a gay, a woman no less, interfere with a straight man's activity? It only got worse when Soldier: 76, one of the game’s other playable heroes, was also revealed to be not straight recently. How dare he?
Realistically, the LGBT community is a substantial presence in Overwatch’s player base. Gay people play games just as much as straight people, and Overwatch’s diverse cast of heroes has encouraged an equally diverse player base to pick up the game. Each time one of the game’s playable heroes has been revealed to be a part of the LGBT community, some homophobic fans of the game have been infuriated. Why? I mean, for no good reason honestly.
Overwatch’s lore about its cast is completely separate from the actual game, usually told through other media such as animations and comics, thus, if fans don’t want to interact with it, they don’t need to. If you look at the Overwatch forums, you’ll see numerous threads discussing the fact that Soldier: 76’s sexuality adds nothing to the game, and that it also takes away from the game because LGBT folks will want more characters representing the community. You’ll also see threads discussing that it was silly that his sexuality was revealed discreetly through a short story, while also condemning the Overwatch team for making a character LGBT for publicity? These contradictory statements are merely a way for players to make complaints about the inclusion of an LGBT hero without seeming homophobic.
However, the community’s homophobic actions don’t just end at online trolls; they extend to the community’s most popular figures. Yay! Multiple members of the Overwatch League, the game’s official competitive league, have been penalized by Blizzard and fined for homophobic slurs they’ve used, with one player actually being fired from his team. While the players being reprimanded for their actions is a good start, and the League’s code of conduct does prohibit behavior such behavior, the community of Overwatch fans, especially younger gamers, look to these players as role models for the community. Thus, action like this could harm the overall Overwatch player base's views on LGBT gamers.
However, it isn’t all bad news. I mean a lot of it is, but some of it isn’t! One of the League’s teams, the Los Angeles Valiant, has partnered with You Can Play, an organization dedicated to helping LGBTQ sports players. The team now sells patches and other merchandise created around this partnership with proceeds going to charity. The team also received diversity training from You Can Play, and creates content promoting acceptance in the Overwatch community.
Actions like this are certainly a step in the right direction, and Blizzard itself has taken action when players have used homophobic slurs, but this points to not just a problem with the Overwatch community, nor just the esports community, but the gaming community in general. Nowadays, there is a game for everyone out there. There is a video game that matches the interest of everyone on the planet, and thus, the gaming community is growing every day.
The community of gamers is often seen as an unaccepting crowd, and this is often the case. Go onto any online multiplayer game, and you can often find women and LGBT players being berated. When a group with visibility such as Valiant make public moves such as partnering with You Can Play to fix these issues, it is an excellent step in the right direction to turning this mindset around. It shouldn’t matter what gender you are if you want to play games. If a woman wants to storm the battlefield in Call of Duty, let her. If a transgender person wants to collect all the original 151 Pokémon, why not? Gaming is for everyone, and every step toward inclusivity is one step forward for the gaming community.