On a rainy day last week, I logged on to my high-end, RGB-powered gaming computer after chugging an entire gallon of cold brew in preparation for a truly difficult task. I was about to take on the most brutal challenge Overwatch 2 had ever created, far beyond the skills of most of its players.
I had only one goal in mind: I needed to win the heart of a cyborg ninja, a brilliant doctor, and a decidedly non-cherubic archer in under an hour, while not making a complete idiot of myself in front of two of Overwatch 2’s greatest narrative masterminds.
Dot Esports was granted an exclusive look at Loverwatch, a non-canon dating sim set in the Overwatch 2 universe, created for the game’s Ultimate Valentine event. Players must embark on multiple paths to win the hearts of Mercy and Genji while accompanied by a Cupid who insists he is absolutely, 100 percent not Hanzo Shimada.
In the kind of shenanigan-fueled reporting I’d only ever dreamed of before, I got to experience the dating sim alongside its writers, Overwatch 2 narrative designers Kyungseo Min and Miranda Moyer. Each took charge of one path of the story, with Moyer penning Genji’s love affair and Min tackling the acquisition of Mercy’s affection.
As befitting its name, Loverwatch is truly all about love, but not in the way you’d think. If you peek behind the curtain of heart emojis, you’ll find a labor of love from Team Four—the colloquial name for Overwatch 2’s developers—as well as a giant hug and kiss to Overwatch’s massive fandom, who arguably kept the game afloat during content droughts.
“We’ve always wanted a dating sim,” Min told Dot Esports when asked about Loverwatch’s inspiration. “The writers are all aware of the amazing community and the love that the community has for our roster of heroes.”
Loverwatch isn’t your average dating simulator, however. Though the game clearly draws from the genre’s tropes, featuring things like scrolling text, bubbled windows, and lots of egregious character blushing, Loverwatch’s most charming feature is its self-awareness. Fourth walls are punched out of existence left and right. Fandom in-jokes abound and characters are disparaging in the best way possible about one another and the silly situation at hand.
One of the first options that got a full-blown belly laugh out of me comes early in the game when you can immediately ask Cupid why there are only two heroes available in this love quest. That was a complaint the writers were ready to handle; they knew they’d be fielding it across Twitter and other socials as soon as the game dropped.
Moyer said Genji and Mercy were chosen for their long-standing tenure in the game and the development of “culture” around them. “There are so many memes and in-jokes that we could play off of,” she said. “You know, Genji needs healing all the time and Mercy’s tired of dealing with the Genji mains all the time.”
Mercy and Genji are also extremely different people, which added variety for fans. “Mercy is this brilliant mind, a perfect doctor, angel, etcetera, and Genji is not those things,” Moyer said with a laugh. “Having Hanzo in there too, he’s very sassy and he was a really good way to help round it out.”
Though I’m a noted (and extremely loud) Hanzo enthusiast, I was drawn to the other Shimada for my first foray through Loverwatch.
Far from his usual serious in-game persona and penchant for avoiding the payload, Genji is kind and chaotic in his Loverwatch path. Even though he’s attained a level of inner peace thanks to Zenyatta, it’s clear the young man who spent too much money at the Hanamura arcade is still alive and well in this mode.
“He’s kind of like a golden retriever,” Moyer said of Genji. “He’s very head empty, just kind of sweet in a way that I don’t think you really see as much of in the game.”
Cupid Hanzo suggests that you focus on Genji to win his heart, but the options that pander to his ego aren’t always the most correct. Lean into a fun, whimsical mood before you head down that path. At the fancy restaurant, order off the kid’s menu even if the idea seems utterly ridiculous. Trust me, the option gives you one of the sweetest and most hilarious scenes in the entire game.
Mercy’s romance actually ended up being the easier route for me, as someone who enjoys terrible puns and often pretends to be smart enough to understand the level of research that Dr. Ziegler regularly undertakes. Where Genji appreciates a level of blunt honesty, Mercy takes a slightly kinder hand to court correctly. Just drink her terrible coffee and act like you enjoy it.
In the vein of traditional dating simulators, everything’s all fun and games until the third and final dates of both heroes, which are heartwarmingly genuine. “You still get to see the very sincere side of Genji and the sincere side of Mercy,” Moyer said. “They’re just surrounded by a little silliness.”
For all of the dedicated completionists out there, or those who just really want the excellent Hanzo highlight intro, Loverwatch doesn’t exactly keep its “secret ending” very secret. While it’s not the hardest plot twist to clock, it’s still an incredibly satisfying finale after listening to Cupid’s faux-angry attitude the entire game. Though the secret path is clearly a shoutout to those of us who would rather be romancing Hanzo in a toga—not that I’d know or anything—it also has a much more logical inspiration.
“It just felt right that if you are just really good at loving, at ‘Cupid-ing,’ then Cupid will give you props,” Min said.
All the characters in Loverwatch manage to feel like themselves but with a few fun bonuses, which is harder than it seems. As anyone who’s tried to write a piece of fan fiction can attest, accurate characterization within the context of a new setting or plot can be extremely difficult. (Don’t lie to us. The Venn diagram of readers searching for more information about Loverwatch and those who have written fic looks a lot like a circle.)
“What we tried to do was pick parts of their personality to really make larger than life for this lighthearted and comedic experience. We definitely lean on that noncanonical disclaimer quite a bit,” Moyer said. Mercy, for example, is apparently a secret collector of healing crystals, and Genji wears hoodies to five-star restaurants. Those facts are just far enough out of left field to add some depth, but they won’t make it to Overwatch 2 wiki pages.
Keeping that core characterization was “a matter of figuring out the ways that we wanted to lean into the more ‘fun and nice’ community-oriented side of them and still keeping that true to the people they really are,” Moyer said.
It’s glaringly obvious in the best way possible that this is a treat for Team Four as much as it is a love letter to the game’s fandom, especially members who may not feel adequately heard in the statistics and strategy of Overwatch 2.
Min, who gets nausea during first-person gaming experiences and often can’t enjoy the game as it stands, knows that firsthand. “For players like me or players where the PvP experience isn’t really their preference, we wanted to give them something to interact with the world of Overwatch and the characters of Overwatch but in a similar, interactive, gamified way,” she said. “This is celebrating a part of the community that loves these heroes as people and wants to get more of them as people first and game mechanics second,” Moyer added.
For fans out there who may be spooked by the lovey-dovey cartoon hearts and the looming judgment of Cupid Hanzo, fear not: Loverwatch is far more of a comedic romp than it is a romance novel. You’re infinitely more likely to laugh out loud than you are to cry at your romantic failures.
That has a lot to do with the writing environment the mode was created in. “I think ‘fever dream’ is the best way to describe it,” Min said, laughing. She and Moyer teamed up with lead narrative designer Gavin Jurgens-Fyhrie, who helped keep the “tone and vision consistent.” While that sounds very serious, Min noted that Loverwatch “basically encapsulates the vibe of the narrative team Slack channel.”
Considering the two scenes the writers picked as their personal favorites, that Slack channel clearly must be full of puns and off-the-wall suggestions that everyone is hoping will make it to the final product.
Moyer’s favorite is a surprise cameo from Genji’s instructor, who is uncomfortably aware of how much of the spotlight he’s allowed to take up on an annual basis. When thinking of a way to greet Zenyatta, Moyer landed on a surprising option: the almighty fist bump, which the omnic monk ends up loving.
Mercy’s romance path is full of nerd jokes and puns that would make most dads groan, courtesy of Min. Her favorite is the joke about the periodic table—borrowed from Winston—that leads to a cascading series of linguistic and scientific chuckles. “I can quit right now as a writer and just be so happy because it was just like pun after pun after pun,” she said. “And it was just an assault of puns. Punishing puns.”
As a writer and creator, there’s no greater gift in the world than watching someone enjoy your hard work. Though playing alongside Loverwatch’s authors was mostly for the benefit of myself and Dot Esports’ readers, I hope they earned a little free serotonin from watching someone entrenched in the fandom and love of Overwatch enjoy their creation—especially the part where Hanzo begs you to pause your “brilliant wit” for just a second, but you, as the player character, exist solely to bother him into loving you.
I truly enjoyed my time in Loverwatch and I’m clearly not the only one: the sim debuted on Feb. 13 and fans have already descended on it, serving up social media screengrabs of the game’s most iconic moments and begging for more.
Thankfully, the game isn’t exactly subtle about the possibility of another romantic adventure gracing everyone’s screens, especially if this first round gains traction. When asked about the potential of more Loverwatch-style shenanigans, Min smiled and answered in the way only a writer could: with a cliffhanger.
“If the community shows a really great response, who can foretell the future?”