Overwatch, Blizzard’s nearly-three year-old hero shooter, is the top game on Tumblr. The game’s lore—which has no bearing on actual gameplay—keeps fans interested, even if they’re not playing it. Character stories and a slew of comics and animated shorts tell enough of a story for fans to work from; it’s on Tumblr where fans are building from Blizzard’s baseline storytelling to create new and fantastical worlds.
The fandom expresses itself in memes, art, and fan fiction, all of which is posted and reposted as they spread across the Tumblr community. Tumblr compiles the data for a number of different categories for its end-of-the-year roundups as way to track movement in Tumblr users’ “collective affection.”
“There’s so much of [Overwatch’s] world that people can dive into around these characters and explore outside of just playing the game,” Tumblr senior contents insights manager Amanda Brennan told Dot Esports. “People come to Tumblr to go deeper with those connections to the characters. Our Year in Review really highlights this desire to connect with the content on this level, as the items on the list tend to be geared more towards titles that allow users to fully dive into the world.”
Detroit: Become Human placed second on Tumblr’s top video game list, followed by Undertale, Kingdom Hearts, and Splatoon. Notably, Fortnite placed 30th on the list—which may surprise fans of the game, which has become a cultural touchstone over the past year. But on Tumblr, it kind of makes sense: Fortnite has gameplay-based lore that changes the arena its played in, but there aren’t character to latch onto. Fans draw their favorite skins, talk about what’s going on in-game, and make memes, but the game hasn’t established much for Tumblr’s fandom community to build off of.
Overwatch’s community on Tumblr builds off of the game’s existing lore. Not all decisions by Blizzard are accepted by the folks on Tumblr, but it’s at least something to work with; fan communities can flip storylines and make the game and its characters exactly what they want them to be. That’s evident when looking at Tumblr’s top ships of 2018. (Ships are fan pairings of characters of different media.) Three Overwatch ships made the list of 100: McCree and Hanzo, Reaper and Soldier: 76, and Pharah and Mercy.
It’s important to recognize that the three Overwatch ships are gay couples. Despite being touted as one of the more inclusive mainstream games available, the game does have some blind spots. Blizzard announced early on that its poster character, Tracer, is gay—and that are probably more queer characters in Overwatch’s world, according to Blizzard. But the developer is capitalizing on the community’s desire for queer characters but not fully committing. Often, the game’s more inclusive narrative themes are teased out by fans who are building their own worlds, like with the popular Tumblr ships.
“Tumblr has a huge LGBTQIA+ community and people want to feel connected by seeing more queer characters in all forms of media, especially with the media they enjoy,” Brennan said. “Since people connect with Overwatch so much, those two desires dovetail. Shipping is a huge part of Tumblr culture in general because this is the place people can experience their fandom deeply and openly.”
It’s similar for Overwatch’s racial diversity: Blizzard doesn’t have a black woman hero in Overwatch. The latest Overwatch hero released, Ashe, was once drawn as a black woman, but Blizzard opted into a white woman design for the final release. It was on Tumblr and elsewhere in Overwatch’s fan community where fans embraced her original design, drawing fan art of Ashe as a black woman.
Tumblr’s importance to the Overwatch community can’t be understated. Not only is it the top game, but it’s ranked six overall for Tumblr’s best-of 2018. Overwatch resonates with a larger audience than a typical first-person shooter title; that’s evident by how fans express their love of the game on Tumblr and elsewhere in fan communities.