the gender and roles of overwatch heroes
In this post, I’m tackling the gender and role distribution amongst the heroes of Blizzard’s first-person shooter game Overwatch.
In a Reddit post from 2017, a then-Comparative Cultural Studies student addressed the question “Why are there so many female Mercy mains?”1 (She subtitled her piece, “The real reasons and a woman’s perspective for those who care”.)
Since then, I’ve analysed the gender and roles of the League of Legends champions and the Heroes of the Storm heroes. In both cases, the female characters were very much skewed towards support roles, while male characters leaned towards tank positions.
Although the Reddit post referenced the female support Mercy from Overwatch, I’ve shied away from crunching the numbers for Overwatch until now. This was because Overwatch has significantly fewer characters than both of the other games.
Compared to Heroes of the Storm‘s 90 characters and League of Legends‘ 150+, Overwatch had only 32 in the original game up to 2020. Since the 2022 Overwatch 2 overhaul, the game has released 4 more heroes, bringing up the number to 36. More significantly, 3 of those 4 heroes were female, which balances the genders to be almost equal or even slightly in favour of female heroes.
These changes have made me feel that it’s the right time to finally do the analysis on the roles and genders of Overwatch‘s heroes.
Gender Split: Overwatch Heroes are Roughly Half Male and Half Female
In both League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, the male heroes outnumber the female ones. As of the end of 2022, Overwatch has the most even split between the genders: 17 males and 18 females. The final hero, Bastion, is an edge case in more than one way.
What is Bastion’s Gender in Overwatch?
In lore, Bastion is a robot unit that was left abandoned for many years after the war known as the Omnic Crisis. Bastion is genderless, commonly referred to as “it” within the game and the community. Among others, Overwatch developer Michael Chu has confirmed this.2
However, the game’s designers have been careless with Bastion’s gender, sometimes using “he/him/his” to refer to the gentle robot. Notably, Bastion’s origin story on the official Overwatch 2 site (found at the link provided in Chu’s tweet) currently uses male pronouns for Bastion in origin story on the official Overwatch 2 site.3
Left abandoned and dormant after the devastating Omnic Crisis, this curious Bastion unit has reawakened in a changed world. The once-hostile machine now possesses curiosity and a fascination for nature. Along with his bird companion, Ganymede, Bastion has found his way into the care of Torbjorn Lindholm, where he now works to help the humans he once fought against.3
(From Bastion’s Origin Story, retrieved from the Overwatch 2 website on 29 Dec. 2022, emphasis mine.)
While these are likely mistakes, it’s interesting to note how the community lets misgenderings like these slide for the humanoid robot. Similar errors for a character who is male, female or non-binary would likely cause much more of an uproar.
Nonetheless, I’ve excluded Bastion from the analysis of the roles below, because I think Blizzard’s intent is for him to be genderless. However, it’s obvious that the detail of Bastion’s gender has not been important as the designers haven’t been meticulous with it on the website or in interviews.
A History of the Changing Roles in Overwatch and Overwatch 2
Before we get to the numbers, I want to provide some background details about the roles in Overwatch. There were changes to the roles themselves over the years, and I would additionally like to call out the significant role changes to two heroes, Symmetra and Doomfist.
When the game was released on 24 May 2016, the heroes were classified into 4 categories: Defense, Offense, Support and Tank.
The 26 Jun. 2018 patch changed these roles by combining heroes in the Defense and Offense positions to a single category: Damage. This patch also brought about changes to the female hero Symmetra, who was reworked from Support to Damage.
The goal of these changes is to move Symmetra to her new damage role and make her more flexible and viable across more areas of the game than she was previously. Now that Symmetra is no longer a support hero…
— Blizzard Entertainment, Overwatch Patch Notes – June 26, 20184
Then, when the game became Overwatch 2 on 4 Oct. 2022, Doomfist was switched from Damage to Tank.5
This analysis uses the current roles as they exist in Overwatch 2: Damage, Support and Tank.
Role Analysis: Distribution in Player Roles Amongst Male and Female Overwatch Heroes
Overall, Overwatch does a better job of balancing the support roles between male and female characters than League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm.
Like LoL and HotS, Overwatch falls into the same pattern of having more female than male support characters. Encouragingly, the most common female role is actually damage, with close to twice the number of female damage heroes (9) than female support (5) or female tank (4) heroes. But, the support role still is the least common amongst male characters, by a factor of at least two.
Previously, it was easy to see the trends in support heroes, as female supports dominate in both LoL and HotS. But, in Overwatch, these gendered roles are more evident when looking at the tank role.
When it comes to tank heroes, male tanks once again outnumber female tanks. There are an equal number of male damage and tank heroes (7), more than double the number of male support (3) heroes. And female tanks (4) are once again the smallest group compared to male tanks (9), which are the largest group amongst all the gendered roles.
- Total male damage heroes: 7 (41.18% of all male heroes); Total female damage heroes: 9 (50% of all female heroes)
- Total male support heroes: 3 (17.65% of all male heroes); Total female support heroes: 5 (27.78% of all female heroes)
- Total male tank heroes: 7 (41.18% of all male heroes); Total female tank heroes: 4 (22.22% of all female heroes)
TL;DR: For Overwatch 2, we’d like to see more female tanks and more male supports in future characters.
These numbers are promising, but they are also less meaningful because of the small sample size of Overwatch‘s 36 characters. But, doing this sort of analysis at this stage can help designers make informed decisions when releasing new heroes. I hope that the next 36, or 50, or 100 Overwatch heroes can be as diverse as the premise of the game and the players who play it.
- Angie. “Why do female gamers tend to play support characters?.” Backlog Crusader, 29 April 2019. Web. 29 December 2022.
- @westofhouse. “Bastion does not have a gender. We use “it.” See: https://playoverwatch.com/en-us/heroes/bastion/ https://twitter.com/sombthebomb/status/924764457154301952” Twitter, 29 Oct. 2017, 3:46 p.m., https://twitter.com/westofhouse/status/924769557461344256. 29 December 2022.
- Blizzard Entertainment. “Bastion.” Overwatch 2. Web. 29 December 2022.
- Blizzard Entertainment. “Overwatch Patch Notes – June 26, 2018.” Overwatch 2, 26 June 2018. Web. 29 December 2022.
- Jessica Barnes. “Why Overwatch 2 is Making Doomfist a tank.” GameRant, 8 April 2022. Web. 29 December 2022.