Of the roster of twenty-two playable characters in Overwatch, nine of them are women. While that’s not an equal ratio, it’s still pretty great—and the diversity of the characters is also worth commending. While I would prefer a 50/50 split, my issue with the game’s female characters is not so much their total as how they are distributed.
In the Offense, Defense, and Tank classes, there are two female characters each: Offense and Defense feature four men each, while Tank features three. The pattern is predictable: there are almost always twice the amount of men than women per class.
The exception to this is Support, where there are three women and two men.
Why is it that the only time women outnumber men in Overwatch is when they’re support characters?
Support is not a one-size-fits-all designation in the game, and I realize there is variety and nuance with regards to skills and play styles—not to mention character backstory and personality. But the fact remains that the highest ratio of women-to-men (in a game with lackluster ratios to begin with) is in a class that is backline support, providing aid to others.
Ana is a sniper with the added ability to Sleep enemies, and she’s pretty deadly in the hands of a player skilled at sniping. Her support ability is rooted in her rifle as well: she can send healing darts (and her grenades double for the same purpose) to team members. Essentially, she snipes them back to health.
Mercy is arguably the squishiest of the support characters. She has a staff that heals and boosts team mates (and a pretty rad ability to fly to a targeted teammate’s side) as well as an ultimate ability to resurrect fallen teammates, but her blaster—which you have to swap your staff out for—does an uninspiring twenty damage per shot. The official weapon description even says the Caduceus Blaster is “best reserved for emergency personal defense.”
Mercy is designed to stay as hidden and agile as possible.
Symmetra has no healing abilities. Her focus is on strategically placing turrets to damage enemies and placing a teleporter to allow allies to reach the battlefield quicker. She also has a shielding ability, and a snazzy photon projector. There’s been a lot of chatter about Symmetra’s abilities receiving an overhaul soon, as many players find her abilities less than helpful in many maps. It’s entirely possible she’ll be moved out of the support category, too.
Lucio and Zenyatta are the male support characters. Lucio focuses on healing and Zenyatta focuses on buffs for his team and against his enemies. Lucio is a very fun character to play or even team up with, and Zenyatta should never be underestimated, but they’re the only two male support characters.
Overwatch diverged from its skewed ratios so much with support that they basically went in the opposite direction.
Healing and support are not heavily feminine-oriented roles, though the outnumbering of women to men in this class—not only in Overwatch but in video games in general—seems to imply otherwise. Healers are squisher, less effective in battle, and frequently in gear that’s less tactical than other classes. The truth is that support is often the difference between being absolutely creamed and successfully taking objectives. My main is D.Va, but I play Mercy when I go for a support character, and if I weren’t there to revive my plethora dead teammates in the last thirty seconds of a game—well, my stats and their stats would take some hits. A good Mercy or Ana can be breathtaking in terms of skill; a bad one is frequently painful.
Despite my unease with Overwatch’s gender ratios, I did want to address the things that Overwatch does right. For one, some male characters in other classes have healing abilities: Roadhog can self-heal, and Soldier: 76 (aka Team Dad) has a biotic field that heals allies. But more than that, Overwatch doesn’t just go for fragile characters in sexy outfits for their support (although Symmetra is definitely not well-protected and Mercy’s suit is, uh, tight): Ana is a sixty-year-old badass clothed almost from head-to-toe, and a sniper to boot.
I love the different types of women in Overwatch, from the hulkingly buff pink-haired Zarya, to the teen gamer D.Va in her adorable mech. At least four of the female characters in Overwatch aren’t white.
My hope is that when Overwatch adds new characters (as they’ve done with Ana so far, who was added post-launch this July) they will even the numbers—and maybe add some male support characters so the class doesn’t look so tellingly gendered.