When Blizzard released its Reflections comic last year, fans got a number of great details about their favorite characters: Torbjorn has a giant family, Tracer was gay, and that when he’s not showing off one pec, Hanzo looks rather normal. In fact, he looks kind of hot.
This version of Hanzo—dubbed “Casual Hanzo”—was a fan-favorite before he got a real-life skin treatment in this year’s “Winter Wonderland” event. He’s got all the makings of a video game babe: slouchy, baggy pants, an oversized hoodie, winter boots, and a bridge piercing, which became a highlight of fanart.
However, some fans had issues with the official Casual Hanzo skin when it was announced. People complained that his head looked to small, that his piercing was too big, and that he shouldn’t have white hair. This led to even more fanart, but with either a few tweaks to the official design or people doubling down on it. The Casual Hanzo fascination was only renewed.
It’s become clear this week that even though Blizzard didn’t nail the new Hanzo skin completely (it did announce it is making some changes), it did affirm something about the Overwatch fandom that has gone somewhat ignored by developers in-game. The game’s media extras, such as the Reflections comic and the characters shorts, have all added a personal touch to the characters, who are mostly just generic fighters that fit into one of four classes. While Overwatch has been adding backstory elements or character relationships in over time, the responsibility for fleshing out people like Hanzo falls on the fans. Tracer’s sexuality or Torbjorn’s homelife aren’t referenced at all in-game. They only exist if you’ve read the comics or watched the animated shorts.
“I think Overwatch’s accessibility relies a lot on how much canon information has been revealed about its world and its characters. Because so little has been given so far, it allows for its fans to get involved and infer a lot about character’s relationships with one another,” fan-artist Beros told Kotaku.
And the fact that people have latched on to this version of Hanzo, rather than a battle-ready version, shows that what people want is some personality. His bridge piercing, for example, is an attraction point for some, but also says something about the character. Not sure what that is exactly, but it says something and at the least, it endears him to fans and allows them to make their own interpretations about the character. He wears jeans! He has a piercing! That means he must have interests outside of his inner conflict or his ninja characteristics.
The fan reaction to other Winter Wonderland gifts, like Orisa’s puppy emote, show how sometimes the most humble and down-to-Earth moments are the most well-received. Other event presents, like Soldier 76’s Grillmaster skin, McCree’s Lifeguard skin, or even just normal, everyday skins like Lucio’s hockey uniforms show that there is an audience for seeing the Overwatch heroes in more ordinary garb, or in relatable situations. The Grillmaster skin, for example, takes Soldier 76 from an aging veteran of a group of superheroes to a father figure who wants the best fo the summer barbecue. It’s ridiculous, but it adds another layer to the character.
You can find casual versions of a lot of the Overwatch characters, including Mercy, Genji, and even some of the more over-the-top characters like Doomfist. There are even calls on the game’s forums to include even more casual or off-duty skins for the rest of the characters.
Each of these ideas gives the audience the chance to build out their favorite characters’ personalities and to imagine what life would be like for them outside of the game, which the game proper barely does. You get a sense of what the relationship is like between Widowmaker and Mercy or Zarya and Zenyatta because of throwaway lines that occur randomly at spawn points, or on maps that are tailored to certain characters, but everything else is supplemental. Even worse, Blizzard is releasing this material gradually, meaning fans have to wait around for new installments.
It makes sense that Blizzard would do this. Putting too many storytelling elements into a multiplayer shooter takes away from the core mission. “So are there direct gameplay implications from [character relationships]? No. It’s more about fun and building character than building specific game mechanics,” principle designer Scott Mercer told Kotaku back when the game was first released. This, however, has led to an explosion in Overwatch’s fan communities, which obviously still works in Blizzard’s favor. It also adds another responsibility: to ensure that the characters not only partially line up with fan expectations, but that anecdotes and personalized costumes exist at all.
That’s why as fans waited for Casual Hanzo to become an in-game feature, they built him up for themselves.