Fortnite took the world by storm in 2018, easily becoming the first of its kind to so effectively infiltrate both mainstream and traditional gaming audiences. It has garnered over 125 million players in less than a year (for comparison, Overwatch only hit 40 million this May); broken numerous viewership and revenue records; and, is on the fast track to become a lucrative esport.
To many, its unprecedented success seems like a mystery, but it isn't, really. In short, its cartoony, colorful design and low skill floor gameplay appeal to kids -- an overwhelming and powerful demographic -- in a way that games like Counter-Strike and League of Legends struggle to.
But Overwatch? Overwatch occupies the same vibrant, animated, kid-friendly niche as Fortnite, and Blizzard Entertainment, the legendary, multi-billion dollar video game developer, has the resources to make it a success. Which is not to say that Overwatch is not a success at present, of course, but only that Fortnite is in another league.
Since its explosive initial reception, Overwatch has lost significant steam. Players’ infatuation with (or perhaps patience for) the game itself has dwindled in light of its fading novelty and intolerable ranked system, resulting in faltering PC bang representation and low competitive player numbers.
But Overwatch is Blizzard’s baby, its crown jewel, and it is not out of the race yet. A feature-length animated film aimed at children is exactly the sort of thing the game needs to capture their attention; reignite the passions of disgruntled current and former players; and, catapult Overwatch into Fortnite-levels of success.
It isn’t rocket science -- movies reach massive audiences, including those outside of the traditional gaming audiences. Kids like movies. Kids like games. And kids (with a little help from their parents…) spend a lot of money on games.
Overwatch is perfectly suited to capture an audience similar to Fortnite’s, and as the new gamers the latter has spawned grow bored and look for a new home, Blizzard should be there waiting with their own kid-friendly, FPS-adjacent game in one hand and a fresh, movie-centric marketing campaign in the other.
So how would they do it?
Relative to most competitive shooter games, Overwatch has extensive lore and rich characterization as its foundation, making it a perfect candidate for film adaptation -- after all, the story is already written. Multiple stories, actually; Blizzard just has to choose where to start.
"More-so than any other character, D.Va has the potential to convert
Overwatch movie fans into Overwatch video game fans,"
If they choose to start at the beginning, then they animate the epic tale of Earth’s world war with omnics, Blizzard’s version of evil robots, and the coalition of superheroes who courageously rose up against them. This story is great, featuring a jovial, careless, axe-wielding soldier who is taught courage and responsibility via the death of his mentor; two government-enhanced soldiers deployed to fight crime, one of whom goes rogue; a plethora of other, yet unveiled, original Overwatch members; and, the bulk of the First Omnic Crisis (war) itself.
Importantly, although many would consider war too mature a topic for a children’s film, Blizzard has already censored themselves by making their villains robots. A film featuring a bloody world war between humans, a la Counter-Strike? Unacceptable. A film featuring war between humans and robots? Perfectly PG-13 and family friendly.
But maybe Blizzard doesn’t want to start there. Maybe they choose to go the Star Wars route and start in the middle. No problem! The not-too-distant past makes for a good story too. The downfall and rumored redemption of a superhuman task force was played out in an Avengers movie once, and there is little questioning whether Blizzard could do the trope justice.
And then there is the third option in which Blizzard picks up the story where it is now -- mid-reassembly of Overwatch, beginning of the Second Omnic Crisis -- and carries viewers off into an unknown future. All of these options are great because they (a) offer opportunities for expansion and (b) feature slightly varied casts of diverse, rounded characters.
But, frankly, a present timeline would be best, if only for the inclusion of D.Va.
Hana “D.Va” Song is an institution. She is a widely popular character, regardless of the game, all around the world, even becoming a symbol of women’s rights in South Korea. She is an aesthetically pleasing, likable hero whose characterization as a smart, savvy, and fierce leader would appeal massively to young girls.
More-so than any other character, D.Va has the potential to convert Overwatch movie fans into Overwatch video game fans, as well as bolster Korean interest in the title, and thus should be essential to any debut Overwatch film project.
"It doesn’t matter if it debuts on the big screen or the small screen, so long as Blizzard’s
feature-length 'Play Overwatch!' ad finds its way into the hearts and minds of kids,"
But I digress. Regardless of what story Blizzard (hypothetically) chooses to tell, it is vital that the movie be animated. In other words, it must not suffer the same fate as Warcraft (2016) and become an absurdly expensive, live-action-meets-CGI nightmare.
Firstly, animated films appeal more to kids who, as aforementioned, are the target demographic, and secondly, in order to drive attention to the game itself, there must be as few discrepancies between game and film as possible.
Overwatch’s existing cinematic shorts have successfully built a world outside of the gameplay that players love. Anything live action would compete with that world, creating unnecessary opportunities for disappointment when in-game voices do not match on-screen actors or animated characters look nothing like their real life counterpart (or vice versa).
Rather than attempt to push the envelope with elaborate Reinhardt costumes and CGI Winstons, all Blizzard has to do is expand their existing cinematic world into a feature-length endeavor. From there, their capable marketing team takes over and does for Overwatch the Movie what they have spent years now doing for Overwatch the Game (and its corresponding esports league).
An entire in-game event featuring movie-themed skins, perhaps coupled with a new map or special game mode, would be promoted alongside the film and then a free weekend or two would coincide with its release, driving as much film-generated traffic to the game as possible. Streamers would build anticipation for the premiere with Twitch drops enabled for exclusive sprays, and voice actors could play against each other or alongside game developers for promo pieces.
It would receive the Overwatch League treatment with YouTube mid-roll commercials and Twitter mid-scroll ads, taking over train station walls in Seoul and billboards in Los Angeles. Maybe the larger-than-life sized Tracer, Genji, and Pharah will make a return.
Blizzard, above all else, knows how to market a product (that is what its cinematic shorts are in the first place, a marketing tool) and it could absolutely milk an animated Overwatch film for all it is worth. And all this being said: this hypothetical movie exists in the Era of Netflix. It doesn’t matter if it debuts on the big screen or the small screen, so long as Blizzard’s feature length 'Play Overwatch!' ad finds its way into the hearts and minds of kids.
"Creating and promoting a film is obviously a massive undertaking that
can only be discussed in hypotheticals and with broad, vague strokes,
but Blizzard is already halfway there,"
In-game purchases, the endless money well that made Fortnite over 300 million dollars in one month, already exist in Overwatch. Skins, emotes, sprays, victory poses, highlight intros, and voice lines are all ready to be bought, just waiting to be snatched up by some 10-year-old who got their hands onto their parents’ credit card.
The game, especially at first, is addicting and fun, offering several game modes and over 20 heroes that each require months to grasp, easily offering any kid half a year’s worth of entertainment. And then another in-game holiday or PvE event would hit, sustaining their attention still.
Furthermore, this newfound player base would feed right into the Overwatch League, where Blizzard can make even more money, and even still, they have a merchandise store to back the whole operation up.
Creating and promoting a film is obviously a massive undertaking that can only be discussed in hypotheticals and with broad, vague strokes, but Blizzard is already halfway there. The voice actors, the art design, the world, the story, and the characters are all there, as is a marketing team that has worked wonders with both Overwatch and the Overwatch League.
And if they were to pull it off, whether with an outside production company or their own? The payoff would be massive, both in terms of initial revenue and that which would be made from the hoards of new Overwatch players ready to spend all of their money (or their parents’ money, as the case will likely be) on Mei skins and D.Va statues.
Fortnite is the biggest game in the world right now and it has been thought untouchable, but its success may finally be slowing down and Overwatch, a now two-year-old game occupying the same niche, may be perfectly poised to pick up the slack.
Blizzard’s cinematic shorts are incredible… but why stop there?