Overwatch is now on its third year of constant updates, new maps, new characters, new short films, and new and depressing ways to nerf Mercy. Over those three years, we’ve learned a bit more about specific heroes, how they work and play, and the events that shaped them. So it seems bizarre that of all the hero tropes Overwatch hasn’t done, we’re still missing a properly told origin story. And every hero needs one of those.
Oh, of course the info is out there and plentiful and connecting the dots isn’t necessarily difficult. But it does require some effort, and the Archives events haven’t drawn the clearest of lines between the heroes we have now and the events that shaped them. So let’s put the whole story together as best we can.
A golden age: The story before Overwatch
Our story begins in the somewhat near future. Humanity is in the midst of a technological golden age. Among our more notable achievements are the fact that we have managed to put a science lab on the Moon to genetically engineer super-smart apes. Meanwhile, back on Earth, we’ve also managed to master artificial intelligence, giving rise to an entire race of machines called Omnics, who revolutionize humanity’s manufacturing potential and make our economy rich beyond our wildest dreams. Things really kick into high gear after a megacorporation called Omnica gets involved.
Thanks to a now fully automated manufacturing process and the production of new, self-sufficient, and self-improving algorithms for those automated creations, omnic construction basically jumps into light speed, necessitating a new type of superfacility, called an omnium. One is installed on every continent on Earth, and they’re pumping out omnics like crazy, which, for Omnica, is basically a license to print money. Everything seems to be just fine and dandy. For a moment, at least.
The omnics revolt
As expected, nothing good can last forever. In the case of humanity’s snazzy Moon colony, the super-intelligent apes apparently got super tired of being experimented on, taking the colony for themselves. Only two creatures manage to get off the Moon: a peaceful ape named Winston who wanted no parts of the revolt and builds a DIY rocket to get him back to Earth, and a genetically modified hamster named Hammond, who hitches a ride on Winston’s rocket. It’s a mess.
Despite the great space experiment ending in chaos, that’s nothing compared to what goes down on Earth. Omnica’s omniums start malfunctioning, to the point where it becomes impossible to meet the company’s manufacturing goals. Add in a few corporate fraud charges, and the company is donezo shortly after.
The company, but not the omniums, though. After some time, the omniums reawaken, and start pumping out new hostile omnics. Specifically, the new E54 Bastion unit, which is basically just a heavy machine gun on two legs. Needless to say, humanity doesn’t deal very well with this, and begun the omnic crisis has.
The founding of Overwatch
At first, every country has their own special approach to the crisis. In Russia, another omnic manufacturer called Volskaya Industries starts producing massive piloted mechs to defend Moscow. In Germany, a group of the country’s best soldiers form the Crusaders, combating the omnic threat with massive suits of armor and powered medieval weaponry. In the good old US of A, scientists go the Steve Rogers route and implement a Soldier Enhancement program, in an attempt to beef up some troops capable of handling the omnics single-handedly.
Sensing that maybe they’d have more success working in tandem, the United Nations proposes the formation of a strike team where the international community pools its collective resources and best soldiers to fight the omnics.
And thus, Overwatch is formed. The US’s first super soldiers, Jack Morrison and Gabriel Reyes, are chosen to lead, with Egyptian sniper Ana Amari, Swedish engineer Torbjorn Lindholm, and German Crusader Reinhardt Wilhelm working under their command.
Overwatch ends the Omnic Crisis
Striking hard at the Omnics’ command structures and seats of power, Overwatch is enormously successful worldwide. After a series of daredevil raids across the globe, the Omnic Crisis is declared over, with only one surviving Bastion unit unaccounted for. With the crisis over, Overwatch transitions from a wartime squadron into an international team of heroic peacekeepers.
The first order of business is recruitment, which results in, among others, combat medic Angela "Mercy" Ziegler, ace pilot Lena "Tracer" Oxton, and good old Winston signing up for duty. From there, Overwatch experiences a massive expansion in scope. Brand new bases are established on multiple continents. The organization’s sworn duties branch out into multiple facets of every day life, including counterterrorism, disaster recovery and rescue, and scientific advancement. To the general populace, the organization begin to be seen more and more as heroes, representing all that is best in humanity (and, yes, obviously, gorillas too).
The dark side of Overwatch becomes Blackwatch
Things aren’t all hope and rainbows, however. As Jack Morrison begins to overshadow Gabriel Reyes as Overwatch’s de facto leader, Reyes finds himself transitioning to the shadows as the leader of Overwatch’s covert ops branch, Blackwatch. From there, he recruits some folks willing to get their hands a little dirtier for the good of humankind. Specifically, former Yakuza member and cybernetically enhanced ninja Genji Shimada, former Deadlock Gang member and professional cowboy Jesse McCree, and shunned geneticist Moira O’Deorain.
As it turns out, Blackwatch comes around at just the right time, becoming a crucial tool in the fight against Talon, a ruthless new terrorist organization who seem to have some sort of vested interest in restarting the Omnic Crisis and don’t have many problems killing civilians. And so, while Overwatch displays a bright and shiny face to the world, Blackwatch acts as its bloodier hand, performing assassinations, kidnappings, and torture in the name of world peace, often in defiance of the governments they operate under, which leads to quite a few complaints of sovereignty violations by the group.
As important as Blackwatch’s work is, it doesn’t stop Reyes from feeling the pangs of resentment as Jack Morrison takes all the public adoration while he does the dirty work. Naturally, that’s a problem waiting to happen.
Overwatch takes losses
Anyone doing good on a worldwide scale can expect to make sacrifices along the way, but Overwatch pays for its success in huge ways over time. For starters, after trying and failing multiple times to kill one of Overwatch’s high ranking agents, Gerard Lecroix, Talon decides to take a different tack, kidnapping and indoctrinating his wife, Amelie. Soon after her return, Amelie murders Gerard in his sleep, returning to Talon soon after and becoming a sniper named Widowmaker. Among other atrocities, she takes Overwatch founder Ana Amari out of commission by shooting her in the eye during a raid.
The hits keep coming, though. A malfunction during an experimental test flight causes Tracer to become fully untethered from time and existence itself until Winston builds the poor girl a device to keep her literally grounded in reality. A devastating polar storm cuts off one of Overwatch’s Antarctic Watchpoint bases off from all communications and assistance, forcing all the scientists to go into cryostasis to survive. An Omnic terrorist group called Null Sector starts a hostage situation in London, and despite the UK and the UN denying Overwatch the ability to act, Jack Morrison sends a team in regardless, leading to even more backlash. It all comes to a head after Gabriel Reyes blatantly kills a Talon leader against orders, leading to Blackwatch becoming public.
The fall of Overwatch
Once the Blackwatch cat is out of the bag, the public starts demanding serious answers. The UN then steps in, starting up an investigation into both groups’ activities. The investigation doesn’t get too far, though: a huge ideological argument between Jack Morrison and Gabriel Reyes in Overwatch HQ in Switzerland culminates in a massive explosion that utterly demolishes the facility, leaving Morrison and Reyes presumed dead.
The UN calls the catastrophe an accident, but the public learns different. They learn a lot of things in the wake of the explosion, actually, and as a result of it all, the Petras Act is passed by the United Nations. Overwatch is disbanded, its heroes scattered to the four winds, all further operations are considered illegal and punishable to the fullest extent of the law. And so, the age of heroes comes to a messy end, not with a whimper, but with a bang.
The story continues on after Overwatch
A few months after Overwatch is disbanded, several decommissioned Overwatch facilities are broken into by a masked individual with "speed and strength beyond anything ‘a normal person’ should be capable of." Equipment is stolen, most notably a prototype pulse rifle. After that gets swiped, suddenly, Overwatch’s most prominent enemies start turning up dead. The culprit, as it turns out, is Jack Morrison, now calling himself Soldier 76 and still indulging in some of his old habits.
He, unfortunately, isn’t the only one. Shortly after Overwatch goes belly up, Gabriel Reyes hooks up with a now fully discredited Moira O’Deorain, who subjects himself to her genetic experiments, looking for a way to take his abilities to the next level. What they come up with is a gift and a curse: Reyes’ cells decay and regenerate at a hyper-accelerated rate, allowing him to become incorporeal at will. Calling himself Reaper, he joins up with Talon and aids them in tracking down and taking his revenge on all of his former Overwatch allies.
The next generation of heroes
Though, Overwatch may have officially been dissolved, their heroics wind up inspiring an entire generation to stand up for what’s right. In Rio de Janeiro, when the Vishkar corporation attempts to gentrify the city, a DJ from the favelas, Lucio Correia dos Santos, steals some of their sound amplification technology and mods it as weaponry to help his people fight back. In the wake of their victory, he becomes a superstar in the music world.
In a similar vein, when South Korea experiences its own special omnic problems, the country winds up hiring pro gamers to pilot mech units. The best of the bunch, Hana Song, takes on the screen name D.Va and goes on to become an international celebrity.
On the other side, the few omnics that remain wind up settling in Nepal and find a brand of Eastern religion. One of their monks, Zenyatta, becomes a sort of globe-trotting ambassador, helping to protect and enlighten the innocent.
That’s all to say nothing of the former Overwatch agents who, like Morrison, couldn’t let go of the life. Specifically, a sniper named Shrike starts making coordinated hits against Talon in Egypt, and after finally being confronted by Soldier 76, she reveals her identity: Ana Amari, unbeknownst to her daughter Pharah, who has also gone on to become a soldier.
Winston recalls Overwatch, setting up the current story
That brings us to Overwatch’s present. The world hits a new level of chaos. A second Omnic Crisis begins in Russia. Terrorist attacks are widespread in the US and Europe. The world’s climate is going haywire. Gang violence is common. Australia, from the looks of things, goes full Mad Max.
It all comes to a head after Winston, still keeping the home fires burning at Overwatch’s outpost in Gibraltar, is attacked by Reaper, who’s attempting to steal a list of remaining Overwatch agents. While Winston manages to fight him off, it’s the last straw for the big guy. Winston sends word out to all remaining Overwatch agents, issuing an emergency recall back into duty. Almost immediately, Tracer, Torbjorn, Genji, Mercy, McCree, and Reinhardt respond. And they’re far from alone. In particular, though, the second the recall notice goes out, the cryostasis locks in Antarctica are released, and climatologist Mei-Ling Zhou — sadly, the only survivor — immediately rededicates herself to Overwatch’s work on the environment.
Word eventually gets out to the rest of the world when Reaper and Widowmaker attempt to steal a gauntlet belonging to one of Talon’s leaders, Doomfist, from a museum. Tracer and Winston stop the heist, but the surveillance footage leaks, letting the world know that heroes are still out there, and the world needs them more than ever.
Overwatch reformed: The story continues
That’s just an overview of the big touchstones in Overwatch lore, but it’s far from being the full story. Overwatch being revealed to the world kickstarts a new golden age of heroes and villains. Talon recruits the genius hacker Sombra from the Los Muertos gang, but she may have her own agenda. When Torbjorn Lindholm gets called back to duty, he stops his daughter from following him out the door, but she ends up becoming the dedicated "squire" for her godfather Reinhardt instead. One of Tracer’s first missions after the recall pits her against Widowmaker, attempting to assassinate an omnic leader trying to broker peace. Tracer actually fails that one.
An attack on an airport in omnic/human utopia Numbani spurs inventor Efi Oladele to create the protection robot Orisa. The world’s strongest woman, Aleksandra Zaryanova, is recruited by Volskaya to help defend Russia after Talon attempts an assassination. Meanwhile, Winston’s stowaway buddy Hammond is still in Australia, making a name for himself in combat, under the name Wrecking Ball.
The list goes on. The world of Overwatch is ripe with tiny stories of heroism, justice, and villainy. And it’s far from over. With every new hero released and new comic drawn, we get a little farther.