As with any Activision-Blizzard property right now, it’s weird being an Overwatch fan. As more stories about the publisher’s state emerge following the publication of a lawsuit centered on its workplace culture, it’s been hard to pick up Soldier: 76’s rifle, throw up Orisa’s shield, or rain down healing grenades as Baptiste. But while I haven’t been spending much time playing Overwatch, I’ve kept tabs on its associated projects. As Overwatch 2 remains in limbo (beyond a decoupling of its story and competitive modes and an upcoming beta), perhaps its most notable project is a comic series called Overwatch: New Blood.
After New Blood’s finale was released on March 15, I’ve been coming to terms with my mixed emotions about it. While the story shows characters I love coming together, it fails to overtly reckon with some of the ways Overwatch has been affected by real-world events. But perhaps “fails” is a strong word – maybe it’s more accurate to say that although the comics can’t speak directly to the state of Activision-Blizzard, they address it in a more abstract, in-universe way. Though the journey may be frustrating, New Blood echoes the movements being made by those within the company who acknowledge its very foundations must now be uprooted and replaced.
After years of hinting toward the characters in Blizzard’s hero shooter banding together to form a new task force, New Blood is all about one character rounding up long-time favorites. But the hero at the center has been a point of contention in the midst of Activision-Blizzard’s scandal, as his namesake was among those noted in the lawsuit for fostering the company’s toxic workplace environment.
More reading on Activision-Blizzard:
- Microsoft to Acquire Activision-Blizzard Amidst Ongoing Workplace Culture Scandal
- Lego Indefinitely Delays Overwatch 2 Set Following Activision-Blizzard Lawsuit
- New Lawsuit Alleges Activision-Blizzard Threatened Organizing Employees
Cole Cassidy – previously known as Jesse McCree – was originally named after an employee who has since been removed from Blizzard. As such, the Overwatch team announced it would be changing the character’s name in August of last year; by October, he was updated in-game to be known as Cassidy. Given that the Overwatch creative team is trying to push for change wherever it can, I hope this shift has been helpful for those who want the game they work on to represent their values, rather than those of a leadership that let Activision-Blizzard become the workplace it has.
But this change extends beyond the game, as Overwatch’s external media has had to change dialogue to accommodate. What initially interested me about this alteration was that Blizzard seemingly implied it would be meaningfully integrated into Cassidy’s story. Based on the lore text in the announcement, it seems the name is meant to be the character’s true identity, whereas Jesse McCree was a name he took on as he tried to escape his past.
“The first thing a renegade loses is their name, and this one gave up his long ago,” the announcement post reads. “Running from his past meant running from himself, and each passing year only widened the divide between who he had been and what he had become. But in every cowboy’s life, there comes a time when he has to stop and make a stand. To make this new Overwatch better – to make things right – he had to be honest with his team and himself. The cowboy he was rode into the sunset, and Cole Cassidy faced the world at dawn.”
Meet Cole Cassidy.
Rides into Overwatch October 26. pic.twitter.com/CT6PmaNXNs
— Overwatch (@PlayOverwatch) October 22, 2021
When Blizzard first revealed its plans to rename Cassidy, it said this would affect New Blood, which resulted in a brief delay of the first comic. As a result, I was hoping this would be integrated in ways beyond swapping every use of the word “McCree” to “Cassidy.” That initial text seemed to imply the cowboy was going to have to sit down and talk with someone about why he changed his name, and, most importantly, why he was changing it back.
Of course, you can’t just let the man look into the camera and say, “I was named after a guy named in a workplace harassment lawsuit.” That’d really take people out of it. After finishing reading New Blood’s final issue, I’m happy the change has been made, but I feel a bit let down in how little the comic does to reckon with what’s happened to this character.
Cassidy spends a lot of New Blood talking with new additions to the Overwatch team, who are just now joining the titular organization even if they’ve been playable in the game all these years. Between Baptiste, Pharah, Zarya, and D.Va, the gunslinger spends a lot of time speaking to their honor, empathy, and desire to help bring about change in Overwatch’s war-driven world. So I thought he’d eventually talk about his past and how it’s influenced his present. Cassidy is an ex-criminal who joined Overwatch more or less by force, as he was given an ultimatum when the group intervened with one of his crimes: to live in a cell or join the team. A man with a shady past leaving behind an old name as he attempts to obscure who he used to be is a solid in-universe foundation for a change that was made due to out-of-universe circumstances. But the trouble is that New Blood never acknowledges any of that – everyone simply calls him Cassidy without acknowledging they called him something else before.
While I wish Cassidy’s name change had been explored more definitively, that’s not my main takeaway from New Blood. The first issue has an extended conversation between Cassidy and fellow Overwatch alumnus Ana, and a lot is said about leaving behind what something was for what it can be. This is specifically framed as a conversation about Overwatch the entity, with a little bit of surgical precision in Cassidy’s direction. It’s this conversation that encompasses the core of New Blood. Overwatch fell because it became broken after cracking apart from the inside. Can those who are still tied to it make it into something better? That’s the question New Blood asks every time it brings in a new hero. Its answer is that if the foundation of an organization is rotted beyond repair, the only way to salvage it is to bring in people with a clearer vision of what it should’ve been in the first place.
When an enormous corporation like Activision-Blizzard is under scrutiny, it’s easy to view it as a monolithic entity doing immeasurable damage to those in its proximity. But changes like Cassidy’s name, and the removal of references to those who caused harm, are ones enacted by people looking to create real change for themselves and those around them. Activision-Blizzard is made up of shitheel suits like Bobby Kotick, but it’s also the developers, the writers, the QA workers, and everyone else at its studios who want to bring about active change – and who are doing it in all the incremental ways they can. They’re accomplishing this through striking, organizing, and maybe even writing an Overwatch comic about how the old should be thrown out and replaced with something new. Even though I’m not satisfied with how Cassidy’s newfound lore has been implemented, I can appreciate that someone on the Overwatch creative team wants to start rebuilding after seeing something that could have been great be torn down in front of them. And as Activision-Blizzard workers still try to weed out the rot, I would like to believe New Blood is another piece of that plan.