Even if you aren’t an avid player of Overwatch, Blizzard’s wildly popular competitive shooter, you might have heard about the ARG (alternate reality tripeaks card games) that has been unfolding around it for the past few months. Initially, players noticed a series of hints scattered throughout the game’s Dorado map, as well as in developer interviews and short animations, that pointed to a character named Sombra.
The mystery grew deeper when players noticed a pair of hexadecimal codes hidden in the reveal trailer for Ana, the first Overwatch character to be added post-launch. These codes, when run through a cipher, revealed a Spanish message that translates to “She who has the information, has the power… Sombra.” As time went on, more and more clues were discovered, both within the game and without. It was relatively complex stuff, necessitating thorough collaboration and calculation by the most intrepid members of the Overwatch community. Players began looking for patterns everywhere and engaged in fantastical theorycrafting with wild abandon. Before long, it was clear that we were moving closer toward Sombra’s reveal as the next playable character.
But there was no end in sight for the ARG. Every time the community seemed to have uncovered the biggest piece of the puzzle yet, their efforts would be rewarded with naught but another riddle. I watched hype generate on forums and on Twitter every time a clue was discovered, every time a “leak” happened – whether genuine or staged. The first time – hell, even the first several times – it was mysterious and exciting, but with every subsequent event, I felt my enthusiasm wane. How long were we supposed to play along without any sort of official confirmation from Blizzard that we weren’t wasting our time?
The ARG reached its climax this past week when Blizzard staged a virtual attack on the website for Overwatch world company LumeriCo perpetrated by Sombra. Players took to Twitter and began their investigation, convinced that she was finally about to be revealed. After a maelstrom of excitement, the end result was… yet ANOTHER countdown, this time coinciding with the commencement of BlizzCon 2016. By that time, official artwork of Sombra had already leaked, and players were aware of her existence. Enthusiasm turned to fatigue, and while there’s still good reason to anticipate her arrival in Overwatch, the entire situation proved to be frustrating for the diligent detectives who’ve followed her every move.
For the record, I fully support the idea behind Sombra’s ARG. It was a unique way for Blizzard to get the community invested in this new character and make us feel like we were playing a part in her story. But it was entirely too drawn out for its own good. For months, Blizzard continually raised players’ hopes just to dash them by by failing to deliver any information until they were ready to pose another challenge. Worse still, there hasn’t actually been any reason for players to solve the riddles they’ve been putting out, because in all likelihood, Sombra was always planned to be announced at BlizzCon regardless of players’ efforts. I wonder what would’ve happened had the community not engaged; would Blizzard have given us the answers to the ARG anyway to ensure that Sombra would release on schedule? I appreciate all of the work that went into crafting this supplemental experience for the Overwatch community, but when it comes time for the next character reveal, here’s hoping Blizzard is considerably less opaque.