By Jennifer Simpkins
That victorious 'schwing!' The banner scrolling across the screen. You’ve levelled up, and your reward? One Overwatch loot box. There it is, sitting on the screen, vibrating coquettishly with the promise of flashy highlight intros, cute emotes or one of those sweet, sweet ‘legendary’ skins that you’ve gone utterly Buffalo Bill over. Hold X, hold your breath, and… white, white, blue, white. Shite.
A handful of ‘common' and a ‘rare’ isn’t exactly what anyone dreams of after a hard evening’s XP-grinding but, more often than not, that’s what you’ll get. I’ve even got a pal who claims he specifically gave up playing Overwatch because of all the low-level loot he kept raking in. If a few measly voice lines and poxy sprays are my only prize, he’d wail at his Jeff Kaplan shrine, then why bother putting in the time?
Obviously I – rabid Overwatch fan, and eternal apologist – did not have a single answer to his rhetorical question.
I had loads.
Some sprays are made to fit together...
The truth is, I really enjoy bagging a lot of the ‘shit-tier’ loot. Overwatch has become a bit of a collect-a-thon for me ever since I discovered that some of the wall sprays are designed to be in pairs or sets. Zenyatta’s ‘harmony’ and ‘discord’ sprays nestle together to create a full yin and yang-style symbol, while the right sprays for beefcake tanks Reinhardt and Zarya can paint an adorable ‘arm wrestling’ tableau. There’s nothing quite like the unspoken spawn room bond of matching up your carefully curated graffiti-nugget with a total stranger.
CREDIT: Reddit user killertorilla
CREDIT: Reddit user Gunnalol
The holiday events are especially brill. Cases in point: Junkers and Hoggy poundin’ it in their Winter Wonderland sprays, or the Year Of The Rooster celebration’s incredible ‘dragon dance’.
CREDIT: Reddit user Demokirby
This pre-match visual puzzling scratches itches I didn’t even know I had – much like those videos of things fitting perfectly into other things, or my surprise allergies to polyester and soft cheese. Blizzard’s great at supplying the means for a bit of creativity, too. I get all sorts of disposable thrills out of Overwatch’s more multipurpose tags: Mercy’s halo, McCree’s ‘Wanted’ poster frame, Winston’s peanut butter, D.Va’s bunny face and Ana’s eyepatch are perfect for plastering onto your mate’s ego-tastic rare achievement spray.
...and some sprays definitely aren’t
But we’ll be damned if we fit into your tiny little pre-approved fun-boxes, Blizz, for the best collaborative collages are made up of sprays that were almost certainly never meant to bump pixels.
A stranger wordlessly whipping out the missing half to your spray is a beautiful thing – a polite handshake, a nod and a smile that says “I’m on your wavelength, buddy”. But there’s a far more meaningful interaction to be found in an unexpected boost from your partner, a leg-up over the mundane wall of ‘rubbish’ loot and into the bountiful garden of comedy.
You see, where others see 25 credits’ worth of disappointment, some of us see possibilities.
CREDIT: @AryuA_ on Twitter
CREDIT: MalkovichPA on Imgur
CREDIT: moviescriptlife on Reddit
Some of the more unusual sprays and their combos have even inspired fanbases, memes, and tribute art. While Bunnyface Hanzo is undoubtedly deserving of portraiture, it’s the unblinking versatility of Punch Kid that’s really captured the imagination of Overwatch players. An entire subreddit of his own, a range of tasteful homeware, even cosplay… He’s an arms length away from making it onto the hero roster.
CREDIT: SwolestAvenger on Imgur
Never underestimate the power of psychological warfare
If Punch Kid’s eyes existing in two different simultaneous spacetimes isn’t going to shit your opponents up, then I don’t know what is. Odds and ends found in the lowliest of loot boxes can form a legitimate part of your Overwatch strategy. Find yourself outmatched by a straight-shooting team? Time to get ‘em tilted.
‘Tilting’ is a term describing a player who’s become emotionally frustrated or confused, and whose skill is suffering as a result. Set someone on tilt, and watch them spiral into stupid shooting, sub-optimal plays and panic ults galore. Sprays and voice lines hold the considerable power to provoke tilting.
When behaving like a decent human being isn’t on my agenda for the day, a sprinkling of bad manners can turn a match in my favour – or at least salvage laughs from a loss. Perhaps we're getting crushed on a payload map. As Mei, I can lure their Reinhardt away with some underhanded taunting: trigger that smug “Sorry! Sorry sorry sorry!” voice line after I ice him so it shows up on his Kill Cam, and suddenly a respawned, red-faced, revenge-oriented Reinhardt is abandoning the objective and charging in to teach me a lesson.
Crouching down and whispering “Need someone to tuck you in?” after doing this as Ana is also a classic. CREDIT: Seananiganzx on Reddit
Likewise, a bit of levity never goes amiss. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve used Lucio’s voice line to tell my team to “Check this out!” only to merrily die on my arse in front of them. The only time I’ve ever got a ‘Legendary’ post-game player accolade was thanks to a cheeky post-Play Of The Game spray. (Tragically, according to my experiments, player-triggered voice lines aren't audible during POTG highlights. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE JEFFREY KAPLAN.)
Voice lines can offer genuine team-based utility
I’ve even seen teammates use the throwaway voice line as a legitimate form of communication. God help you if there’s an Ana in your spawn and you make a less-than-advisable hero choice in Competitive – I once spotted particularly passive-aggressive grandma spam the “What are you thinking?” voice line at a Sombra. She hung up her hacker hat for a more sensible Pharah pick. Reaper and McCree also have the potential to put on the tactical thumbscrews, come to think of it, with voices lines like “Give me a break” and “It’s your funeral”.
Mess up a critical play as Winston, and you’ve got a few options to mitigate the lava-threaded rage that’s about to erupt out of your team: try a humble “how embarrassing” or “sorry about that”. And if your teammate just won’t ping their Ultimate charge status? Everybody’s favourite cowboy can even ask “You done?” Ten times in a row. Until you get the damn message, Zarya.
There’s lore to be found even in the most mundane loot
And if you’re looking for the secret stories in the campaign-less multiplayer smash, it’s the humble whites and blues of your most disappointing loot boxes that turn up the goods. For instance, we all know there’s more than a smidgen of sexual tension between Ana and Reinhardt (just listen to some of those spicy pre-match exchanges, yowza) but what only the most rabid loot-combers know is that there might be something more to the story. Something rocket-powered-baby-shaped.
CREDIT: Quadip on Reddit
Nestled between three particular Winter Wonderland event sprays – an ice-fishing Reinhardt, a second ice-fishing Pharah, and a motherly-looking Ana with a cup of hot cocoa – are insinuations of a real family. Eagle-eyed devotees can’t help but theorise: is Pharah the big hammer dude’s daughter? Imagine the state of the subreddits once fans went poking about in – you guessed it – those low level ‘rare’ blue skins you’d turn your nose up at.
You see, each hero has a theme for those ‘rare’ skins. D.Va, for example, has ‘flavours’ – Watermelon, Lemon-Lime, Blueberry, Tangerine. Zenyatta’s is ‘elements’ – Earth, Water Fire, Air. It’s ‘jewels’ for Ana with Peridot, Turquoise, Citrine, Garnet, while Reinhardt reps ‘metals’ with Veridian, Copper, Brass and Cobalt.
But Pharah? She’s the only hero with a mix of the ol’ skin DNA. A 50/50 mix, in fact. Amethyst, Emerald, Copper and Titanium. Oh, Reinhardt. You'd think he'd understand the value of protection.
It could all ultimately be bullshit, of course – but this is some Dark Souls-style, item description deep-diving madness, and genuinely fun to chew on. Not bad for some sub-100-credit garbage, right?
Sure, when you’ve sold your soul to RNGesus for a shot at a limited-time D.Va skin, and all you get is Hanzo gibbering something about the moon, the shower of shit loot can feel unrelenting. Nevertheless, so much of Overwatch’s community, lore and creativity is tied up in that white and blue world-building. Don’t sweat the small stuff: this world wouldn't feel half as big without it.
CREDIT: Troutz on Reddit