How 'Overwatch' Became a Better Game for Colorblind Players

Overwatch's latest update reworked Torbjorn and kicked off Halloween Terror 2018, two events that people have been waiting for since they were first announced. But for a specific group of Overwatch players, the most important changes by far were the expanded options for colorblind individuals.

Blizzard’s hero shooter had colorblind options prior to the October 9th update, of course, but the settings weren’t sufficient for many. Being unable to distinguish certain colors from others added an extra challenge for colorblind players. The recent update, howeer, added nine different colorblind-friendly colors and the option to colorize user interfaces with the goal of removing that barrier and quite literally letting players see the game in a new way. The changes stem from features that were first seen in the Overwatch League that made it so that spectators could easily recognize professional teams’ heroes, particle effects, and the objective waypoints during matches.

Overwatch’s Andrew Boyd, the producer who oversaw the colorblind settings update, can attest to the differences these changes make. He himself is colorblind, his deuteranopia making it difficult to see greens and reds, and is now able to experience the game differently. He also has the chance to play heroes he previously avoided, with the producer specifically mentioning Hanzo and Zenyatta as two characters that are now in his pool of heroes.

“Personally, it’s actually changed the way that I play the game because there are certain heroes that I always avoided,” Boyd told ComicBook.com. “Being colorblind, the outlines weren’t as distinctive to me as they were to other players, so I just shied away from playing long-range hit-scan heroes. Now, I’m starting to get back into some of those heroes more and play them.”

Overwatch Colorblind Settings
(Photo: Overwatch)

Boyd said he’s been advocating for the change internally and helped prototype some of the early adjustments while lending his unique perspective to the project. He also said one of the pivotal moments in the project that made him realize the changes would be significant was when he showed a non-colorblind programmer a prototype color. The prototype didn't chanced anything for the programmer but made a world of difference to Boyd, an experience shared by colorblind players when the update went live.

But Boyd wasn’t the only one using his position to push for better colorblind options in Overwatch. Perhaps the biggest advocate for the colorblind changes within the community has been a streamer who aptly goes by “Kolorblind,” also known as “Kolorbastion.” Ranked as a top-tier Bastion player, Kolorblind used her skill and stream to raise awareness for Overwatch’s colorblind issues.

Kolorblind told ComicBook.com that she’s been playing Overwatch since its open beta in 2016, which was when both her and her colorblind siblings first found the accessibility settings lacking. After initially forgoing the colorblind settings altogether, she eventually settled on an option that worked with her protanopia, but she continued advocating for better accommodations for colorblind players.

“The colorblind gaming community is very big, but very quiet, and there was never a big streamer or popular YouTuber who was actively trying to push for new colorblind support in Overwatch, and so I decided that I could do that with my popularity from playing Bastion!” Kolorblind said.

After being active within the Overwatch subreddit and discussing her situation on her her Twitch stream for over a year, the culmination of Kolorblind’s advocacy was seen when Blizzard announced the incoming colorblind changes in the developer update seen at the top of the article. Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan said Blizzard would be introducing “more robust colorblind options,” an announcement watched by an emotional Kolorblind, who saw her efforts had finally paid off.

“After requesting a new one for two years, making 20-minute YouTube videos, and huge posts going into detail about why we need a new colorblind mode, it felt really, really good to finally have the pay off,” Kolorblind said about that moment. “I've honestly dreamed about the moment for a very long time, and it felt good to live it!”

Boyd said he watched Kolorblind’s stream when the PTR update was unveiled, and considered that one of the coolest moments he experienced when working on the project. It’s a scene that might be hard to sympathize with for those not impacted by colorblindness, but Boyd said the best way to understand it is for people to try and put themselves in the shoes of a colorblind player.

“Imagine what it would be like to play Overwatch without outlines at all, I think is what I would say to someone who could perceive red normally, and that’s what it’s like to play Overwatch when you were colorblind or had that particular form of colorblindness,” Boyd said.

Blizzard watched what the community was saying about colorblind settings prior to the update being announced -- Kolorblind recalled one specific interaction between her and Kaplan in a Reddit AMA -- and directly reached out to players when the update was being tested on the PTR. Boyd said it was easier to have a dialogue when Blizzard had something to show the community, but it's continuing to keep an eye on places like Reddit and the forums to monitor feedback. In the same way it’s difficult for a non-colorblind person to think from a colorblind player’s perspective, he said it’s similarly difficult for him to fully understand what’s experienced across the varying degrees of colorblindness.

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“It’s kind of funny because a lot of those initial colors were colors that I set up, so if they look a little weird, it’s because a colorblind person did it,” he joked.

Kaplan’s developer update ended its colorblind segment by saying that the changes are something that Blizzard can iterate on and that it’s not the end for what the developers will do for colorblindness. When asked what plans Blizzard has moving forward, Boyd said the company intends to wait and see what needs to be changed and will speak more on its plans when they have something to reveal.