Who is Tracer from Overwatch? The lore behind one of the game’s most well-known characters
You may have seen her show up as a cosplay. Perhaps in Blizzard’s mash-up MOBA Heroes of the Storm. In the big media blitz surrounding the announcement (2014) and release (2016) of Overwatch. Or maybe just now, in the lead-up to the release of the highly-anticipated Overwatch 2. No matter how you may have come across her, you’ve likely asked the question, “Who is this bubbly British girl who blinks past bad guys and busts them up with her glowy pop guns?”
Well, she’s Lena Oxton, AKA Tracer. And she thinks the world could use more heroes.
From test pilot to lab rat
Let’s start at the beginning: At some point after the end of the Omnic Crisis, the Overwatch organization was testing out an experimental teleporting aircraft, called “Slipstream.” Their test pilot for the project was an exceptional young RAF fighter ace named Lena Oxton, call sign Tracer. Excitable, perceptive, adaptable, and utterly fearless, Tracer was willing to push the limits of the experimental fighter like no one else… but during the flight tests, a malfunction with the prototype’s experimental tech caused the fighter to disappear, along with its pilot. When Tracer and the fighter reappeared months later, Overwatch discovered that she had become disconnected from the natural flow of time, causing her to disappear and reappear, ghost-like and inconstant.
Eventually, her salvation came from an unexpected source: Winston, the genetically-modified gorilla scientist from the Horizon Lunar Colony, developed a chronal accelerator that allowed Tracer to assert control over her dissociation from time. With this newfound control, she could now accelerate herself forward, “blinking” from one location to the next as though moving at impossible speeds, but could also reverse in her own motion through time, allowing her to “rewind” to a previous location while the rest of the world continued to spin on.
While adjusting to her new abilities, Tracer rejoined the Overwatch organization, switching from flight testing to field operations. This coincided with the King’s Row Uprising, where the terrorist cell Null Sector crashed the dedication of a new Omnic housing development, kidnapped a number of dignitaries and civilians, and held an area of London under siege. Overwatch, having lost their positive image after numerous questionable events in the post-Crisis era, was barred from taking any active role in ending the siege, as the United Kingdom’s government didn’t want their help. When Tracer heard of the crisis, though, she convinced Strike Commander Jack Morrison that doing the right thing was sometimes more important than following the rules. And so, newly-minted as a field agent and with an experienced strike team alongside her, Tracer helped rescue the hostages and defuse the King’s Row Uprising before it could deteriorate further.
From lab rat to hero
Over time, as more senior members of the organization were lost in action or forced into retirement, Tracer became the field commander for the Overwatch strike team, joined on missions by the erstwhile Winston (now also a field agent), the former Blackwatch cyborg-ninja Shimada Genji, and battlefield medical specialist Dr. Angela Ziegler, A.K.A. Mercy. Under the guidance of operations commander Sojourn, Tracer led the team on a mission to capture the accountant of the Talon criminal organization, the Omnic Maximilien, in Havana, Cuba. Using information obtained from him, the strike team followed up with a trip to Singapore to capture Talon’s leader, the Nigerian warlord Akande Ogundimu, wielder of the storied Doomfist.
Despite the withering of Overwatch’s image in the public eye, Tracer became a popular face for the organization, playing a role in recruitment efforts and being adapted into the burgeoning holovid media franchise based on the heroic history of Overwatch. With her earnest and engaging personality, flashy superheroics, and trademark catchphrase (“Cheers luv, the cavalry’s here!”) she won hearts the world over. In time, however, the cracks in the Overwatch organization finally grew to be too much. With the destruction of the Swiss headquarters, the resulting investigations into corruption and scandal, and the supposed deaths of key leaders, Morrison and Gabriel Reyes, the United Nations enacted the Petras Act to shut down the organization completely. Tracer and her strike team compatriots were effectively forced into retirement as well.
In the years after the shutdown of Overwatch, Tracer was able to restore some old ties to her roots in the Royal Air Force, but longed for the adventures of her time with Overwatch. Despite the Petras Act’s ban on former Overwatch agents performing peacekeeping activities, Tracer would occasionally use her abilities to deal with petty crimes she came across in her neighborhood in London, such as stopping thieves. But that came to an end when Winston sent out his Recall broadcast, calling Overwatch agents like Tracer back into action. Within minutes, she reconnected with her old friend and was back in the business of saving the world.
Meanwhile, in the real world…
Tracer encapsulates a key ideal of the in-universe Overwatch as an organization, with her frequent refrain that “the world could always use more heroes.” In the original announcement cinematic, the overwhelming sense you get about the idealistic organization was that you could find people from all walks of life, with all kinds of different abilities and backgrounds and motivations, and all of them could be united in their desire to make the world a better place. That was the dream that was Overwatch, and Tracer was before and remains presently a true believer in that dream.
At the same time, Tracer became the cover girl for Overwatch as a franchise specifically because the positivity and hope she embodies was so inspiring to everyone who saw her design and personality. For the Project Titan team, who had gone through the awful experience of shutting down development after creating an entire game universe, she was a resilient artifact of that project that they could rally behind for their next attempt with Overwatch. For everyone else at Blizzard (and everyone at BlizzCon 2014 when the announcement trailer first played) her positivity and energy and boundless joy were exactly the breath of fresh air needed in what was otherwise a pretty bleak real world.
Tracer has continued to resonate since that time: She was the inaugural Overwatch character to make the jump to Heroes of the Storm, has starred in many of the major animated shorts for the franchise, was the first character to be revealed as openly gay, is the icon for the professional Overwatch League, and now has her own in-print comic series coming out from Dark Horse Comics.
So the short version? Tracer is the first of the many iconic heroes of Overwatch, and while the story doesn’t revolve around her specifically, she’s going to be in the thick of it no matter what. And we’ll all be very happy to see her.
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