With its colorful visuals, decidedly unrealistic characters, and borderline cartoonish tone, Overwatch is a game that some could have (and probably did) mistaken for being a weird Team Fortress 2 clone. It certainly didn't help that people love making comparisons without actually explaining anything other than "it's a clone of Such-and-Such," to say nothing of how Blizzard wasn't exactly well-known for releasing multi-platform First Person Shooters. In fact, it's probably not all that unreasonable to think that the first time that many people heard of Overwatch was when there were a very public series of complaints involving the game's female characters and even then, it was mostly because the incidents were widely regarded as being ludicrous displays of pearl clutching of the highest magnitude.
Yet, despite such relatively obscure origins, the game would grow to have a very active audience of over 30 million people (which would make it the 45th most populated country in the world), spawning a unique kind of culture that is only possible thanks to the nature of Overwatch itself. You've got your usual array of genuinely unpleasant individuals and cheaters of course, but there are also no shortage of people who are deeply interested in the game and all of its mechanics; people who are thrilled at the idea of meeting new people; creative people who are experts at artistic expression; and everyone else in between; all united by a game that practically forces you to talk to and cooperate with random teammates (and or their hatred of most Hanzo/Genji mains).
Fortunately, Overwatch's community wasn't all that different a year ago, even if the size of the game's audience has grown exponentially since then. Naturally, people are slightly more prone to give their opinions regarding certain Heroes and game mechanics nowadays, which occasionally proves to be misleading enough for the developers to have to clarify things, but that is an unavoidable consequence of the game's age and its ballooning population. That being said, perhaps the thing that stands out the most about Overwatch's audience is how consistently active they are. To this day, you can still find hundreds of people discussing everything from the most mundane QOL requests to critical bug reports on the game's subreddit on a daily basis; with almost 900,000 subscribers (which is three times larger than say, Destiny's subreddit and 30 time larger than Paladins' subreddit subscription base), you can be sure that if the community is displeased with something, Blizzard will know about it.
For what it's worth, complaints from the community don't appear to fall upon deaf ears either. Overwatch's first year saw the release of Competitive mode, at least three different PvP events, at least two unique PvE events, three new Heroes, and no small number of significant balancing updates that (perhaps inadvertently) created at least four distinct meta changes. Had Blizzard not updated Overwatch at all since release, Competitive mode would still be a coin-toss based mess, you would be unable to get any of the event items short of spending egregious amounts of real money, and the events themselves would be mediocre distractions from the main game at best. It goes without saying that Overwatch's first few months are a far cry from the state that Overwatch is in today, especially if you have been paying close attention to Blizzard's patch notes. At the very least, it is now impossible for your team to be made up exclusively of Genjis and Hanzos in Competitive mode, which in itself is arguably the greatest change that Blizzard possibly could have implemented to the game.
That's not to say that everything that Blizzard did in respect to Overwatch was executed flawlessly though. For example, Roadhog's hook was considered to be "wildly broken" by pretty much everyone who didn't main Roadhog for months, mostly due to its (former) ability to transcend space, time, and physical objects to find you and drag you into shotgun range. Similarly, Bastion (in)famously had a passive 30% damage reduction buff for around a month, McCree experimented with tank busting and sniping for another few months, and Winston was, until recently, considered to be so bad that he was just a walking battery for the other team's Ultimate abilities. There are certainly no shortages of long and spirited debates about whether or not it's fair that some Heroes are their own best counters (Reinhardt) or how and why some Heroes are considered must-picks for all the wrong reasons (Lucio).
In other words, despite the existence of the PTR and all the various outlets for people to express their (sometimes legitimate) views on the game's balancing, Blizzard's approach to balancing Overwatch is perhaps a bit too slow and a bit too pendulum-like, occasionally causing wild, and retrospectively undesirable, shifts to the game's meta in a seemingly artificial manner. Amusingly enough, the opposite effect has occurred with the release of the three new Heroes; only Ana has found a place in competitive gameplay (or rather, people won't immediately judge you for picking her), as both Orisa and Sombra are generally considered to be far too niche to be effective picks.
Speaking of amusing oddities, Overwatch's events have been somewhat inconsistent in their quality, though in all fairness it would be naive to think that Blizzard has not been taking notes and recording feedback during said events. Of the five or so events that have been released thus far, only the PvE events have seen consistently positive feedback. Considering that Overwatch is a multiplayer-only game, you would think that Lucioball, Mei's Snowball Offensive, and Capture the Rooster would be more fondly remembered, but that's not entirely the case when, for example, Capture the Rooster essentially turned into "Overwatch- World War I stalemate edition." One would hope that Blizzard will have consistently better events ready for Overwatch's second year, though this is more of a minor concern considering the success of the Uprising event.
Either way, one thing is for certain: Overwatch is here to stay, and with the increasing popularity of Esports, it is all but guaranteed that Blizzard will look after their new cash cow for years to come. Given enough time, Overwatch may even be as influential to the video game industry as Halo was in its early days, a goal that is certainly attainable given Blizzard's resources. After all, animated shorts and comics don't just come out of nowhere, and people generally don't call games like Paladins clones of Overwatch if they weren't already loyal and invested into the brand.
Alas, the first year of Overwatch is over, and it is time to see what happens now that everything has more or less settled down. The people who wanted to buy the game have more or less bought the game, or will soon, and it is up to Blizzard to keep the game's 30 million person audience, the lifeblood of Overwatch, interested and content to ensure a future for the brand.
What do you think of Overwatch's first year? What do you remember most? Let us know in the comments!