As one can imagine, there are many concepts in Overwatch that never saw the light of day.
- Some of Overwatch's game assets were originally meant for a class-based, superhero-themed shooter/MMO project named Titan before it was scrapped. Jeff Kaplan stated some (but not all) of the heroes were based on different classes, and later information was provided in the Archives Panel of BlizzCon 2017◊:
- Tracer was based on a "Jumper" class who had the same two main abilities, dual-wielded machine guns, and had a "Time Bomb". Titan had a lot of progression and leveling-up systems, and the Jumper would've had bonus attributes such as shotguns or knockback, but the system was considered too cluttered and confusing, leading to it being scrapped.
- Reaper was based on a "Reaper," who possessed Shadow Walk and Death Blossom, and at one point on top of having dual shotguns, he had a crossbow, a magnum, and had an ability to see injured enemies through walls that would later be implemented with Sombra.
- Widowmaker, Soldier: 76, and Bastion all took ideas from the same "Ranger" class. According to this video, they would have access to a sniper rifle, grappling hook, and deployable turret.
- At some point in time, this apparently diverged and resulted in a "Longshot" class heavily resembling Widowmaker, who kept the grappling hook and sniper rifle, as well as a machine-pistol and a "Recon Visor."
- Symmetra and Torbjörn evolved from an "Architect" class, though who would later become Torbjörn would diverge and become an "Mechanic" class. During this point in time, the Architect wielded a "Blaster" and an "Arc Welder" and would be able to deploy 3 sentries and a shield generator, while the "Mechanic" wielded a nailgun and sledgehammer, and could create a "Large Sentry" and a teleporter.
- Genji and Hanzo were both based on an "Assassin" class (which would've made sense, given that they were originally a single character, see below for more) who wielded a bow and katana, and had two abilities called "Assassinate" and "Parkour". Additionally, one of the iterations of the Assassin shown at BlizzCon 2017 is visibly female.
- Reinhardt supposedly evolved from a "Juggernaut" class, although according to Jeff, "he is completely different... just the idea of 'big guy with shield' is all that stuck." The iteration shown at BlizzCon 2017 wielded a flamethrower and flail, and only had one then-decided ability, Charge.
- Mercy was based on a "Guardian" class, who had a "Heal Beam" and "Stinger" as weapons, and had "Salvation" and "Resurrect" as abilities. Notably, her appearance shown in BlizzCon 2017 is almost unchanged to her current design sans a few details, namely her gold colors instead being red.
- The original cast concept of Overwatch (pictured above) displays a very different lineup to the one we know today. While some made the cut (albeit with some minor changes here and there), namely Tracer, Winston, Reaper, Genji, Bastion, Roadhog, Torbjörn, Mercy, and Symmetra, others look like completely new concepts. Among them are a female-looking Omnic bearing Athena's logo who was codenamed "Iris" at the time, a Spider Tank, and a large man in red armor (who according to a Freeze-Frame Bonus in "Recall" canonically still exists as an Overwatch agent).
- When developing Overwatch, Blizzard wanted to have as many as 40 heroes right from the get-go, which was scaled-down to 21 at launch due to time constraints and balancing limitations. Of course, with Blizzard adding new heroes post-launch at a rate that they say will increase, it's believed that 40 heroes is the overall end goal in Overwatch's lifespan.
- Originally going to be a lot of melee-focused heroes in general, to the point where it seemed like it was going to be an entire subclass of characters. The original concept pitch as Prometheus contained several named characters including Genji (katana), Frost (ice pick), Helio (electric maces), Luc (chain sword), McCloud (claymore), Troy (flail), Yetsi (claws), and an unknown who used a steel pipe. However, they ended up being nigh-impossible to balance properly in the context of a Hero Shooter, ranging from underpowered to overpowered with very little middle ground, which has plagued other developers before. The only character in the base game to be straight up melee is Reinhardt, and later Brigitte. Blizzard isn't opposed to the idea of melee heroes, just that trying to integrate them into a gun-based game is insanely difficult.
- Overwatch was going to have a system called "Talents", which were special abilities that could be used to customize your hero as you leveled up. The only known Talent ability belonged to Reaper, who would be able to automatically heal when in Wraith Form. This was scrapped as it was deemed to give players an unfair advantage over others, and would potentially lead to overpowered heroes.
- Many brief hero concepts were shown at the Archives Panel in BlizzCon 2017, some of which are in the final product, albeit with slight name and ability differences (such as Mercy being named "Angelica" and having a "Teleport", and Winston having a "Flak Cannon" with "Leap" and "Pound" as two distinct abilities).
- The same panel also showed several map proposals, which seems to have been developed before Hybrid maps came to be. Some are mostly visually different to their final product such as London and Numbani, some contain similar aesthetics found in final maps such as Berlin instead of Eichenwalde and Cairo instead of Anubis (which was then a Payload map), and others are new locations entirely, including "Amazon", "The Bayou", "San Joaquin", and "The Iris".
- There are several differences between the first gameplay trailer and the final game. For instance:
- Bastion's design changed fairly significantly in development. It used to have a limited turning arc when deployed, but projected a Reinhardt-like shield. This made it too weak against flanking and too strong when it couldn't be flanked, so it was changed.
- The capture points, rather than simply being outlined squares, were actual pads that resembled control points from Team Fortress 2.
- A lot of the voice work was altered between beta and the game going gold; Pharah's ultimate voiceline, for instance, is much higher-pitched in beta, almost sounding chipmunk-like. Torbjörn's ultimate line could be heard by the friendly team, while in the current version of the game he doesn't say anything to indicate that he's ulted. And both Mercy and Widowmaker seem to have entirely different vocal performers, or at least wildly different direction.
- The game originally had visual indicators for multi-kills, and had Athena audibly declare that you were on a kill streak every five kills. Almost the exact opposite is true in the final build; Athena announces when you get a double to sextuple kill, and the kill streak is now solely a visual indicator, with a more-triumphant sounding fanfare for every five kills.
- Zenyatta's Orbs of Harmony and Discord stayed on characters indefinitely, regardless of line of sight. Blizzard felt that this led to a "fire and forget" approach for Zenyatta players, and switched it to its current form.
- Very early images of Overwatch— mainly a group shot in the cinematic trailer— show that Overwatch's original membership may have included Pharah, Lucio, Bastion, and Zenyatta.
- Before Mei was conceived, the idea of an ice-themed hero came up twice. Both of them were male concepts named Frost and Yetzi, the former had a face-concealing helmet and wore a white coat, and had an "ice axe" (when Blizzard was still experimenting with melee weapons), the latter was an old man that looked monkey-like, used claws, and had an "ice storm" that likely became Mei's Ultimate, Blizzard. While neither saw the light of day, the concept of an ice-themed hero did.
- Blizzard naturally had many ideas for heroes that didn't made it into the game, one of which was a cat in a jetpack. It was cut for being too over-the-top, even by Overwatch's generous standards. It was finally shown in late 2017, and it is glorious. It's also not the only jetpack animal that was conceptualized, they had others, including an alligator.
- There was at one point going to be a hero who was a hockey player, and that was his entire theme (whatever abilities he had, they didn't disclose). They loved the concept, but it ultimately didn't make it in. However, they did make Lúcio have hockey-themed skins.
- A 100 page graphic novel called Overwatch: First Strike was planned for release around November 2016, and would have focused on the founding of Overwatch during the Omnic Crisis. It was cancelled at the last second due to the plot of the novel conflicting with their plans, with Jeff Kaplan describing the highly specific nature of its plot undermining their ability to tell future stories, as well as the ability for fans to create stories and theories of their own.
- From the Overwatch League, the 2019 season saw the debut of the Hangzhou Spark. The illustrator of the team's logo shared a few early design drafts, revealing that the team originally was going to be called "Hangzhou Railgun" — making the lightning-shooting Finger Gun of the final logo an explicit reference to A Certain Scientific Railgunnote — but the name was vetoed by Blizzard (amusingly enough, the organization eventually made the tie-in official by August 2020, making Mikoto an honorary member).
- D.Va most likely spawned from an unused character named Brit, a blonde Caucasian that had two different mechs, for attack and support. While this concept was abandoned, it would plant the seeds for what would grow to become D.Va.
- According to the Overwatch World Cup 2017's mid-break trivia, D.Va originally had a cat motif (a cat logo can still be seen on her poster in the Hanamura arcade), but this was later changed to a bunny to better suit her ability to fly, or "Hop" in her mech.
- One very early iteration of Orisa had an ultimate where she would "teleport" away from the map before dropping down via a Drop Pod or a similar vessel. This was scrapped for Orisa, especially since as they developed her personality it made less sense, but this was eventually recycled as Doomfist's Meteor Strike ultimate.
- One of Reinhardt's iterations had him be from Numbani and themed after wildebeests (the video about the subject highlights the giant red and gray armored hero in the center of the original cast concept, who notably has been seen alongside Reinhardt in the Cinematic Trailer and made a Freeze-Frame Bonus in Recall). At first the idea was that the character was piloted by a little girl, but he was then switched to his own character in traditional armor. The concept of a tanky character hailing from Numbani who was related to a little girl would later be recycled into the Omnic Orisa and her creator, Efi Oladele.
- Both Roadhog and Junkrat were originally going to be much more grotesque, early concepts had them as mutants with Roadhog actually having a pig's head.
- When Sigma's gameplay and kit was designed, the original intention was that it would go to the character of Mauga (first depicted in the short story What You Left Behind, released shortly before Sigma). Partway in development, however, it was decided that the gameplay clashed too hard with Mauga's established identity, and not wanting to betray either the character or the gameplay, Sigma was created as a better fit.
- Wrecking Ball was conceptualized early on, but had its development put on hold until they decided the time was right, with various ideas before Overwatch officially launched informing his final design:
- According to a streamed interview between Geoff Goodman and A_Seagull (starting around 36:10), one of the many initially-conceived concepts was a spherical "junkyard magnet bot" tentatively called "Ball Guy" (reportedly itself recycled from an early Junkrat concept where he was wearing a bomb-shaped suit) who had all sorts of magnetic abilities, being able to pull bullets towards him, tank them, and reflect them back.
- As discussed from a live panel, the idea of a hamster hero came from as far back as 2014, brainstormed during an ideation session for a "cute hero", with many cute animals being tested (this same session is what created "Jetpack Cat"), and a prototype of Wrecking Ball was invented, originally envisioned as a mechanical hamster. Due to mixed feedback within Blizzard, he was shelved until he was reconsidered in 2017, eventually leading up to his official release in his final state.
- Ashe was originally conceived for Reunion before everyone on the dev team became a fan and decided to make her playable, though this reportedly almost didn't happen as everyone was adamant on having B.O.B. be a part of her kit since day 1, presenting no shortage of performance concerns (which were incidentally solved in part by B.O.B.'s design being almost perfectly symmetrical).
- Her very first concepts (revealed during the "What's Next?" panel of Blizzcon 2018) gave her a long black duster, longer white hair (which was made shorter due to technical issues), and red highlights, but was deemed too "Gothic" (more appropriate for a vampire hunter than a cowboy) and overall too similar to Reaper. Their "exploration" phase came up with additional designs that were also for one reason or another rejected, including a darker-skinned, black-haired variant that was shelved for looking too similar to McCree.
- B.O.B. was mostly unchanged from his original concept design, though according to Michael Chu, he didn't originally have his tiny hat, nor was he Ashe's butler until later on in development and he became a fan of the aesthetic.
- Bastion's ultimate went through multiple ultimate iterations before settling on its current form, including being able to fire a remote mine, which was scrapped for its dubious synergy for the rest of its kit. According to Jeff Kaplan during an AMA, other ultimates included grenades, an artillery volley, and even an ability to shoot through walls.
- Doomfist went through many design changes throughout his development until settling on his current gameplay. At first, he started out as Tank who was a pure melee Hero. However, as with Genji, they couldn't balance him properly, so they introduce projectiles as part of his kit. He used to be able to pick up enemy players and use them as human shields or throw them off cliffs, but that was cut because "he's not a wrestler" (not to mention, it wouldn't exactly make him fun to fight against). He also used to pick up pieces of the ground and throw them at enemies. Also, he used to have a projectile move where he would punch the air, which would create a "phantom fist thing" to shoot out in front of him. Finally, his Ultimate was originally tested out for Orisa before being given to him.
- A Gamespot interview with Jeff Goodman revealed that Echo was originally planned as a support character, which would fit her more in line with the high hopes that are built up for her as a critical role in Overwatch's future during her introduction in the "Reunion" animation. Her Duplicate ultimate was planned from the very beginning to fall more in line with her lore as an advanced AI who learns and adapts. They quickly realized that having a healer that could turn into a tank or damage role wouldn't be very practical because it would temporarily remove her designed function as a healer in the middle of a fight.
- Mina Liao was intended to be explored as a major character during the ill-fated Overwatch: First Strike graphic novel, with plans to show her being first recruited by Morrison and Reyes. It's also believed that the unidentified female character with glasses on the front cover was supposed to be an early design for her, though Jeff Kaplan, when asked about the subject, was unsure.
- Genji and Hanzo were originally one cyber ninja in concept. The character however was too unfocused in design due to being crammed with too many ninja weapons and gimmicks. Rather than scrap the idea though, the character was made into two brothers, Genji inheriting the cyborg aspect and sword usage the original character had, while Hanzo inherited the clothes, bow usage, and name. Hanzo was released in the initial roster during closed beta, while Genji was added in later.
- Genji (as a pre-decompositing "Hanzo") was conceptualized from the beginning, but went through quite a few changes before he was officially added to the roster.
- He was originally intended to have a stealth instant-kill backstab, à la the Spy from Team Fortress 2. Needless to say, this wasn't fun to play against, so it was removed.
- In addition, his Swift Strike ability originally applied a damage over time effect by way of bleeding.
- Finally, Genji was going to be a melee hero using his sword, similar to Reinhardt. However, Blizzard found this impossible to balance properly, so they instead had him use his shuriken as his default weapon and made his sword an Ultimate.
- While in the process for reworking Hanzo in 2018, Geoff Goodman shared several ideas they had experimented with, but didn't really work for various reasons. Among them are a Piercing Arrow that would replace Scatter Arrow, which was a more "snipey" ability that could go through barriers, and an ability bound to his reload key that would instantly reset his cooldowns.
- Junkrat was originally designed with with a more realistic "Hurt Locker" bomb-disposal suit in mind, but changed when concept artist Arnold Tsang pitched the idea "Isn't it kind of funnier if his hair was singed and his appendages blown off?"
- According to The Art of Overwatch, Junkrat at one point was affiliated not with the Junkers, but with the Los Muertos gang.
- Junkrat's Ultimate was originally going to to be shoulder-mounted rocket instead of the RIP-Tire. It was deemed overpowered, and was instead changed to the current Ultimate.
- Mei was originally conceptualized as a mountain-climbing adventurer with the possible ability to scale walls, and one of her names in development was Frostbite. Another concept of her, revealed by Michael Chu at GDC 2017, was that she would be a bounty hunter, using her freeze gun to capture her marks.
- Pharah was originally conceptualized as a male character codenamed "Rocket Dude," but at some point switched to female, settling on "Rocket Queen." The video specifically highlights the winged character in yellow Powered Armor in the middle-right side of the cast concept.
- The initial iteration of Reaper's The Reaping (before it was changed to his current passive Life Drain), where he claimed the "souls" of his victims for health would've been more literal. Originally, each claimed soul would've prevented Mercy from being able to resurrect said teammate. Had this remained in effect, this would've made Reaper a hard counter to Mercy, and many games that were decided by a Resurrect could've had very different outcomes.
- Soldier: 76 originally had a self-healing syringe that only would've affected him. It was replaced by the Biotic Field, which benefits everyone in the team, instead of him solely.
- Sombra went through several design phases before her final build— one concept◊ shows her possibly being Asian or Native American, while this concept image◊ is actually the picture on the "Quien es Sombra?" newspapers that are scattered about Dorado. In addition, at one point in development, her name was Omniblade, as discussed here.
- For her gameplay, she was originally conceived as a Support hero, who would've aided the team by hacking everything in sight, and presumably was much less powerful in combat. Originally, she had no cooldown on the hack and it couldn't be interrupted, but this made her hard to use because it required her to know everything on the map, and testers simply didn't have fun with it. Naturally, they changed her into being an Offense hero with a more focused playstyle and a stronger weapon, leading to the Sombra we know today.
- According to this video with Jeff Kaplan, Sombra was initially conceived as having her stealth be a passive that would activate when she was out of combat, though it fell through during this time after the dev team kept tweaking how long it would take before she'd fall under stealth. At one point, it was instant, and it made he "pretty much a nightmare," so it was instead implemented in the final game as a cooldown-based ability... until it was made into a passive again as of July 2018.
- At some point, Sombra had an ability to hack payloads, allowing them to move on their own.
- According to The Art of Overwatch, Symmetra was originally white before being changed to Indian.
- Symmetra's Teleporter required placing both an entrance and exit, thinking it could give more options for strategy, but often times players would miss the entrance, leading it to be simplified to what it is today. As seen in the above cast concept, she also originally wore a yellow dress, which they claimed may be made into a skin (possibly influencing her "Marammat" skin).
- At some point in time, Blizzard attempted to rework Symmetra into a healer, with one idea being that her turrets would heal allies rather than damage enemies. While the overall concept is being constantly tweaked, this specific idea was iceboxed as the rest of the game was too fast for this dynamic and frustrating for Symmetra players.
- Based on The Art of Overwatch, Tracer was going to be redhead and had a Scarf of Asskicking.
- As evinced in The Art of Overwatch, Widowmaker was originally conceived as having an insect theme, which was changed to her current spider theme when they noticed her helmet resembled one.
- Ana's development codename was "Alchemist", and was proposed by Lead Designer Geoff Goodman as someone who created potions and concoctions that let her heal people. Jeff was initially against having another sniper when Widowmaker already existed, but she later became a "healing sniper," allowing Ana to still be a sniper that wasn't too similar to Widowmaker and fit with her backstory.
- Lúcio's first ultimate slowed down time for everyone except him (including his allies), but as was described by Jeff, "you'd be on Lúcio's team, running back from the spawn room and then Lúcio would pop his ultimate and you'd be like: 'This is so uncool' so we got rid of that one."
- One of Lúcio's design iterations◊ had — among other things — turntables on his hips and pants that would light up alongside his music, though it was toned down for being "too distracting during gameplay." Due to its positive reception, the design was re-implemented with his Anniversary-exclusive "Equalizer" skin.
- Mercy was originally the codename for Pharah (who as stated below became "Rocket Dude", "Rocket Queen", then settling on "Pharah"), and Mercy's original codename was "Angelica." This led to an entire year of the dev team being told to "Switch to Mercy" in games, only to switch to Pharah instead.
- One of Mercy's earlier designs◊ was originally a black man (with white hair) with red accents on his armor instead of orange.
- Mercy as Angela had a more hospital/scrubs-looking Combat Medic appearance than the angelic appearance she has now.
- Shortly after Moira's announcement at Blizzcon 2017, early concept art was shown in the "What's Next" panel starting off as a "morally ambiguous" support. Some of her first designs already heavily resembled the final product, but before settling on her current weapon, she wielded Combat Tentacles (which the devs liked and made for an interesting silhouette, but they couldn't figure out how to properly integrate them into her gameplay) and a more conventional "spray-cannon" resembling a Medi Gun (which started introducing more of Moira's Mad Scientist vibe but made her silhouette more easily confused with Zarya).