NEW YORK CITY (Atlas News) – In the past few weeks, investigators confirmed that a number of violent incidents across the world, including Monday's attempted museum heist, have involved several notable former Overwatch operatives.
The United Nations finally admitted today that those individuals were not acting on official orders.
In its entirety, the UN's terse statement reads: "The United Nations has not authorized any Overwatch operations. The organization’s charter remains revoked." Further questions from this reporter were met with hostility or silence.
Such a short statement belies its astonishing truth: We have not seen the last of Overwatch. Being dismantled by the UN only drove them into the shadows.
This news will undoubtedly spark concern. It should. Overwatch was dismantled due to overwhelming negative public sentiment and allegations of corruption and abuses of power; the thought that the organization's remnants are operating without supervision is a chilling one.
But while governments from the Kremlin to Downing Street were quick to issue unreserved condemnations, the public was not. An Atlas News flash poll taken today showed a large amount of anger over the possibility that agents of Overwatch had gone "rogue," but it was the poll's final question that revealed the most interesting reaction. Nearly three out of every four respondents said they were "uncertain" what Overwatch's return would mean for the world.
Overwatch's history invites such uncertainty. In wartime, it was regarded as humanity's savior. Today, many have bitter memories of its disgraceful ending.
In order to understand what may happen now, it may help to take another look at Overwatch’s past, and the desperate circumstances from which it was born.
The Omnic Crisis
When Omnica Corporation revolutionized robotic manufacturing, it seemed the world was on the verge of entering an economic golden age. Their massive factories of automated construction machines and self-improving software algorithms were patented, marketed as "omniums," and installed on every continent.
What came next is well-documented. The omniums began to break down. Independent analysis showed they would never come close to meeting the corporation's promises of growth and output. Omnica was investigated and forcibly dissolved after evidence of fraud was uncovered, its omniums shut down.
That is why it came as such a surprise when these defunct, dismantled omniums woke themselves back up and immediately launched a military campaign against all of humanity.
This was a war many countries thought they were prepared to fight. But no single country, no matter how powerful its military, could permanently shut down a single omnium. The adaptability of robots, once celebrated by humanity, had become a tactical nightmare. Worst of all, there were no demands from the omnics. There was no ideological reason for their aggression. They simply attacked, and we did not understand why.
Overwatch: A Change In Strategy
No country was succeeding in securing its own territory. But some soldiers and strategists showed remarkable ingenuity in acclimating to this new brand of warfare. The United Nations covertly brought a few of these unique minds together to form a small, nimble team, aimed at striking significant blows against omnic strongholds. Their names—Morrison, Reyes, Amari, Liao, Wilhelm, and Lindholm—have since become legendary. The world would come to know them as the founders of Overwatch.
In highly secretive missions, they targeted the omnics' command and control protocols. After great sacrifice and heroism in a series of dangerous raids, they destroyed it all, rendering the omnic armies inert. The Omnic Crisis had finally come to an end.
For decades, as Overwatch grew, they made global stability their mission. And the world was happy to have them. Rogue omnics, terrorism, warmongering dictators, none of them could stand for long against such a capable, dedicated force. During natural disasters, we watched heroic rescue operations and efficient rebuilding initiatives. We saw Overwatch pioneer scientific initiatives to eradicate epidemics, reverse ecological damage, and develop new breakthroughs in medical care. They were a symbol of hope. An entire generation, my generation, was raised to see them as the best of humanity.
Overwatch never had a shortage of critics. Even in its glory days, many voices called for severe restrictions on the agency's mission, insisting that such a powerful group of individuals needed careful oversight. Rumors of black-ops missions—carrying out tasks like assassination and kidnapping—were dismissed by the public as paranoid fantasies.
But as time passed, criticism became harder to shrug off, and the agency seemed to be tone-deaf to public concerns. Controversial missions stoked public outrage until it reached a fever pitch, and some of Overwatch’s most famous and celebrated agents were forced to retire in disgrace. If that had been the end of it, many might have accepted these missteps as the unavoidable signs of an aging, bloated bureaucracy, suffering under monolithic leadership that desperately needed a change in direction. The truth was much worse than that.
In the final years of Overwatch's existence, a top secret division called "Blackwatch" was revealed. There were stories of assassination, coercion, kidnapping, torture, and worse. Governments called on the UN to shut down the "aggressive and repeated violations of many countries' sovereignty." As public distrust swelled, a massive explosion wiped out Overwatch's headquarters in Switzerland. The United Nations called it an accident; today we know it was a battle, a dispute between Overwatch commander Jack Morrison and Blackwatch commander Gabriel Reyes. Overwatch's death knell was that of two former comrades laying waste to all they had built.
In the wake of such an incident, little could remain hidden. The full transgressions of Overwatch's shadow operations became known. Even the most ardent defenders inside the organization bowed to the truth and called for its dissolution.
The United Nations could do nothing but shut down Overwatch. Few people at the time doubted it was the right call. The world had never been more peaceful—the biggest threat to global stability and growth was, in many minds, Overwatch itself. Its time had passed.
In the years without Overwatch, we've seen the world change. A movement promoting omnic civil rights and citizenship gained traction. The global economy surged. There seemed to be no shortage of good news.
But, as with Overwatch, the good news hid many darker trends. Tensions between humans and omnics have never been higher, particularly after the assassination of the omnic spiritual leader Tekhartha Mondatta. War may very well be inevitable. Local political leaders have accused certain corporations of using covert operatives to "persuade" government officials into accepting exploitive deals, and when that failed, of hiring mercenaries to enact more permanent solutions. We've seen shadow organizations operating with impunity, often leaving a trail of dead civilians in their wake.
Is this why these former Overwatch agents have come out of hiding? Could they not stand by and watch any longer?
Has the world's situation grown so desperate that they believe nobody else can help?
And does the world want them back? Should it?
The surveillance footage from Monday's attempted museum heist instantly caught the world's attention. Two former Overwatch agents risked life and limb against two frighteningly capable mercenaries, and the theft was thwarted. But while much has been made over the images of sheer mayhem—that, miraculously, did not result in any deaths—there was another moment that caught my attention.
Two young boys were caught in the middle of the violence. (And someone give them a medal, please, for keeping their heads straight in that situation.) When the attack ended, they spoke briefly to Lena Oxton, an ex-Overwatch operative known to the public as "Tracer." The surveillance footage does not reveal what she said to them. But it does show the expression on the older boy's face.
When it comes to Overwatch, my generation understands that feeling all too well. To us, Overwatch embodied it. Its corruption was nothing short of a betrayal. The cynical part of me urges the world to take firm action if the dark forces that brought Overwatch down rise again in the form of self-appointed vigilantes.
All that gives me pause is this: The Overwatch Generation has grown up. We once believed in hope. It still lives within us, and some have chosen to act upon it in astonishing ways.
Consider the news from around the world in recent years. A Chinese environmentalist with a taste of adventure saved a nest of endangered arctic wildlife from a collapsing glacier using nothing but her own inventions. A musician from Brazil became a hero of his favela when he exposed and destroyed a corporation's exploitive use of local land. A professional-gamer-turned-mech-pilot has become a celebrity in Korea due to her publicized acts of heroism.
These are exactly the types of remarkable individuals Overwatch would have recruited. Take a look on the net; they are exactly who today's kids are looking up to as heroes. Would they have been inspired to take such extraordinary action if not for Overwatch?
The future is unknown. Evidence suggests that not all surviving Overwatch agents have been using their talents for the good of peace. But examine what happened yesterday at the museum. Which Overwatch did we see in that surveillance footage? The secretive, corrupt assassins? Or two disciples of Overwatch's original ideals?
More importantly: Should we fear the new generation of heroes just because the old generation let us down?
I don't believe we should.