The hunt for details about Overwatch’s alleged next hero, Sombra, has finally reaped something—and it’s literally a reaper (not to be confused with the hero Reaper). The 5,000 Overwatch fans struggling to unravel Blizzard’s increasingly obtuse information puzzles have been investigating the latest Sombra clue for nearly two weeks. Last night, they finally made some progress: An ASCII skull hidden in a screenshot’s scrambled code.
Blizzard has dropped hints about the stealth character Sombra for months, according to Game Director Jeff Kaplan. In June, the Game Detectives, an online collective dedicated to solving game ARGs (“alternate reality games”), hopped onto the Overwatch ARG when the hero Ana’s origin video bore a hidden hex cypher that translated to the name “Sombra,” literally “shadow.” In July, Ana’s developer update video ended with a blip of static that, after seven steps of decryption, translated into a QR code. When processed, a Sombra quote appeared: “Now that I have your attention, let’s make things more difficult.”
Since last month, things certainly have gotten difficult. The PC trailer for Overwatch’s Summer Games, announced August 2nd, bore several apparently unrelated clues into Sombra’s identity, hidden under several layers of code. While the first two puzzles were resolved in a few hours, the latest investigation has lasted ten days.
In the background of nine of the video’s frames, a set of cardinal directions and arrows appear in conjunction with Olympics-attired heroes. The Game Detectives arranged the nine heroes’ images in accordance with the directions (i.e. NW in the top left) and, for nearly two weeks, struggled to make meaning of the chart. That’s when things got really crazy.
On an August 4th livestream, Kaplan was asked about “the compass.” “The compass?” he responded. “That sounds like deep CIA level stuff. Way above our heads.” Then, he laughed. The Game Detectives, as a result, “looked up,” and on the Dorado map, found a so-called Sky Code between the north star and moon:
It looks promising and mysterious. Regardless, the Sky Code turned out to be a dead end: The Game Detectives dwelled on the Sky Code for days without much progress. “Some of the community was starting to fall into an ‘ARG-induced malaise,’” Game Detectives admin imnotgoats told me. “It happens sometimes when a trail starts feeling cold.”
It appears that, after watching thousands of fans struggling for days, Blizzard began to pity the Game Detectives. On PlayOverwatch.com’s US media page, Blizzard posted a photo of a Dorado spawn point that was “datamoshed,” meaning that code was artificially added to the image. Its appearance was markedly different from the original, fans noticed. When the images were compared, values in the code bore a Spanish sentence, warning the Game Detectives that, as they had begun to suspect, they were at a dead end: “Why are you looking at the sky? The answer isn’t over your heads, it’s behind you. Sometimes, you need to analyze your previous achievements.”
This led the investigators to the “Achievements” page, where, in the source code, they found a commendation, “Damn, not bad.” An encrypted cypher followed. The passcode necessary to decrypt the cypher was the compass—finally! By placing the characters in order of the directions—tracertorbjornwinstonsymmetradvamercybastiongenjimccree—a URL appeared, where another datamoshed picture resided:
The Game Detectives realized that it was an altered picture of the Volskaya map. Another difference check bore a skull with a Spanish headline: “It seems you like these little games... Why don’t we play a real one?” A skull in ASCII code appears below.
Fans believe (after comparing release times for various new hints) that this result was not the original intention for the compass code, but is what Blizzard believed would most easily lead them to another hint.
The skull is, the Game Detectives believe, a sugar skull, a popular Mexican treat for the Day of the Dead celebration, fitting for Sombra, who is connected to Reaper and the Mexico-themed Dorado map. Imnotgoats noted that, if it were a normal skull, there wouldn’t be spaces for dots next to its eyes. Día de Muertos, as it’s called, is on November 1st and 2nd. What could this mean?
“With a hot new clue in the form of a mysterious skull, the investigation has had the shot in the arm it needed and people are on the case in full force,” imnotgoats explained. “This is certainly one of the better ARGs we’ve seen in recent months.”