Play of the Fortnight: What Could These Hidden Overwatch Barcodes Mean?

The Overwatch community is often quick to spot hidden clues Blizzard dots around the place. We’ve had the Sombra ARG (which, admittedly, went on a bit too long), references to new heroes in comics, and various teasers on the official social media channels.

Yesterday, a member of the community drew attention to some hidden Overwatch barcodes that can be spotted all over the game. This has sparked a bit of a scavenger hunt amongs the community. The barcodes can be seen on heroes, skins, and even hidden in maps across the game. But what could they mean?


The Overwatch barcode mystery

Hidden Overwatch Barcodes - Hammond/Wrecking Ball

Redditor Karahe pointed out last night that there have been barcodes in Overwatch for a little while. Karahe says, “They keep adding bar codes to RECENT things. Like Hammond’s mech and before that, Brigitte’s armor. Whatever it is, it’s on going and it’s a real shame no one in the community noticed or cares.”

And so, the thread of speculation and investigation began. There’s been quite a bit of skepticism as well as intrigue. Some players think it’s just a placeholder image, or meant to represent text without having to be too detailed. Others are convinced the barcodes and QR codes they’ve found could mean something deeper. After all, why go to the trouble of placing them on specific areas that wouldn’t need them?

One theory is that the barcodes are actually a font, though this one seems a bit too simplistic if mystery is what Blizzard is going for.


Decoding the barcodes

Hidden Overwatch Barcodes - Grillmaster Soldier-76

One user ran a barcode from the Summer Games event through a barcode reader. This revealed the name “donald”, which, as Karahe points out, could be a reference to Blizzard character artist Donald Phan. There’s another barcode from the Summer Games skins — the Soldier 76 Grillmaster skin — which references TV show The IT Crowd. The number beneath the barcode is mentioned in the show as the replacement for the UK emergency services number.

Apart from that, it seems no additional codes have been resolved. There are theories that they’re not barcodes, but something else entirely. Some members of the community have suggested Morse Code, or looking to music for clues. It could also possibly translate into binary and then words or sentences could be constructed from the results.

It’s also possible that the skeptical players are correct, and this really is just a random design that means nothing. However, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Blizzard has hidden some actual barcodes among those that mean nothing. They’ve certainly thrown red herrings our way before with the Sombra ARG.


When has Blizzard done this before?

There’s definitely a collective sigh going out at the thought of the Sombra ARG. Whenever Blizzard started teasing Sombra, they kicked off with codes found in the Ana teaser video. On July 19th, 2016, the end of Ana’s release video had a barcode-like image visible, which players discovered was actually in binary. This eventually was translated into a Spanish sentence, then into English from there.

Hidden Overwatch Barcodes - Sombra ARG

There were also newspapers scattered about the Dorado map. They had pictures of a shadowy figure, and the Spanish for, “Who is Sombra?” as a headline. This all sounds fine, but then Blizzard went a bit too deep. Some of the clues weren’t solved, many of them were revealed to be dead ends to throw the community off the scent. Players became frustrated and bored.

This isn’t the only time we’ve had clues, though. Blizzard also placed a QR code on Mei’s Ecopoint: Antarctica skin. It so far seems unreadable, and Redditor ItsPronouncedSinner posted a “failed” attempt at decoding it here. Considering Blizzard has placed functional QR codes in the game before, it would be odd for them to add one here and not have it be readable.


Skepticism in the Overwatch community

The Sombra ARG has made a large portion of the community jaded. While many will spot anything out of place and see it as a potential clue, a lot of others don’t want anything to do with it. The ARG could have been beautiful, but it dragged on so much that a lot of players who took part are done with those kinds of puzzles from Blizzard.

Hidden Overwatch Barcodes - Sombra ARG

Some members of the community even cynically think this is just Blizzard’s way of keeping the community busy because they have nothing new to announce. We think that isn’t the case here, as no one is expecting anything new just yet and we’re in between hero announcements with Hammond’s PTR release recently. This attitude does however say a lot about the community’s receptiveness to puzzles and mysteries now.


What could the barcodes mean?

Assuming the barcodes aren’t just random lines or placeholders, there’s a few things they could mean. It could be leading up to a reveal later on, though this is unlikely. Considering where the barcodes are placed — different maps, various heroes and skins both old and new — there doesn’t seem to be a common trait amongst them. At least, not common enough to lead up to a new hero or map announcement. It’s also possible some of the “barcodes” are actually not even in the same vein as the others, as players start looking for clues where there aren’t any.

Perhaps the barcodes are simply Easter eggs, like the IT Crowd reference, or “donald” meaning potentially Donald Phan. Maybe they’re simply little nods to people who worked on the game, or fun things that Blizzard enjoys. This would certainly make more sense than a big reveal, as they’re seemingly random at the moment.

Unless, of course, the big reveal is something that would affect the entire game. Something like the meteor in Fortnite, perhaps? Though maybe we need to take our tinfoil hats off now…


Where have we got to with the investigation?

So far, very little has been discovered, beyond the two references already mentioned. Karahe is determined, however. They have a Tumblr dedicated to hidden clues in Overwatch, including lore references and interesting sights they’ve found.

One way or another, we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the mystery to see where it goes. And if there is a puzzle, we’re certain the Overwatch community will be able to solve it.


Closing Thoughts

Blizzard has a bit of a reputation for teasers and fun little hidden messages in Overwatch. It’s possible this has made us all a bit too wary of anything we see but can’t recognize. However, wouldn’t it be nice if we had another mystery to sink ourselves into this summer? Though, let’s hope we don’t end up going down the Sombra ARG route and getting stuck there come fall.

What do you think the barcodes could mean? Let us know in the comments below if you have any juicy theories!

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About Psyche

Psyche is a loud, obnoxious gamer, streamer and writer from Northern Ireland. She formerly worked in the games industry as a community manager and eventually project manager. When she's not writing about games, or playing them, she's working on her first novel. RPGs, books, a cup of tea, and talking about outer space are the ways to her heart.