Respawn Entertainment's sleeper hit Apex Legends stars a small but impressively diverse cast of characters, and the LGBTQ status of legends Bloodhound and Gibraltar have now been confirmed by both the developer and EA. For fans of the battle royale genre seeking representation in a medium that's long neglected the level of onscreen inclusivity that's only recently come into vogue, Apex Legends may be the most diverse free-to-play game on the market.
This news coincides with the game, a battle royale-flavored spin-off of Respawn's Titanfall series, having quickly swelled into a major critical and financial success for the EA-owned studio since its February 4 release. Reaching 10 million unique players and amassing an impressive one million concurrent players in its first three days, Apex Legends has proven that innovation and success in the battle royale genre can be achieved in tandem and that market domineers Fortnite and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 aren't infallible. As much as it's proven a boon for EA amid a self-inflicted dip in its stock value, Apex Legends has arguably been an even greater victory for players looking for a new take on battle royale that's as polished as it is strategic, with its novel respawn system, exhilarating movement, and tight gunplay.
Out of eight unique characters, or legends, EA and Respawn have confirmed that Bloodhound and Gibraltar each break with heteronormative stereotypes through external lore and interviews. EA's official character description for Gibraltar, a "gentle giant with a wild side" who fulfills his support role with a dome shield and defensive barrage, makes mention of a formative incident in which "he and his boyfriend stole his father’s motorcycle, took it on a joyride, and got trapped by a deadly mudslide." Meanwhile, the flavor text for Bloodhound, a mysterious, Viking-inspired hunter who tracks foes with deadly precision, is the only character description offered that exclusively refers to them using "they/them" pronouns.
Bloodhound's non-binary identity was confirmed to be a conscious design choice by Respawn community manager Jay Frechette in a Rock, Paper, Shotgun interview, in which he related:
“Our studio is comprised of a diverse group of people, the playerbase of battle royale is comprised of a diverse group. Having a diverse cast is super important. You want everyone to have someone they can connect to.”
This effort to foster a sense of inclusion in Apex Legends is undoubtedly genuine on the part of Respawn, but one can't help but think that it would be more impactful for the vast majority of players if any evidence of Gibraltar's and Bloodhound's status as members of the LGBTQ community was actually present in the game itself. Instead, these fascinating looks into the characters' lives are isolated to their respective corners of the internet, wholly external to the game. While this doesn't quite resemble Blizzard's delayed reveal about Overwatch's Soldier: 76 that invited accusations of queerbaiting, it's hard to argue that the Apex Legends players who Respawn is attempting to represent would be better served by also including these revelations in-game.
Nonetheless, Respawn is taking steps in nearly all the right directions with Apex Legends so far, and this most recent effort to include players is no exception. When considering Apex Legend's quick climb to success and the game's inherent live-service model (as well as a rumored Titanfall project coming this year), it will be will be intriguing to see how Respawn continues to put players first in 2019.