Out of Shadows: the Search for Sombra

The moon sits high in the sky above the quiet city of Dorado, Mexico. The city lies empty as the attacking team pushes the red payload towards the pyramid at the end of the city, the LumériCo power plant which stands for a new Era in Mexico’s history. Deep inside the high, metal walls, the computers flash with a warning: UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS: PROTOCOL SOMBRA. Reaper players may hear a rare line while running across Dorado, to both stop and push the payload to its destination: “Where is Sombra when you need her?”

Image Source: Blizzard – playoverwatch.com

¿Quién es ‘Sombra’?

For months, the entity known as Sombra has intrigued fans of Overwatch as rumors of new heroes circulated the web – and the devs have strung players along since launch. From files hidden within the game, to embedded code slipped into dev updates and game trailers, Sombra’s been busy for someone fans can’t catch a glimpse of. It was only with the Summer Games patch that the ARG search has kicked into overdrive as more and more people flood into social media to uncover the mysteries hidden within the trailer. The hints have gotten harder, and while the search seems to have hit rocky ground, the push for answers continues, with results just within reach.

Image Source: Blizzardwatch – Overwatch and the Mystery of Sombra

What first began as Easter Eggs hidden throughout Overwatch maps has grown into a full-fledged ARG hunt for the illusive, and speculated 23rd hero for Overwatch. The search for Sombra has moved from small hints in game to an overarching effort to solve what’s become simply known as the Sombra ARG. An ARG (Alternate Reality Game) is an interactive story telling method used throughout gaming history to tease out information and lore about new characters and story elements. Often, ARGS are done outside of the game proper: blog posts, hints in teasers, videos and the like. In the case of Sombra, the illusive stealth hero has taken to hacking videos and embedding codes throughout Overwatch release trailers, dev videos and even Ana’s lore and gameplay trailers to make herself known to the fan-base. Given Sombra’s apparent status as intelligence and hacking expert in the Overwatch lore, it makes sense that it’s through the code we find more information and hints leading us towards this new hero.

Trial and Error

Numerous theories have circulated about Sombra since these initial hints were found in game. The image of the masked figure in the Temple of Anubis was often speculated to be Sombra, and the true identity of Sombra being that of Ana Amari. Initially, Ana Amari was a ghost among the heroes in the initial release roster. Pharah mourned her mother in the lore comic, Mission Statement, heroes from the Golden Era of Overwatch speak of her in passing, and any trace of the woman who was once second in command of the peace keeping organization was missing from the game.

Image Source: psngamer – Overwatch New Heroes

The theories of Sombra being Ana Amari ended with Ana Amari’s official release only about a month ago, but with her release came the new wave of information regarding Sombra. Two hidden codes were embedded into Ana Amari’s release trailers, each giving us these lines:

S O M B

R A

She who has the information, has the power.

Alongside this, another code was hidden in the developer update following Ana’s release into Overwatch. This time, the phrase was more of a challenge to fans out there uncovering the codes left by Sombra:

Was that easy? Well, now that I have your attention, allow me to make things much more difficult”.

Let the Games Begin

After weeks of waiting, the Summer Games patch brought more than an Olympic Spirit to Overwatch fans. Among the new skins, emotes and weekly brawl, a puzzle was hidden within the release trailer for the Seasonal Event which as the ARG reeling in more ways than one.

Image Source: pcgamer – Overwatch Summer Games Trailer Hides a Mysterious Secret

Within the trailer, a code was placed inside Tracer’s blue speed trail – a code decrypted into a SALTED_. For the unfamiliar, SALTED_  is a special encryption meant to protect passwords from decryption keys meant to cycle through hundreds of possible passwords. In layman’s terms, the code needs a special cypher to decrypt, and this is where the true struggle of the current ARG begins.

Image Source: Gamedetective Wiki – Sombra ARG

Several clues were hidden throughout the Summer Games as a possible means of decrypting the SALTED_ seen in Tracer’s trail. As the trailer shows off the stylish new skins and emotes available from the Summer Lootcrates, small arrows are placed in the background – arrows not found in game. These arrows point in the eight cardinal directions, with D.VA at the center point. Many believe the answer to the SALTED_ lies within this Hero Compass, while others continue to scour the Summer Games trailer for any missing links to the puzzle.

Where to Go From Here

The stakes continue to rise as the ARG pushes forward with attempts to crack the SALTED_ . More and more people flock to the Game Detective and Sombra ARG discords, reddit and all forms of social media platforms to spread new theories and information regarding Sombra. On the daily theories are being debunked and put to the test as people from all walks of life come together to attempt to solve the puzzle put before us. Coders, translators, lore enthusiasts and the like all have a place inside this ongoing test. With rumors circulating about August 23rd being Sombra’s possible release date, or at least a day with new information to come to light, the clock is on for everyone involved in the ARG. Those with the information have the power, and far be it from us to allow a shadow to get the better of us.

UPDATE:

An ARG is an ever constant force that moves and continues to develop even when one looks away. From the moment the Summer Games patch hit, the ARG has pushed forward and gone through many false leads, including the now infamous Skycode – a corruption found in jpegs taken of the Dorado sky which many once believed to be a code, due to comments by developers during an interview -, and even has drawn the attention of the illusive shadow herself.

Image Source: Playoverwatch – Media

With this newly released screenshot found in playoverwatch’s media section, a new message has been uncovered from the glitch in the jpeg:

Por que estan mirando al cielo? La respuesta no esta sobre sus cabezas, esta detras de ustedes. A veces, necesitan analizar sus logros previos.“

Which roughly translates to: “Why are you looking at the sky? The answer is not over your heads, it is behind you. Sometimes, you need to analyze your previous achievements.” (Source: Sombra ARG discord and Game Detectives Discord)

It seems even Sombra grew tired of fans having their heads in the clouds, rather than on the task at hand.

Update 8/11/16:

With Gamescon on the horizon, the search for Sombra continues with as much success as it had during the last update of this article. Progress has been slow, as many theories continue to bounce around, gaining little traction across the web. Today, as many the days before, began without much out of the ordinary, and changed when players began to look through familiar ground.

Our achievement pages are personal boards meant to show us what to strive for in-game, as well as display the hard work we’ve put into our many hours of Overwatch. Today, when scrolling through the achievement section in playoverwatch.com, a new achievement has appeared, and this one seems specially tailored to those taking part in the ARG.

Image Source: Sombra ARG Discord

Found through opening your browser code and imputting the word Vientos, the new message from Sombra reads:

!–Vientos, nada mal. No obstante, me aburro. Intentemos algo nuevo en la misma dirección. uczihriwgsxorxwunaarawryqhbrsfmeqrjjmu 5552E494 78T3 4VM9 OPL6 IS8208O913KRlrx–>

The rough translation comes to “Nice, not bad at all. However, I’m getting bored. Let’s try something in the same direction. uczihriwgsxorxwunaarawryqhbrsfmeqrjjmu 5552E494 78T3 4VM9 OPL6 IS8208O913KRlrx–>“.

Once more, it seems Sombra has stepped in to shake up the ARG and guide it back on track. Now time will tell if our efforts can come together to crack this message and uncover what the 23rd hero of Overwatch has been trying to tell us since August 2.

Resources:

Game Detective Wiki

Sombra ARG Discord

Game Detective Discord

This handy Google Doc from the Folks in the Game Detective Discord with all previous, debunked and ongoing leads

Gamespesso and their article: Summary of the State of Sombra’s ARG

Sara W.
Sara is an aspiring writer and avid video game and comic fan with a slight problem with over analyzing story and character development. A historian by trade and a writer of over 5 years experience, she works to bring you interesting insight into Overwatch through various topics and mediums. Remember to keep fighting the good fight and don't feed the Yao Guai.