Pirate Historian on the Overwatch Pirate-themed Skins

Greetings! I play way too much casual Overwatch, and I also wrote two books on the Golden Age of Pirates. After the release of Pirate Ship Bastion, I thought I’d do a quick review of the pirate-themed Overwatch skins with a nod to historical accuracy for the Buccaneer era (16th through mid 17th century) and the Golden Age of piracy (late 17th century though early 18th century).


Bilgerat Junkrat

YES: Grenades! Pirates did throw Grenades consisting of a shell (eg., empty bottles) filled with nails and other scrap together with gunpowder, stuffed with a lit fuse.

YES: Explosives! Pirates made frequent use of explosives, and some even prepared barrels of gunpowder in advance to blow up their own ship in case they were captured, though in practice very few of them ever tried to go through with it.

YES: Swords! Next to the pistol, a sword was a pirate’s usual weapon. They preferred the simple curved cutlass, though they would use a machete or any other weapon if they needed something quickly.

NO: Pegleg. Some pirates did end up with amputated legs but they usually retired afterwards since they would be of little use aboard a ship at sea with only one good leg. Pirates did provide payout from the common treasure for any crew member who lost a limb. Yes, that means pirates had health insurance (or workman’s comp).

Pirate / Buccaneer Baptiste

YES: Healer! Every ship needed a good doctor or surgeon, and if they didn't have one, they'd force a doctor to serve them the first time they found one aboard a captured ship.

YES: Immortality Field! Pirates elected their ship captains, and ideally they wanted one who was what they called “pistol proof” – meaning, one who was bold, fearless, and somehow survived against the odds.

YES: Buccaneer! The Buccaneer era was essentially “everyone versus Spain,” when other European nations were happy to let pirates loose under flimsy privateering licenses, as long as they confined themselves to attacks on Spanish possessions in central and South America.

NO: Earring. The popular Jolly Roger flag of Henry Avery showing a pirate with an earring and a headscarf is a modern invention dating to the 1950s. Back in the golden age pirates could have worn earrings but no more often than the rest of the population did, and not to “ensure there was enough money to pay for burial” which is what a popular myth still says.

Corsair Ana

YES: Sniper! English, French, and Dutch Buccaneers were legendary for being excellent shots with their long rifles. Spaniards on the ships they attacked would refuse to take the ship’s wheel because they knew anyone standing on the open deck was inviting death from extreme range.

YES: Headscarf! Pirates wore any one of a number of simple head coverings, including the basic head scarf. There being little shade on the open deck of a ship at sea, any protective head covering was welcome. (But see Baptiste above for a popular misconception.)

YES: Women! While there were very few women on pirate ships, the legendary Anne Bonny and Mary Read became famous for being even more vicious than the men they served with under captain “Calico Jack” Rackham.

NO: Parrot. While there were occasionally animals like parrots or monkeys aboard ships, they were almost always sold as exotic curiosities the first time the ship made port, and were rarely kept as pets, the exception being the occasional cat or dog who proved to be a good rat catcher.

Pirate Ship Bastion

YES: Jolly Roger! The skull and crossbones jolly Roger flag, at least when used aboard a ship, dates to around 1700. After that it became a common and terrifying sight through the 1720s.

YES: Cannon! Pirate ships had many different kinds of cannon aboard, from small deck-mounted swivel-guns to much larger traditional "carriage" cannon, though they almost never used them to sink enemy vessels. That would take valuable treasure and supplies down to the bottom of the sea, which was never the goal.

NO: Decorated sails. Any Jolly Roger flag aboard a pirate ship was hung from the mast – they never decorated their sails with it, and never put it on their hats.

NO: Bicorne hat. The Napoleon-style bicorne hat was from a later era and would never have been seen aboard a golden age pirate ship.

Sharkbait / Mako Roadhog

YES: Treasure chest! Collected pirate loot was kept in a secure chest by the quartermaster until the ship's company broke up or divided their treasure. And when they retired or went ashore, some of them did carry their plunder in a chest. Almost none of them ever buried their treasure chests.

YES: Anchor! Like almost all wooden sailing ships, pirate ships did use a large anchor to secure their ship in place. Pirates were notorious for “cutting the cable” – that is, chopping their anchor rope and leaving it behind when they needed to make a quick getaway, knowing they could always take an anchor from the next ship they captured.

YES: Scrap gun! Cannons didn't always fire large cannonballs. Often they used specialized ammunition designed to tear ropes and rigging or rip up sails to slow an enemy ship. They also used grapeshot, which was any collection of musket balls and sharp scraps of metal shot from a cannon at an enemy ship’s deck, designed to cause mass casualties among the exposed enemy crew.

NO: Sharks. Pirates, like most mariners, hated sharks and feared them, and would frequently prefer to take their chances in court when facing capture rather than jump overboard and risk death by shark.

Flying Dutchman Sigma

YES: Barefoot! While many sailors and pirates did wear shoes or boots, they frequently went barefoot for extra grip aboard the wet, rolling, heaving deck of a ship at sea.

YES: Tricorne hat! Far more often seen on Navy captains, pirates may have occasionally worn this three cornered hat, but only if they captured one from a prosperous merchant.

YES: Barnacles! The hull of a ship at sea collected barnacles, seaweed, and other debris, which slowed them down. Every so often they would beach their ship, roll it over, and scrape off the barnacles and other junk to restore their ship's speed in a process known as careening.

NO: Ghosts. Pirates could be a superstitious lot, like many other sailors of the time. They were not fond of anything which reminded them too closely of black magic. In what may or may not have been a true story, one pirate crew even murdered their own captain when they feared he'd made a deal with the Devil.

Blackbeard / Barbarossa Torbjorn

YES: The beard! Barbarossa was a legendary Ottoman corsair and his name literally means “red beard,” and Blackbeard's famous beard was testified to by witnesses – it wasn't an exaggeration.

YES: Gold necklace! Pirates rarely wore actual jewelry except when trying to impress ladies ashore, but one captain did wear a golden toothpick on a chain, and Black Bart was killed wearing his finest outfit and jewelry.

YES: Hammer! Like most carpenters’ tools, hammers could be found frequently aboard wooden ships. Pirates had to be careful, though: one pirate crew was killed when their prisoners overpowered them with axes, adzes, and other carpenters’ tools.

NO: Hook. Some pirates did lose hands in combat or accidents but generally left the stump as-is if they survived. None in the Golden Age are recorded using hooks, though one did use his stump to steady his pistol.

There are other pirate touches too: Ana's skin is "Corsair" which is the correct term for Mediterranean pirates (she's Egyptian), and Baptiste is from the legendary buccaneer haven of Tortuga (off the north coast of Haiti).

That’s enough to play 2-2-2 entirely with Pirate skins!


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