Liao is one of the most enigmatic characters in the expanded Overwatch canon. He (or possibly she) has been there since almost the beginning, mentioned as early as May 2016 in an article that name-drops the six individuals hired by the United Nations to defend humanity during the impending Omnic Crisis. These six individuals – Soldier 76, Reaper, Torbjorn, Reinhardt, Ana, and Liao – later went on to found the entire Overwatch organization with its dedication to maintaining world peace. The thing is, beyond this single mention, there’s almost no mention of Liao in anything going forward. That’s a pretty surprising level of secrecy around a character with such an important role in lore, especially considering the other five of those six founders have been added to the game as playable characters.
One of the only other official references to Liao was in a Brazilian gaming magazine that in August 2016 explicitly said: ‘22 heroes. Blizzard is already working on more, like cryogenesis expert Liao.’ Most people seem to agree this is likely a mistake on the writer’s end, not a leak, mostly due to the lack of corroborating evidence and the fact that Overwatch already has a Chinese ice-themed character. But on the other hand, we’ve already got two irradiated Australians and feudal Japanese warriors, so that idea can’t be completely discounted.
Beyond the explicit references, there are several unnamed characters that people think might be Liao. The most popular is a crouching Asian man who appeared in a fullscreen photograph of the old Overwatch team from the Ana reveal video:
In all fairness, we don’t know who the dark-skinned woman is on the far right, so she has the same chance of being Liao. And speaking of females, the other major contender for Liao’s identity is the grey-haired woman who appeared with the other five founders on the front cover of the tragically-canceled graphic novel First Strike:
Which is all well and good, but even if one of those pictures is correct, neither gives us any decent clues as to what playstyle or weapon loadout a playable Liao would bring to Overwatch’s battlefield. Personally, if I had to guess (and I’m gonna) I think Liao was likely the strike team’s “Watchtower“, who would stay on the radio and provide remote assistance/status updates while the others took to the field. The grey-haired woman on the First-Strike cover is wearing glasses and a collared coat, which gives her the sort of administrative look, and while I know Soldier 76 filled that role during the “Uprising” event last April, he doesn’t strike me as the sort of commander who’d fill a noncombat role full-time. As to how Liao plays, I think it’s notable she was drawn with a robot in full focus next to her. My wild prediction is that she has a minion-based playstyle, controlling a small litter of robots and commanding them to form up, attack targets, or maybe even follow/heal teammates. (I have to admit bias because I’ve been wanting this playstyle since forever).
But one way or another, I’m pretty sure we will eventually get a playable Liao. Not only would it be difficult for Blizzard to ignore the last-remaining founder of the Overwatch strike team, but even if they have no plans for her whatsoever, the constant need to add new heroes will likely change their tone.