How an Overwatch character is shaping the Hong Kong Protests online

Daniel Obubo


How a Blizzard Entertainment character is shaping the Hong Kong Protests online

It’s not often that gamers are pushed to an edge where they feel compelled to partake in political algorithmic activism, this time popular game producers Activision-Blizzard Entertainment have gone too far.

It's important for me to overtly state that I am an avid gamer and have my biases in favor of Activison-Blizzard. My earliest memories of playing computer games was a Blizzard title (Warcraft 2, 1996)  

Activision-Blizzard Entertainment is a merger of two billion-dollar gaming producers. They are known for redefining how we play online video games. They’re responsible for the momentous releases such as World of Warcraft, the largest Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) to ever exist (once at a peak of 12 million subscribers) and Call of Duty, one of the most popular shooters.

The Blizzard Entertainment half of the merger is the culprit (this time) in riling up thousands of gamers to cancel their Blizzard accounts and #boycotblizzard. 

#boycotblizzard is a movement by gamers fighting back at big gaming corporations (particularly Activison-Blizzard) for siding with the Chinese Government to silence free speech, especially any form of speech sympathizing with the current protests in Hong Kong. 

This comes after a Hong Konger and professional gamer by the name of Ng Wai or ‘Blitzchung’ won a Hearthstone tournament (A Blizzard Entertainment game) and proclaimed his support for the protests in Hong Kong in a post-match interview that was live-streamed.

Blitzchung donned goggles and a facemask and shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”

What happened next can be seen as  a public relations meltdown on the side of Blizzard Entertainment.

His statement was met with a switft one-year ban from competing and playing Hearthstone, as well as a forfeit of his winnings which he claimed to be in the tens of thousands of US Dollars. The two casters who were interviewing him live were also immediately sacked.

Blizzard Entertainment stated that Blitzchung’s statement had violated its strict tournament rules, particularly a rule against saying questionable things that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard’s image.”

Blitzchung was banned on the 8th of October and after three days of relentless tweets objecting to Blizzards excessively punitive actions by fellow gamers. Blizzard was forced to release a statement where they reduce the banning sentence by six months and gave Blitzchung his prize money.  

Now, you would think this is an open and shut case, unfortunately that isn’t the situation. At this point there is no turning back for Blizzard, it's already caught in the crosshairs of political activism, a deer in the headlights.

What was a simple public relations blunder has thrust Blizzard unwillingly into the Hong Kong/China debate. It  has also cast a light on how big western corporations succumb to the pressure imposed by the Chinese government. This is forcing gamers to question how they spend their money and the ethics behind their favorite gaming companies doing business with a state that commits human rights violations. 

But can gamers take on a 7-billion-dollar company? The easiest answer is yes. Yes, they can, and gamers have been taking steps to delete their Blizzard accounts. Popular gaming celebrities have threatened to boycott ‘BlizzCon’ Blizzards annual convention where their new games are showcased.  

Other methods to hinder Blizzards earnings are brewing in subreddits. One in particular is trying to encourage the Chinese government to ban one of Blizzard’s most recent and extremely lucrative videogame ‘Overwatch’. The tactic is to make one of the games Chinese characters a pro Hong Kong liberation mascot. This is in the hopes that if images are shared enough it should cause a reaction from Beijing. Similar to how Winnie the Pooh was banned because of memes comparing the cartoon character’s appearance to Chinese President Xi. This post as of now has been upvoted 15,500 times, and is very active.

Meet Mei-Ling Zhou (周美灵)

Meet Mei-Ling Zhou (周美灵) is a climatologist from China in the Overwatch universe. She’s becoming very popular amongst Hong Konger gamers and others that support the pro democratic movement in Hong Kong.

Artists are taking the first steps in drawing Mei as a supporter of the struggle in Hong Kong. There are images of her covering one eye in solidarity with the journalist who was permanently blinded by a riot police officer. 

This movement sprouted from a reddit post suggesting Mei be the mascot of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and it’s already got its fair share of traction. Illustrators create art and post it on the /r/HongKong subreddit and other readers swear to “share it like hell” further shaping algorithms and search results on the world wide web.

Other illustrations feature her with a facemask, an umbrella  and a hardhat. Symbols of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The face mask however has been recently banned from being worn by protesters, but one could say “Mei wears it in defiance.”

Edited versions of Mei’s origin story have been altered to depict the urgency and severity of the current situation in Hong Kong. These videos are riddled with imagery and symbols known all too well by Hong Kongers.

Mei has even been featured by in-game renditions of the famous Tiananmen Square ‘Tank Man’

Some protesters are cosplaying as Mei and protesting.

Video game characters being utilized to fight an opressive regime is a new phenomenon. The idea of a character having a particular political affiliation may seem harmless at first, but it has had a profound effect as Blizzard has pulled its Mei figurines off of the markets. Blizzard's response to the controversy has only made more gamers and even US law makers more active in conemning their decisions. A Streisand effect is at play here, and more and more gamers are feeling the urge to take a jab at Blizzard with a Mei meme on Twitter. 

This is new territory in activism, granted fictional characters have been used to push political narratives, but the Mei Phenomenon is a first for online gaming. Mei is a character that embodies hope, optimism and perseverance in Overwatch. To see this hope traverse the game’s universe into our reality brings a collective tear to (some) gamer's eyes.  The fact that  Mei represents a cause so urgent, is only more fitting to her lore. As for now, we can only imagine where Mei will take the revolution for democracy in Hong Kong.

And as Mei would say herself “Our world is worth fighting for”