In the aftermath of Blizzard's decision to suspend professional Hearthstone player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai for expressing pro-Hong Kong beliefs, this week players started an online campaign to transform Overwatch character Mei into a symbol of democracy. It didn't take long for the idea to catch on, and she's now being used in Hong Kong protests.
On several subreddits, multiple screenshots of newscasts from Hong Kong have appeared showing protestors with print-outs of Mei artwork. In the below livestream by HK Apple Daily, at around 01:22:40 you can see a line of people holding up the images with the words "Mei is fighting for her rights", and "free Hong Kong, five demands not one less".
The five demands refer to the protest movement's key aims, although due to the decentralised nature of the protest movement, these sometimes differ depending on who you ask. They usually include the withdrawal of the bill allowing extradition to mainland China (the main catalyst for the protests), the resignation of current Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, an inquiry into police brutality, for arrested protestors to be released, and an expansion of democratic freedoms (via CNN).
Alongside the protest banners and artwork, one cosplayer has brought pro-Hong Kong Mei to life with a full costume. "After the whole Blizzard fiasco, there was no way I could wear this cosplay in good conscience anymore", user zephronica explained in further comments, adding she plans to "go to BlizzCon and lead a protest there". She won't be the only one, as efforts have begun to create an organised protest at Blizzard's annual fanfest event, which takes place in Anaheim CA at the beginning of next month.
Was gonna burn this cosplay, but this is a much better use of it. #MeiSupportsHongKong from r/HongKong
The decision to use Mei as a protest symbol is partly because, in Overwatch lore, she hails from Xi'an in China - while one of her best-known lines is "our world is worth fighting for". Alongside this, turning Mei into a protest symbol could potentially lead to Overwatch being banned in China. In essence, it's a way to hit Blizzard's business interests, which many consider the company's main motivation for suspending Blitzchung. And, if you want an idea of the impact of this campaign, simply check out the Google image results for "Mei" right now.
Meanwhile, some protestors seem to have already got the ball rolling over in California, as a couple of Blizzard fans pitched up outside Blizzard HQ to hold up protest signs. User the_kixx said the pair had "a lot of Blizzard employees come out and talk to [them]", and reminded users that the developers are "regular people too".
Over the past few days, we've seen employees place paper over some of the core values on Blizzard's orc statue, and reports have also emerged claiming employees are staging walkouts in protest of the decision (via The Daily Beast).
Back in the world of esports, the college Hearthstone team which held up a Hong Kong banner mid-stream in solidarity with Blitzchung has now stated it will no longer participate in matches. American University's next match had been scheduled by Tespa (the esports organisation partnered with Blizzard), but the team told The Washington Post it will forfeit all its matches, and will not take part in future tournaments.
Blizzard is yet to release an official statement on the matter, but a statement on the company's Weibo account (the main Chinese social media platform) has taken a particularly nationalistic approach to the incident.
"We express our strong indignation [or resentment] and condemnation of the events that occurred in the Hearthstone Asia Pacific competition last weekend and absolutely oppose the dissemination of personal political ideas during any events [or games]," reads the statement (translated by IGN). "The players involved will be banned, and the commentators involved will be immediately terminated from any official business. Also, we will protect [or safeguard] our national dignity [or honor]."