Last weekend was the Overwatch League’s LGBTQ+ Pride event, but if you were a spectator in South Korea, you probably didn’t notice. Blizzard Entertainment’s Korean team intentionally downplayed the event for “cultural reasons,” according to a source cited by a Kotaku report earlier today.
Overwatch (and its League) has received praise for its progressive approach to LGBTQ+ issues. One of its heroes, Tracer, is canonically queer; nonbinary individuals have spoken out about their ability to identify with the genderless robot character Bastion. But last weekend’s Korean stream told a very different story, with producers seemingly cutting out shots containing fans’ Pride signs and instructing casters to avoid mentioning the Pride event.
It’s possible that the reduced focus on Pride in the Korean broadcast was the result of South Korea’s relatively conservative cultural mindset surrounding LGBTQ+ identities. Last year, over a thousand anti-gay protesters staged a counterprotest at the first-ever gay pride parade in the port city of Incheon; a 2017 poll by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea found that almost 93 percent of LGBTQ+ people in Korea were worried about being targeted in hate crimes. Meanwhile, the Korean market contributes a significant amount of viewership to the Overwatch League, and Blizzard may have hoped to avoid alienating Korean spectators and players with a mention of the Pride event.
To LGBTQ+ fans of Overwatch, the forward-thinking characters and welcoming values pushed by Blizzard may ring hollow with the knowledge that the company allowed its Korean producers to erase the gay pride symbols embedded into last weekend’s broadcast.
Overwatch might be the high-water mark for LGBTQ+ involvement in esports, but the scene still has a long way to go, both in the United States and abroad.