Blizzard Entertainment is making adjustments to one of its Overwatch characters due to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. The Russian hero Zarya has long sported a “Z” symbol on some outfits, a direct reference to her name.
No change was officially announced by Blizzard, but players in the Overwatch subreddit noticed that after the newest patch, some of Zarya’s outfits got a minor graphical tweak that removed the letter.
Why? Short answer: The letter “Z” has become a propaganda symbol in Russia for expressing support of Russia’s “security action” to “de-Nazi-fy” Ukraine. Please picture me rolling my eyes as hard as possible here.
Blizzard obviously wouldn’t want any of its Overwatch heroes to be seen taking a side in any conflict, let alone one that’s been marked by horrible atrocities likely committed by Russian forces. The Kremlin has (insufficiently) disputed that its forces committed such crimes.
Long answer: The letter “Z” first appeared in the conflict in bright white letters painted on Russian vehicles massing near the Ukrainian border. There’s some speculation that it stands for the word “Zapad” which means “west” in Russian. The letter isn’t used in the Cyrillic alphabet.
The Russian defense ministry declared in an Instagram post that the letter refers to the phrase “Za pobedu,” which means “for victory.” It’s also been speculated that the letter was painted to reduce friendly fire and make them distinct from similar Ukrainian vehicles. The letter has been at the center of many unsettling propaganda videos and messaging from the government.
Coincidentally, this is the second time that Zarya’s had skins changed or removed because of non-game-related events. Blizzard offered refunds after a skin inspired by an Overwatch League player took on uncomfortable connotations after said player was accused of sexual assault.
Then of course there was that time Blizzard had to rename another Overwatch hero because they’d originally been named after disgraced level designer Jesse McCree.
Many live games do struggle to change content in response to real-world events, though it is interesting to note that Overwatch represents risks that come with theming characters off different internationalities or naming them off of real-life people.