Overwatch League’s Soe Gschwind Penski
Image: Blizzard

If you tuned into the Overwatch League’s Friday games, you probably saw dozens of esports fans decked out in rainbow garb or flashing LGBTQ-themed signs as soon as the camera turned their way. It was Pride Day for the Overwatch League—a day that Overwatch publisher Blizzard put on for fans to “come together for diversity and inclusion,” they said in their announcement.

But Korean fans who tuned in saw something a little different: a business-as-usual Overwatch League broadcast with no pomp or circumstance.

According to two Overwatch League insiders with knowledge of the broadcast, leading up to last year’s Pride event, American and Korean Overwatch League broadcast professionals discussed how the celebration would come off to audiences in Asia. For “cultural reasons,” said a source, Blizzard’s Korean team and regional broadcast partners made the decision to minimally broadcast expressions of Pride Day at Blizzard Arena last year. It’s possible these reasons are related to South Korea’s conservatism on LGBTQ rights. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, nearly 60 percent of the country is against same-sex marriage, which is not legal there. (In the U.S., only about 33 percent of people disapprove.)

This year’s Korean and American broadcasts were different as well, with the American one celebrating Pride and the Korean one strangely, well, not. Fans’ signs weren’t prominent, and according to two people who know Korean, there was little or no mention of Pride Day on the Korean broadcast. Korea’s Pride Day broadcast did not appear significantly different from normal, but the hype and expressive Pride Day celebrations in Blizzard Arena do seem to be played down, something two sources say was, at least last year, intentional. Blizzard did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment.

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The Paris Eternal going on stage last Friday.
GIF: Overwatch League

“We didn’t shoot the arena any differently than we would on any other day...We didn’t go out of our way to avoid signs, fans, atmosphere,” the second insider explained of the American broadcast. “Our Korean partners were aware of the event that [was hosted] in the arena and were allowed to make whatever decision they felt was appropriate for their broadcast based on that info.” The insider added that “We gave the regional leads and their broadcast partners the autonomy to present their portion of the program as they felt best.” The broadcast out of California is the master broadcast, and most of what is added to or deviates from it is done in local markets. For example, each team has different casters, graphics, and desk segments.

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Last year was the League’s first Pride event. “We’re excited to get into the spirit of diversity and inclusion throughout the day,” read Blizzard’s event description. In the Blizzard Arena, fans expressing support for queer individuals carried signs reading “Gays into the iris,” “Bi Pride,” “Play of the Gay” and “Hi gay, I’m Dad.” In the foreground, casters like Chris Puckett wore rainbow wristbands. This year, the Pride Day broadcast was even more direct in its celebration. On the livestream, Puckett says, “Today is Pride Day and we are celebrating the mutual support between the Overwatch League and the LGBTQ community here at the Blizzard Arena...The Overwatch League prides itself on welcoming fans from all walks of life regardless of background or lifestyle. Today, we want take a moment to acknowledge some of the biggest fans in the LGBTQ community.”

On Blizzard’s merchandise site, the company sold Pride pins to benefit the Trevor Fund, a suicide prevention organization for young, queer people.

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Overwatch League also celebrated one dedicated queer fan in a video. Of Blizzard, he says, “It’s great they’re upfront. Ther’s a lot of queer space in this game. I think it’s great that the Overwatch League, as a new organization, is being part of the vanguard celebrating Pride so openly. Traditional sports are not as forward with their Pride events as the Overwatch League. I think that makes Overwatch League stand out.”

Although it makes sense for Blizzard to cater to what they believe their audience’s tastes are, one insider says that if Blizzard wants to be a force for change, they might have to make bolder decisions. Overwatch’s most prominent character, Tracer, canonically dates a woman. Yet in 2019, as game companies finally begin to better represent the people who play their games, it can be hard to tell whether these moves are fueled by market analyses or genuine enthusiasm for fans’ multivaried backgrounds.

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Said the insider, “I think the message of Pride is, ‘Hey, you are not alone. Nothing is wrong with you. You are welcome here.’ It is for all those people who are told otherwise. People who doubt their own feelings and thoughts. To say it to only America or EU doesn’t help that kid in Korea or China. A leader stands up. Either Blizzard is leader on this subject or it is cheap marketing.”