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Why Mei's New Overwatch Skin Has The Internet Divided

Blizzard seemed to have hit upon a fun pun, releasing a legendary Mei skin for May Melee "Overwatch" event. With "May" and "Mei" being so close to one another, it's hard not to think of the Chinese climatologist character. In honor of the first tournament of the "Overwatch" League season, the team thought to design a skin that represented the "peak of competition."

"We felt combat sports like boxing and MMA embodied the theme well and used this to begin designing the Legendary skin," the Blizzard team wrote in its announcement. 

True to Blizzard's word, the skin does smell like fighting spirit. The skin, referred to in marketing materials as "MM-Mei," clothes the arctic hero in a red boxer's robe, boxing gloves, and MMA belt. However, what really caused a commotion was her hairstyle: cornrows.

Simply put, cornrows come directly from African culture. As Ebony explains it, "they tend to be worn more so for convenience, as well as a protective style." As Mei is a canonically Chinese character, the use of this hairstyle proved to be highly controversial among fans.

When the design was shared on social media, critics were quick to blast the post with accusations of cultural appropriation. GameSpot's Jeremy Winslow argued that, with the cornrows AND martial arts theme, the skin could perpetuate the harmful stereotype of Black people as "aggressive fighters." Others simply didn't like how the skin looked, with or without the cultural appropriation. One Twitter user even suggested other hairstyles that might have "looked better" on MM-Mei. Many of Blizzard's social media followers urged the company to listen to Black people criticizing the design.

However, for as many people as there were complaining about the skin, there were also those that defended it. Some argued that cornrows aren't that uncommon among Chinese MMA fighters. A few Twitter users specifically referenced Zhang Weili, who may have inspired MM-Mei's hairstyle.

This isn't the first time Blizzard caused an uproar with design choices. Sigma's controversial "Asylum" skin stands out as another point of contention, where critics complained about the harmful stereotypes the skin implied about the mentally ill and how they receive treatment. In a now-deleted tweet (via Kotaku), an "Overwatch" designer even claimed that the skin was designed with bare feet in order to "sell the 'asylum' look."

Blizzard hasn't commented on the outrage yet, but this could be a cautionary tale for future character designs. For now, MM-Mei remains available in the store.