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A McHanzo controversy raises questions about Overwatch fan communities

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An alleged scam over a fan project has shaken the Overwatch community

Blizzard Entertainment

Who owns McHanzo?

If you’re playing Overwatch for features like ‘pushing the payload’ and ‘landing good ultimates’, you’re probably a little lost at that question. While Overwatch has a massive fanbase of players who are playing the game for, well, the game, it has a second, maybe even a primary, fanbase of people who are into the game for the characters. These fans love the cinematics, the comics, the character design, and the story. They love Overwatch as a universe, and they sometimes joke that the game is like a tie-in to the fandom, a bonus cherry on top of their cake.

Overwatch is so broad that these fans tend to sort themselves into groups. Some people are really fond about the story of the Recall, the agents who are coming to form a new Overwatch under Winston. Other fans are more interested in the olden days, of Blackwatch and Overwatch or the Omnic Crisis. A popular basis for these subcommunities is shipping, the act of speculating on the relationships of characters. Fans gather in Discords, pen epic fanfictions, draw art, gossip, and just have fun as they talk about which characters would work best together. (Or, hell, which ones would go out in a fiery blaze. That can be fun, too.)

Yes. Even these two. Especially these two.
Blizzard Entertainment

McHanzo, the union of McCree and Hanzo, is one of Overwatch’s most popular ships. The characters do not talk in game, beyond two interactions: McCree is impressed if he sees Hanzo snipe a guy (“Pretty handy with that bow.”), and they disagree on liqour. That’s it. Despite that, the two cinematic tropes of the cowboy and the samurai go together like chocolate and peanut butter, and fans have built elaborate alternative universes where McCree and Hanzo wed, bed, or otherwise date each other. Sometimes it’s in the Overwatch universe, or something closely resembling it. Sometimes they date in coffee shops or college.

The community has created a ton of amazing stuff, and one popular way to collect and distribute these fanworks is through the ‘zine. Zines have become very popular in fandoms lately, and can be downloaded digitally or purchased through a shop. Recent popular Overwatch zines have included a Blackwatch zine and a Genyatta zine, and these projects have had awesome positive impact on the community. Whether its showcasing an artists work, raising money for charity, or just bringing fans together, it’s extremely cool to see these projects in the Overwatch fandom.

Unfortunately, writing and collaborating with other fans doesn’t always go well. Recently, a very elaborate Tumblr post alleged that a zine organizer (and prominent McHanzo community organizer and administrator) had made off with funds meant for charity and zine production. The situation is still developing, but one question was threaded throughout the entire piece.

If a ship has leaders, administrators, and influencers... who really owns the ship?

Is Widowmaker/McCree a ship? Probably, yeah.
Blizzard Entertainment

The first answer is obvious: Blizzard Entertainment owns the rights to all of these characters. They legally own the copyright to Hanzo, McCree, and any other combination of Overwatch characters you wanna see smooch.

It’s more complicated than that, of course. While Jeff Kaplan was discussing Moira and Gabriel Reyes, aka Reaper, at BlizzCon, he felt the need to emphasize that their relationship was platonic. Purely professional. At another point, he joked about McHanzo, encouraging folks to “look it up”. Matt Mercer, the voice of McCree, has talked about McHanzo. The Internet zeitgeist has claimed these characters, and Blizzard has been happy to roll with fandom enthusiasm before. The entire situation has been very wink wink, nudge nudge. No, they haven’t confirmed that McHanzo is canon, but they know about the fanfiction, and it’s a running joke. The dynamic is lighthearted. Blizzard has accepted that the memetic mutation of the characters is outside of their control.

So, does the fandom own McHanzo? Does McHanzo belong to all of us? What happens when fans congregate in Discords or start projects? When leaders emerge, and hundreds of shippers follow their rules and congregate in their spaces, how does that change the community?

Fans should stand shoulder to shoulder.
Blizzard Entertainment

Here we come to three inescapable truths about these fan communities that form in the shadow of a game like Overwatch:

  • As people discover sandboxes within the canon of the game (What if McCree and Hanzo made kisses? What if Mercy and Moira have a long, tortured history together? What were the early days of Blackwatch like?)
  • As these pockets of community grow, power players emerge. Back before the Internet was in its current, 2017 state, they physically wrote and distributed zines through the mail or organized in-person fan meet ups. Now, they run Discords and build storefronts.

As different communities form, they have different ideas. Sometimes, they compete. In the Harry Potter days, it was hotly contested whether Harry should end up with Hermione or Ginny. In Overwatch, fans clash on whether McReyes is an ethical ship, or which Shimada brother an eligible bachelorette might click with. As communities argue, power players vanish or allegedly embezzle funds, and other catastrophes hit, the third truth becomes clear:

  • These communities are resilient, built off passion. The core concept of two beautiful DPS heroes in Overwatch smooching each other in-between rugged adventures will survive.

The fallout of the McHanzo zine allegations are truly unfortunate, and when there are long established communities on the line, it seems as though it could be the end of these little pockets of fandom. But just like one rugged archer and one equally rugged cowboy, the spirit of community may be able to survive just about anything.