When Overwatch first launched, Hanzo was not the most popular nor noticed character. Tracer and Widowmaker were the real stars of the game thanks to their dynamic during the announcement cinematic. Fans puzzled over Reaper’s identity or wondered if Pharah’s parents would ever be revealed.
Hanzo is, in many ways, an outcast of the Overwatch crew. In the game’s lore, he wanders the globe seeking redemption after murdering his brother Genji. In the game’s meta, Hanzo players are often considered malicious trolls or glory seeking players who refuse to sacrifice for the team.
Hanzo’s reputation just got more complicated, with a Brazilian fan founding the Hanzo National Church. The Church isn’t a legitimate effort to worship Hanzo, but rather an example of how easy it is for a Brazilian to found a state-recognized church that receives the benefits of a religious institution. Mateus Mognon collected a physical address for his “place of worship”, five signatures, a lawyer’s signature, and paid the appropriate fees. Before long, he was ready to roll out the official church. The religion is admittedly quite attractive; you can take Tuesdays off to play Overwatch, you’re encouraged to eat the finest of gamer grub, and flaming Hanzo mains is strictly prohibited.
This isn’t the first time the archer has escaped the game of Overwatch and found himself in the real world. In 2016, the Cards Against Humanity-funded Super PAC The Nuisance Committee launched a series of billboards starring Hanzo. Well, almost. The billboards showed then-Republican nominee Donald Trump wearing Hanzo’s garb, or screaming at a computer while the billboard’s chest chides him for complaining about team comp.
Mognon chose to honor Hanzo because he resembles Jesus, but the story has gone viral. Some fans are eagerly throwing themselves upon the altar, ready to worship, and other fans think that the whole business seems entirely typical of a Hanzo main.
There are, at this point, essentially two interpretations of Hanzo that Overwatch players can subscribe to. First, there’s Hanzo as Overwatch offers him: a defense hero proficient at holding down choke points and providing tactical vision, but not as good as eliminating single targets as a skilled Widowmaker.
Second, there’s the memetic Hanzo. This is the Hanzo who is so indicative of selfish behavior that he is used as a political weapon. This version of Hanzo has been spread far and wide, to the point where we all agree that its a universal experience. We’ve all met a Hanzo who instantly locks in and loudly complains that there’s not enough healing on the team, and that makes the Memetic Hanzo all the more seductive. After all, if I’ve met a terrible Hanzo, and you’ve met a terrible Hanzo, it sure does seem like there are a lot of terrible Hanzos out there!
Somehow, the toxic Mercys and Zaryas we encounter register as one terrible individual, while the Hanzos are added to the never ending mental register of terrible Hanzos.
The Memetic Hanzo has spread far and wide since Overwatch’s release. In August 2016, Kotaku released a profile on the lowest ranked player in the game’s competitive mode. Dale “Bacontotem” Brown had tanked his ranked rating, at the time measured between a scale of 1-100, to less than 1. Other players would scream and spit at him, and he would blithely shrug off the criticism with “i hanjo”.
Overwatch fans loved Hanjo, partially because he confirmed everything they believed about Hanzo mains. The Kotaku piece touched on several poignant points: the emotional self-destruction you see in low level ranked, what constitutes trolling, and the ethics of intentionally tanking a game. Despite all of this, the main takeaway remained “i hanjo”.
It’s worth noting that the Nuisance Committee commissioned art of Trump as many different Overwatch characters, including Reaper, Bastion, and Junkrat. Despite this, the Hanzo piece was spread far and wide.
Other Overwatch heroes have broken into the real world as well, but with a far more positive bent. In South Korea, the National D.Va Association wield Hana Song’s rabbit logo as a symbol of empowerment. D.Va, in the world of Overwatch, is an outspoken and audacious woman who manages the dual career of a pro gamer and MEKA pilot. In-game, she’s a defensive tank who’s capable of clearing a point. Out of game, she’s an inspiration and represents a world that could be possible in the future.
In a world where Hanzo is now quite literally a religion, is it any wonder that we continually find ourselves returning to him as a source of inspiration? Perhaps this is Hanzo’s true legacy: becoming the ultimate shorthand for a specific kind of Overwatch player. Either way, the reception to him has probably been much weirder than Blizzard ever could have anticipated.