Pepe, the cartoon frog originally created by Matt Furie, may be the Overwatch League’s most controversial ban yet. A spokesperson for the Overwatch League has confirmed that the teams participating in the League are discouraged from using Pepe the Frog in promotional or social materials.
Pepe the Frog was originally part of a comic by Matt Furie, Boy’s Club, centered around the lives of anthropomorphic teenage animals. Over the years, Pepe has lost his original association and is now associated with online hate groups. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, American based civil rights groups, have classified Pepe the Frog as a hate symbol after he was frequently used by alt-right and white supremacist groups.
Rod “Slasher” Breslau originally reported on the Overwatch League cracking down on the use of Pepe memes after the San Francisco Shock player Jay “Sinatraa” Won posted one to celebrate his birthday.
From what I understand, Blizzard reached out to SF Shock management to ask that sinatra take down his birthday tweet because it had a pepe in it, which Blizzard is trying to crackdown on in regards to being potentially offensive. https://t.co/euVQW3sbHn— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) March 18, 2018
That policy has since been confirmed by Blizzard, with an Overwatch League spokesperson releasing a statement to Dot Esports. “The Overwatch League discourages the use of symbols and imagery which are associated with or used by hate groups, including Pepe the Frog. At Blizzard Arena, it’s our policy that fans comply with this policy. We likewise ask the same of Overwatch League teams and players on their social-media accounts.”
This is not the Overwatch League’s first attempt to police controversial online culture. In January, Compete reported that a Pepe sign had been confiscated from fans at the Blizzard Arena.
The Overwatch League has been criticized for a lack of transparency in moderating player conduct, especially after a recent punishment wave hit four Overwatch League players and led to Félix “xQc” Lengyel parting ways with the Dallas Fuel. Meanwhile, defenders of Pepe argue that a hateful minority has co-opted an otherwise innocent symbol.
Heroes Never Die has reached out to Blizzard for comment and will update as this story develops.