Mercy’s latest Lunar New Year skin leaves Overwatch 2’s Asian heroes out to dry

The skin is pretty, but the context isn't.
Lifeweaver aims his gold gauntlet with his pink Thorn Volley projectiles sticking out from the wrist.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Overwatch 2’s Lunar New Year event is a fan-favorite, with the history of the event spanning well back to the original title. Yet, while some Asian heroes shine with their Lunar New Year cosmetics, others are left behind in favor of more popular characters.

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This year, Overwatch fans have been left disappointed with one skin in particular, which they believe highlights the diversity Blizzard attempts to promote being overshadowed by the game’s newer monetization principles. Longtime fan-favorite support hero Mercy will get a new skin this year inspired by a kinnari, a creature from Buddhist mythology. The Lunar New Year skin has connections to Thailand, which makes sense considering a push in many mainstream titles to have more Southeast Asian representation.

Mercy looks at the camera in her new skin for the 2023 Lunar New Year event in Overwatch 2.
Mercy’s skin for the Overwatch 2 Lunar New Year event. Screenshot by Dot Esports

While the design of the skin is garnering a positive reception, it’s the underlying absence of other Asian heroes getting Lunar New Year representation that hits hard for fans. Mercy has a significant number of skins that have not only been promoted for Lunar New Year events specifically, but also have Asian cultural influences even outside of the event.

The problem? Mercy is a white woman. From Switzerland. Overwatch 2’s Thai hero, Lifeweaver, isn’t even getting a Lunar New Year skin.

Though the skin was inspired by Buddhist and Thai mythology, it doesn’t actually represent those cultures on a Thai hero. While this may not seem like a huge issue, considering heroes of all backgrounds have worn various cultural skins in the past with little fuss, one of Overwatch 2’s newest heroes is Thai.

Lifeweaver was just recently released in April 2023, meaning this will be his first time appearing for a Lunar New Year event. Yet, he isn’t getting a skin. And the skin that celebrates Thai culture is being given to a white character.

Players across Overwatch 2 and other games like Apex Legends, VALORANT, and League of Legends have been calling for more representation of Southeast Asian culture in an industry that continues to focus on East Asian heritage. It stings that once Southeast Asian players finally got a hero they can resonate with, the kinnari skin just goes to the white woman instead.

A member of the Overwatch 2 development team confirmed on Dec. 4 the Kinnari skin in question had actually been in development long before Lifeweaver was in production, ruling out a conscious choice to give Mercy the skin over Lifeweaver. You can also argue the design of kinnari fits perfectly with Mercy’s design, with her wings leading to a flawless execution of the concept. And the skin looks good, we will admit. It just feels wrong in principle that a white character has so many more Lunar New Year skins than many actual Asian heroes.

Also, just for the record, the male version of a kinnari is called a kinnara, and Lifeweaver would look pretty damn cool in a version of this outfit.

But, aside from the lack of representation given to actual Asian heroes in Overwatch 2, there is a clear underlying issue here with just how many promotional skins Mercy gets in the first place.

The truth is, despite Overwatch 2’s relatively diverse cast of heroes that includes characters from around the world, Blizzard is still funneling resources into producing cosmetics for a white character over others whose heritage the Lunar New Year event is meant to celebrate. It is well known Mercy remains the queen of Overwatch in more ways than one, reigning as one of the game’s most popular heroes regardless of her gameplay.

How many people who fawn over Mercy’s endless epic skins play her? Or know the right timing to toggle between healing and damage boost? Or even appreciate how difficult she is to master in the first place? The truth is, a large portion of the Overwatch 2 fan base still sees Mercy mains as a joke, so we know the obsession with her skins doesn’t come from her value in the game.

Mercy’s status as an Overwatch icon means Blizzard can rely on her to get revenue consistently, and this time it’s at the expense of other Asian heroes. In the new monetization system for Overwatch 2 that focuses on a free-to-play structure with paid cosmetics, of course, Blizzard would continue to release skins they know will garner profitability time and again.

It’s not that Mercy can’t have Lunar New Year skins. Other non-Asian heroes like Tracer also have them. Every now and again, having a skin like this for an event is fine. But why is this Swiss character getting more East and Southeast Asian-inspired skins than the likes of Kiriko, Lifeweaver, and even Mei?

It’s clear that, regardless of Overwatch 2’s commitment to diversity, Blizzard will ignore cultural significance to continue to churn out Mercy skins again and again.

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Author
Nadine Manske
Nadine is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She covers VALORANT and Overwatch with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region and marginalized genders in esports. Before joining Dot Esports as a freelance writer, she interned at Gen.G Esports and the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her favorite Pokémon is Quagsire.