The Overwatch Anniversary Remix (opens in new tab) event kicked off yesterday with in-game rewards including a range of fan-favorite skins. But users on Reddit and the Blizzard forums quickly noticed that at least a couple of them have been subtly altered: The "Z" that was previously on Zarya's Arctic (opens in new tab) and Siberian Front (opens in new tab) skins is no longer there.
The Z is clearly a Zarya monogram, but more recently it's gained infamy as the symbol used by Russian forces invading Ukraine. The letter doesn't actually exist in the Cyrillic alphabet, leading to speculation that it's an anglicized abbreviation of the Russian word for "West," or a phrase meaning "for victory." Either way, it's also been adopted by segments of the Russian public as a symbol of their support for the war.
In Russia, the letter Z has become a pro-war symbol of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It was first spotted on tanks and military vehicles, but now it seems to be gaining support from Russian civilians. @PhilBlackCNN has the story. pic.twitter.com/MZNMlCIJdQMarch 8, 2022
Blizzard hasn't yet commented on the removal, but it seems almost impossible that the change could have been made for any other reason. Zarya—full name Aleksandra Zaryanova—was a Russian soldier prior to joining Overwatch, and regardless of original intent, the presence of that "Z" on her uniform is incredibly inappropriate now.
Despite Blizzard's silence, there's no mistaking the change—as you can see in these before-and-after pictures shared by ProtoVI on Reddit (opens in new tab), the Z is clearly gone:
It's an unusual but not unprecedented move: Blizzard has previously modified Tracer's victory pose (opens in new tab) after fans complained the original design was oversexualized, and stopped releasing unique skins based on Overwatch League MVPs after 2019 winner Jay "Sinatraa" Won was accused of sexual assault (opens in new tab) by an ex-girlfriend.
I've reached out to Blizzard for comment on the change, and will update if I receive a reply.