Overwatch League confirms a crackdown on Pepe memes among players and fans

Jay "Sinatraa" Won of the Overwatch League's San Francisco Shock posted a tweet a couple of days ago marking his 18th birthday. But shortly thereafter, it disappeared without explanation. Confusing matters even further, Won implied in a followup tweet that he'd been compelled to take it down. 

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According to esports consultant Rod Breslau, the tweet was taken down at the request of Blizzard, who asked the Shock to remove the tweet because of the presence of a Pepe image. Pepe is a cartoon frog who first appeared in Matt Furie's Boy's Club in 2005; over the years it's evolved into a popular internet meme, but has more recently been adopted by the alt-right and Nazi sympathizers.   

Breslau said he understood that Blizzard is attempting to crack down on the use of the image in the Overwatch League because it is "potentially offensive." And not just among players: As Kotaku noted in January, two Dallas Fuel fans were compelled to surrender a Pepe sign they'd brought to the OWL Season One debut.

An Overwatch League spokesperson confirmed with Dot Esports that this is in fact what's happening. "The Overwatch League discourages the use of symbols and imagery which are associated with or used by hate groups, including Pepe the Frog," the rep said. "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."

The challenge facing the Overwatch League and its players is that it's difficult to codify what exactly is and is not "inappropriate" in an age and environment of online anger and memes. Pepe is inextricably linked with the alt-right, but is a guy who literally just turned 18 going to be fully aware of that fact and its ramifications? We saw something very similar in the case of Dallas Fuel player Félix "xQc" Lengyel, who was suspended and released for using a "racially disparaging" emote, even though he insisted, believably, that he had no idea it was racist in the first place.

Blizzard shared a summary of the Overwatch League Code of Conduct last month, but it's vague: Players are required to "observe the highest standards of personal integrity and good sportsmanship," which could be a pretty big ask of teenagers trying to build their brands in the midst of a raucous online milieu is left open-ended. It also grants Blizzard "broad discretion" to deal with problems.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.