To celebrate the upcoming May Melee Overwatch League tournament, developer Blizzard has dropped a new legendary Mei skin that gives the Overwatch hero an MMA-inspired look. But the change hasn’t been well-received, as the community is torn between loving and hating Mei’s cornrows, with a segment of players citing this as yet another form of cultural appropriation from a big-name studio.
The skin, which is called MM-Mei, sees the Chinese character don a boxer’s robe, “Frost”-emblazoned gloves, and even an MMA-inspired belt. The point of contention, however, is Mei’s hairstyle. In the legendary skin, Mei is wearing cornrows, a type of braided hairdo typically associated with the Black community, often used to tame knots and foster growth.
Players took to Twitter to respond to the skin. Some have demanded the Overwatch team “listen to the black people complaining that you gave her a black hairstyle,” arguing that the skin is shortsighted. Others cited the myriad ways Blizzard could’ve styled Mei’s hair while still evoking an MMA-inspired look, including a buzzcut, twin braids, and various kinds of ponytails.
Still, there are some members in the community who don’t agree with the culture appropriation criticism. One in particular shared a screenshot of Chinese MMA fighter Zhang Weili, who is often seen sporting braids of various styles in the ring, as “a real-life example” of someone of Asian descent wearing cornrows to refute the complaint.
This hand-waving ignores the appropriation happening here. The choice to give Mei a Black-worn hairstyle is odd, especially given the relatively disproportionate representation of Black characters, particularly female ones. The game’s first Black female character, Sojourn, has been announced, but won’t debut until Overwatch 2 drops.
To add insult to injury, Blizzard said the skin was “inspired by the intensity and distinctive fashion of mixed martial arts.” It’s no secret that professional fighters with various hair lengths manipulate their hair to keep it from obstructing their vision. But to label this skin with cornrows as a way to capture the “intensity and distinctive fashion of mixed martial arts” carries negative connotations. The idea could lead people to create excuses for stereotyping Black people as aggressive “fighters” simply based on their hairstyle. This compartmentalizes the Black experience and traps the community in a cycle of harmful cliches.
Stranger still is Mei’s hair length, which doesn’t appear long enough to braid in the style it’s done for the skin. As Twitter user oheysteenz pointed out, Mei would need a weave to achieve this hairstyle. Weaves are set in to not only add some extra length but also to protect the hair and scalp from whatever tension braids might produce. But since Mei’s hair is of a straight texture, rather than coiled and isn’t long enough to braid like that, this skin feels less sincere and more like a thoughtless example of co-opting another culture’s style.
We’ve contacted Blizzard for a statement regarding the skin’s controversy and will update this post when we hear back.
The legendary MM-Mei skin is now on sale until May 11. The May Melee, which will see the top two teams from the West and the East duke it out for the title of tournament winner, runs from May 6-8.
GameSpot may get a commission from retail offers.