In Overwatch, “Hanzo main” is a dirty word. The Japanese marksman has become a joke, an insult bandied about by hardcore players and school children alike. But people keep picking him, sometimes heedless of team composition and multiple all-caps insults. Why? I asked a whole mess of Hanzo mains to find out.
The majority of the 20 self-identified Hanzo mains I spoke with via email told me they didn’t start out as Hanzo mains at all. Some resisted the temptation of a bow hero despite being bow lovers themselves, opting to try to main more comp-friendly heroes like tanks and supports. Others regarded Hanzo with the same mix of spite and pity as much of the Overwatch-playing populace—until they tried playing him. They fell in love with the supple curve of his bow and his single, sublimely exposed nipple. For many, it comes down to the fact that Hanzo feels damn good to play.
“You can feel the bow’s weight, and I love the arrow travel time, how satisfying it is to snipe across the map,” said a player named Holly Webster. “The entire way he plays just feels so rewarding and solid to me that I think that’s why I started to main him.”
Others see Hanzo as a challenge, a character who walks a knife’s edge between frustration and satisfaction. His arrows aren’t as straightforward as Widowmaker’s sniper shots due to their arc, and his ult is easily avoided unless he’s being super sneaky with his positioning and timing. A Hanzo who isn’t a good sniper can’t make up for it by soaking up damage on his team’s frontline, meaning a bad Hanzo can be, in some ways, even more useless than a bad player of another character. Nevertheless, this challenge inspires many Hanzo mains who are looking for something new.
“I play fighting games mostly,” wrote a player named Remington Hayes, “and I have never gravitated towards top-tier characters. To me, there is no challenge in that, and without at least a little challenge, there’s no fun for me. When you hear that signature ‘dink’ of a headshot, it just feels so good. Like getting that first sip of water after being out in the hot sun all day.”
While Hanzo is challenging to play well, a couple players told me they pick Hanzo because they use Overwatch to relax. They felt that, with Hanzo, they could sit back and pick their shots. There’s an almost minigame-like challenge to drawing back the bow and aiming, but Hanzo is removed from the screen-consuming chaos of team fights and payload pushes.
Other players told me they play Hanzo out of necessity. His Sonic Arrow, which reveals players’ locations through walls, is an effective form of communication when nobody’s using voice chat. These players told me they actually play with the team in mind, even if their teammates don’t always see it that way.
Nearly every Hanzo main I spoke to said they take a lot of crap for their character of choice. Hanzo hate is a meme, after all, so people feel especially empowered to yell obscenities as soon as his extremely pointy face appears on the character select screen. One player told me they get some kind of pushback in 70 percent of matches. Another said the hate simply inevitable, even when a Hanzo player is decent.
The reason? Hanzo’s an easy scapegoat for a team’s deficiencies. “I have noticed that [people who get mad at me for picking Hanzo] blame the loss of the game on me,” a player named Cristian Salazar explained. “Despite their poor tactics and timing of ultimates.”
The unusual amount of abuse Hanzo mains get is enough to make some reconsider. “[I’ve gotten so much crap that] I rarely play him in solo-queue anymore,” a player named Neryl told me. “I actually don’t even play competitive since I think the whole awkward ‘who will comply with the meta’ dance kills the fun of the game for me.”
A lot of the Hanzo hate seems to stem from the idea that Hanzo mains refuse to switch, even when the team really needs someone in a different role. Most of the Hanzo mains I talked to disputed that, saying that they tend to switch characters when it becomes apparent that Hanzo is holding everybody else back. However, a few told me that all the vitriol brings out their stubborn sides. They stay on Hanzo because, god damn it, they’ll play how they want to play.
“The other day, this guy reamed me for picking Hanzo, even though I was leading the team in kills three minutes in,” said Hayes. “I told him that I don’t care, and that when people are being toxic, I do what I want. I never throw a match, because I have too much pride, but I will pick whoever I want despite cries of the meta or ‘die’ [from the] peanut gallery. Honestly, I keep picking him because he is fun to play, and that’s the whole point of the game: FUN.”
“I’ve been told to uninstall,” said a player named Lawrence Fells. “I’ve been told to kill myself. But I play Hanzo in spite of it for two reasons: For one, I’m not going to let someone I don’t know dictate how I play. More importantly, however, I want to win.”
For Hanzo mains, the ultimate reward is to prove everybody wrong. The sweetest victories are the ones you can rub in other people’s faces.
“The most memorable moment for me,” said a player named Ricardo Damico, “[happened when] I was having a really good play streak, and we were on the attacking team. Some guys started with the ‘change hanzo pls,’ ‘no hanjo,’ etc. I kept my mouth shut, helped my team quite a bit, sniped down a lot of enemies, and had Play Of The Game. In the end, one of the haters said I was a high-level Hanzo player using a low-level account and, thus, smurfing. If only they knew that [I] was [in] such rare form.”
Another Hanzo main, Lucina, put it more simply… and with a bit less sportsmanship.
“I find it incredibly satisfying,” they said, “to get POTG, get the most medals, [and] wait until the next game to see if [the person who yelled at me] is an opponent. Then I proceed to tea bag them after they die.”
A lot of the Hanzo mains I spoke to said they take most of the vitriol—especially the memes—in good fun. Hanzo is haters’ flavour of the month. Soon it’ll be somebody else, especially since Hanzo is probably about to get a buff. For now, the memes and insults are only a problem when they stop being jokes.
“In-jokes in a community are never a bad thing,” said Neryl. “Inevitably, though, people on the internet are going to internet it up and take it too seriously, and that’s when there’s a bit of a problem. I think anyone who is absolutely sincere in their blanket Hanzo hatred is doing more harm to the community than any Hanzo main ever could.”