The Overwatch Grand Finals: The Battle of the Skins

Exploring the history behind the new D.Va and Reinhardt skins. By Lauren Bergin.

In many ways I’m not your average gamer. I’m known for approaching video games with a very analytical mindset, most likely a product of my five years of historical training at university. Beyond that, I’m not very mechanically minded; I know when a player is playing well but I have no real urge to try it out myself. In that regard, it’s safe to say I’m a pretty casual gamer. Yet, there’s one thing that certainly excites me just as much as other gaming and esports fans: cool new skins.

But even then, I’m quite picky. While my historical side loves a good recreation of period outfits like Waterloo Miss Fortune from League of Legends, my cyberpunk side loves skins like Sombra’s Los Muertos skins. So it’s safe to say when Overwatch released the two new Legendary All Stars Skins (Gaia Reinhardt and Celestial D.Va) to honour the showdown between the Atlantic and Pacific regions in the Overwatch League Grand Finals, I was ecstatic. Not only are both skins awesome to look at, they beautifully embody the folklore of the two regions that they represent. In order to show you how and get you hyped for the OWL Grand Final weekend, let’s take a journey back in time to two very different sides of the globe, both of whom were in the beginning stages of forging their identity.

Reinhardt’s skin embodies the soul of European legend. With ‘Gaia’ referring directly to the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, Reinhardt has been transformed into a wooden earthen warrior, wrapped in snake-like branches and adorned with impressive neon trees that pulse like nature herself. His hammer looks as though it was pulled from the bowels of the earth, sporting glowing crystalline detailing against a solid wood body. Concept artist Qiu Fang elaborates that he was looking for “something Celtic or something Norse” in the initial research stages for the skins, pointing to the Tree of Life and the importance of the hunt in European mythology as major influences in Gaia Reinhardt’s design.

Additionally, Reinhardt’s Germanic heritage made him the perfect candidate for a quintessentially Celtic skin, an idea that may seem odd to many at first glance. Most of us associate the Celts with the highlands of Scotland or the emerald forests of Ireland, but the truth is that Celts existed in many different places. One of the central hubs of Celtic identity was Gaul, a kingdom which lasted until 51 BC. Encompassing most of Western Europe, Germany was right at the heart of the Gaulish kingdom, making Reinhardt the most obvious choice for a Celtic inspired skin. As a historian who specialised in Celtic history for years before wandering down a more war focused path, it makes me incredibly happy to know that concept artists like Qiu Fang really do their research when designing new skins.

Fang’s research very clearly extends to D.Va as well. With her MEKA transformed into a marble and aqua paradise sporting little golden wisps of cloud on top, there’s no question that D.Va represents the heavens. She herself sports a silver bob-style haircut with aqua leggings that transition in colour and glitter before the player’s eyes. There’s no question that she is a somewhat celestial being, with neon clouds adorning her MEKA’s window and cementing her connection with the sky.

Where the Earth has become synonymous with Celtic mythology the heavens are a recurrent theme throughout Asian legends, with Fang specifically noting that he drew “influence from more Asian themes of the heavens”. With the heavens represented as Tiān in Chinese religion, in Japanese philosophy and Tengri in Mongolian philosophy, the sky and its inhabitants are at the heart of Asia’s belief systems. It therefore makes perfect sense to associate the Pacific region directly with the heavens; it’s a school of philosophy prevalent throughout the Far East.

This is especially true of South Korea (D.Va’s country of origin) as the foundational myths of the country are intrinsically connected with the sky. From 57 BC to 935 AD South Korea as we know it was the Kingdom of Silla, ruled by three major clans: the Bak, Seok and Kim. The Bak clan writings trace their clan lineage back to a pivotal moment in their history. Coming together to elect a king, the Bak leaders watched in awe as lightning struck the base of the nearby Yangsan Mountain where a snow-white horse was grazing. Rushing to the scene, they discovered that in the place where the horse had been there was a large red egg. This egg proceeded to hatch and from within its confines came a baby boy who glistened with the light of the sun and moon, making him the human embodiment of the heavens themselves. At age thirteen he was made king, subsequently inspiring the notion that all Korean kings are descended from the celestial realm. While my Asian mythology is hardly up to par, it’s very clear to me that Fang incorporated myths such as this one into the conception of Celestial D.Va.

Yet these skins have an even deeper meaning: they represent the dichotomy of the earth and the sky just as they represent the dichotomy of the Atlantic and Pacific regions. They embody the enormity of the fight for the Overwatch crown, reaching out to Atlantic and Pacific fans in a way that is harmonious with their culture. As an Atlantic fan, I can easily imagine Gaia Reinhardt piloted by Philadelphia Fusion or San Francisco Shock stomping the competition, but I can equally imagine either Shanghai Dragons or Seoul Dynasty raining rockets from the sky using Celestial D.Va. It’s the battle of the titans of earth and sky, perfectly mirroring the battle between Atlantic and Pacific. It’s safe to say that the release each of these skins both fuel the hype around the OWL Grand Finals.

Fang states that the goal behind the creation of these skins is to “represent the idea that it’s the best from either side of the world coming together in this epic clash”, and I think that he and the Blizzard team executed this task pretty damn well! So, I guess there’s only one question left to ask: who’s side are you on, earth or heaven?

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