McCree (the designer, not the character) was terminated alongside Diablo 4 director Luis Barriga and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft on August 11. Of the three employees, his name had begun to carry negative weight in the public after he was spotted in photos of a text chain discussing the now-infamous Cosby Suite.
In case that uncomfortable proper noun caught you by surprise, the Cosby Suite was a nickname for a hotel room at Blizzcon frequented by high-level employees. It’s been named in the State of California’s lawsuit against Activision Blizzard as being a hotel suite where former World of Warcraft lead designer Alex Afrasiabi allegedly harassed women.
Incidentally, Afrasiabi also saw his surname leant to a non-playable character for World of Warcraft. The team behind that game has also said it is working to remove “inappropriate content” from the game.
Sourness around the character McCree’s name began to circulate even before the level designer’s termination. Broadcasters commentating on professional Overwatch league matches would refuse to say his name, simply referring to him as “the Cowboy.”
In the Overwatch team’s announcement, the game’s developers said that implementing the change will take some time, and has caused a delay to an upcoming in-game event the character was set to take part in. The team also said it would be rewriting policies about naming characters based on real-life people.
“Going forward, in-game characters will no longer be named after real employees and we will be more thoughtful and discerning about adding real world references in future Overwatch content,” the team wrote.
“This will help reinforce that we’re building a fictional universe that is unmistakably different from the real world and better illustrates that the creation of Overwatch is truly a team effort.”
Renaming McCree won’t just be about changing in-game and website copy. Both the voice actor behind McCree (Matthew Mercer), and most of Overwatch’s other characters have recorded lines of dialogue referring to the hero by name.
That’s before you consider the number of promotional cinematics and print comics Blizzard Entertainment has released over the last few years. Those likely cannot be changed.
Fans of Overwatch have pointed out that Blizzard’s narrative team may have already have an in-universe motivation for changing McCree’s name. The character Sombra has a voice line questioning McCree’s real name. Having McCree’s “true identity” be revealed (or for him to adopt a new codename) would allow the tarnished moniker to be transitioned out of the game.
It’s worth noting that Blizzard is not the only game company that’s named in-game characters after its employees. If you take a spin through the Titanfall 2 single-player campaign for instance, you’ll find a number of non-playable characters named after the game’s developers. It’s worth wondering if other companies will consider updating their naming policies after this news.