On Jan. 21, millions around the world took part in a peaceful protest for women’s rights. Among the groups participating in the international Women’s March events was one that caught Overwatch fans by surprise: the National D.Va Association, which came to worldwide attention after a flag sporting the titular hero’s logo was photographed at the Women’s March in Seoul, South Korea.
It turns out that the National D.Va Assocation is a group of huge Overwatch fans with a feminist bent. Based in South Korea, the organization is meant to galvanize female-identifying and genderqueer gamers who could use some self-empowerment.
“For D.Va (National D.Va Association) first started off as a feminist gamer group, gathered to voice our opinions about (currently ex-)President Park Geun Hye,” a member of the group known as Nine told Polygon. “After the President’s resignation, we decided not to disperse, but to keep fighting for gender equality.”
President Park was impeached in December, following accusations of conspiracy that shook South Korean men and women alike. Despite being the country’s first female president, she was largely unpopular with women’s rights advocates.
These and other local struggles to support gender equality inspired members like Nine to take action. The group’s primary method of discourse is through Twitter and Tumblr, where the D.Va Association has built up quite a following.
The choice to make D.Va its mascot certainly helped bring the group visibility, and it was an intentional, thoughtful one. In Overwatch, Hana “D.Va” Song is a South Korean woman who’s big on competitive StarCraft, another Blizzard Entertainment game that’s popular with locals.
There’s another reason that D.Va was chosen to front this group of women who game, Nine explained.
“The reason [D.Va] became our mascot is because we thought that in a sexist country like ours, it would be impossible for a person like her to appear, especially after the case of Geguri,” Nine told us.
Geguri, a teenage professional Overwatch player, made international headlines last year when Blizzard Korea cleared her of cheating accusations. The top-ranked competitor came under fire due to her 80 percent win rate, which many of her opponents refused to believe a teenage girl was capable of without illegal help.
“[She] was accused of using hacks just because ‘it was impossible for women to play games that well,’ which was, of course, false,” Nine explained. “So we decided to act for feminism under her emblem, so that in 2060, someone like D.Va could actually appear.”
The importance of that is not lost on the National D.Va Association’s followers, both domestic and international. South Korean women who play games professionally and for fun have faced challenges from those who take issue with their feminist ideals, not unlike Western women. (It’s probably no coincidence that the National D.Va Association’s lead organizers are anonymous or pseudonymous.)
A Tumblr post written after images of the group’s flag went viral explains just why the National D.Va Association is so meaningful for both members and supporters.
“[The group is] fighting to make the country a better place for Hana to be born in,” wrote Tumblr user nisat, who described the difficult conditions for South Korean women in the country’s pro gaming leagues. “A country with a gaming culture that doesn’t discourage women from playing games, where women can compete equally with men, where women can actually be at the top of the ranks without being stigmatized and disregarded. They’re actually fighting to make D.Va possible.”
Other than posting on Twitter (entirely in Korean), the group distributes stickers with D.Va’s familiar bunny-faced logo to make itself known. The National D.Va Association also runs a “feminist’s book club,” which meets bimonthly.
Nine also told us the group has other ideas of actionable ways to promote feminism in South Korea, using Overwatch as a tool.
“We are planning a Women-only (Genderqueer not excluded) Overwatch competition,” Nine said. “We are also coming up with ideas such as a feminist goods store, but that is still just an idea.”
Ultimately, the National D.Va Association exists with one primary goal: to fight for gender equality. That’s the kind of world that a hero like D.Va — and all of her fans, especially young women — deserves, after all.
Correction: The name of the top-ranked teenage Overwatch player who came under fire last year is spelled Geguri. We’ve corrected the spelling above.
Update: In June 2017, the D.Va Association revamped its mission statement to excise mention of Geguri, who spoke out against her connection to the group’s cause. Out of respect for her wish for privacy, the group dropped the player’s name from its marketing and social media posts.
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