Some Overwatch fans might argue that the first-person shooter's darling isn't any of its heroes. It may be an onion-headed cephalopod that, initially, was nothing more than an innocuous background object. In the year and a half since Overwatch's release, Pachimari's fandom has outshone some of the games' actual heroes'.
In Overwatch's early days, Pachimari was just a stuffed toy in a claw machine on the Hanamura map. Its head is a white onion. Its body is a green octopus. Its mouth is open in a gleeful, pink cat smile. Its eyes are black beads. It has dimples. It's so cute that it should be illegal. If players broke the Hanamura claw machine glass, Pachimari toys would spill out with happy squeaks.
Fans have theorised that it's a steamed bun, a radish or a baby squid. Blizzard maintains that Pachimari has lore, but they're waiting to share it.
Overwatch assistant art director Arnold Tsang told me that Pachimari came out of the simple need for toys in Hanamura's UFO catchers. Its design, originally drafted by Overwatch concept artist David Kang, was inspired by Koreans' word for "onion," which sounds like "pa." "I don't think we ever intended it to be as big or as popular as it is now," Tsang said.
The moment I saw Pachimari, I fell in love.
Its frozen look of excitement tickled me. Its plucky little tentacles and perfect whipped cream top elicited coos and squees. It's got just enough character to charm any level-headed gamer, but it's an unassuming kind of charm that doesn't beg for attention. As an environmental object not a character in its own right, it's easy to visualise Pachimari anywhere, including, well, everywhere. After encountering it a few times in-game, I scoured the internet for Pachimari merchandise for my home, office or clothing. But it didn't exist - or wasn't easy to find - in the weeks or even months following Overwatch's release.
To fill a growing need, craftier fans got to work. On Etsy and RedBubble, toy-makers and artists started peddling Pachimari t-shirts, planters, enamel pins and embroidery. Some Pachimari were themed as characters like Reaper or Dva. Others took the original design wholesale. Right now on Etsy, there are more entries for Pachimari than for the heroes Torbjorn and Doomfist. Pachimari's popularity among fans has ballooned.
I was not immune. At New York Comicon, I shoveled over $US40 ($53) for the first Pachimari plush I saw: A large, somewhat misshapen one with a squeaker on top. On Etsy, I purchased a pink, shimmering Pachimari patch for my backpack. On Redbubble, I found a t-shirt that depicted Pachimari stewing in a bowl of ramen and gifted it to my boyfriend, who accused me of buying myself a portable Pachimari poster.
Overwatch didn't sit on fans' enthusiastic response to Pachimari. Overwatch's "Moment in Crime" short depicts the robbers Roadhog and Junkrat making off with a load of Pachimari from a Hanamura arcade:
April, 2016's animated short featured a girl wearing an adorable Pachimari sweater:
A dozen player icons followed. At first, it was just Halloween's Ghostymari and Vampachimari. Christmas brought Pachimerry, Gingermari and Pachireindeer icons. Along with the Lunar New Years event came Fuchimari, Lunamari and Pachilantern icons. "Once we started doing the Pachimari player icons for the seasonal events, we started to realise how versatile it was and since then it's become a staple of the Overwatch universe," Tsang said. Blizzard added a Pachimari plush to a table on three other maps' spawn rooms.
Finally, in time for last year's Blizzcon but six months post-release, Blizzard released an official Pachimari plush (a copy of which sits on my desk). A year later, Overwatch's latest map, Junkertown, features King Pachimari resting atop a cartload of golden coins. Pachimari has accepted his spot on the throne of Overwatch fandom with Blizzard's official blessing.
And yet, despite Blizzard's official Pachimari push, basically everybody I know who plays a ton of Overwatch owns fan-made Pachimari merch. My buddy Dave and I wore matching Pachimummy sweaters on Halloween, which his wife fabric-painted for us. An Overwatch household I visited last week showcased a felted Pachimari on a bookshelf. I've encountered patches, pins, Twitter icons, illustrations and sculptures. At cons, Pachimari fever is at its pitch.
There's just no way Blizzard could meet fans' need with one IRL shrine to the cat-faced onionpus, despite the not totally kosher legal status of sellers' merch. (In the months since Pachimari's popularity exploded, I've noticed fewer entries for it on merch sites like Redbubble.)
Pachimari has become an industry. Pachimari has become a symbol of Overwatch fans' relationship to Blizzard: Blizzard made Pachimari, but fans made it big.