featured image by Yuumei_Art
Blizzard, the game developer behind games like Overwatch and Hearthstone, has been under fire for its recent slew of controversial decisions over the past few weeks.
Their actions have spurred a whole movement. People all over the internet and even in real life have taken a stand against the company with #BoycottBlizzard.
What Started All Of This?
The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong is at the core of this controversy. The Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung, also known as Blitzchung, was banned from competing in gaming tournaments and lost $10,000 in winnings – all because of him making a pro-Hong Kong statement in an interview. The interview newscasters ended up on the chopping block as well.
Breaking: Effective immediately, Blizzard has removed Hong Kong Hearthstone player blitzchung from Hearthstone Grand Masters, rescinded all his prize money, and have suspended him from pro play for one year for his recent interview.
— high class leakboy Slasher (@Slasher) October 8, 2019
The backlash from this move was heavy. Although Blizzard did eventually reverse the decision, the damage had already been done. According to their statement, competitors can’t engage in anything that would bring them into public disputes or damages Blizzard’s image. However, many see their initial decision as the company’s way of prioritizing money and Chinese interest over the livelihoods of millions of people.
Why Did Blizzard Take Action In The First Place
Blizzard denied that their relationship with China was the reason for the decisions concerning Blitzchung. They noted that any political comment would have gotten the same response. Whether that’s true is hard to say. However, many fans disagreed saying that the Chinese market most likely had a huge influence. It’s not a hard scenario to imagine as the Diablo Immortal title is soon set to release. The game is largely developed by NetEase, a Chinese technology company. Getting on China’s bad side could spell trouble for Blizzard’s sales or even worse.
the capitalization of "Every Voice Matters" in a statement about how you will not allow anyone to speak is truly something
— Jason Koebler (@jason_koebler) October 12, 2019
Remember that while Blizzard is an American company, it’s partially owned by Tencent – a Chinese company that also is one of the largest tech companies in the world.
A Symbol Of Resistance Rises
Almost immediately after the controversy, people took to platforms like Twitter and began posting pro-Hong Kong sentiments with pictures of Mei-Ling Zhou. Mei is a Chinese character from Overwatch, and many hoped that by associating her with the protest it would lead to the game being banned in China. That might seem like a stretch, but Winnie the Pooh is currently banned because of memes (yes really) comparing the bear to President Xi Jinping.
No One Seems Happy With All This
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.
Both the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6Q
— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
Some Blizzard workers have found this whole debacle to be disappointing. Employees staged a walkout, evolved imagery used by the HK protestors as a show of solidarity, and anonymous workers hid signs displaying the text “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” at Blizzard headquarters.
Even other tournament competitors voiced their support for Hong Kong. In a collegiate Hearthstone championship the American University team held up a “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz” during the broadcast before it quickly cut them off. The newscasters didn’t even acknowledge the signs, instead of putting their focus on the other team.
All of this came at a crucial time for the company. BlizzCon is over and Overwatch 2 was just announced. There was a brief talk about the issue at the event but it wasn’t exactly an apology. One thing is clear though – everyone is paying attention to what Blizzard does from now on, including the United States government. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ron Wyden, among others have sent Blizzard a signed letter condemning the company’s efforts.
As mentioned earlier they did backtrack on banning Blitzchung. They reduced it from a year to six months and the same applied to the newscasters who were with him. He also received back his winnings. However, it’s hard to see the move as genuine when Blizzard’s official Hearthstone Weibo account expressed support for the Chinese government. Alongside a picture explaining Blitzchung’s ban, the account said that Blizzard would “resolutely safeguard national dignity.” Additionally, other players voicing their support for Hong Kong online apparently are banned from the Hearthstone forum for 1,000 years.
In an interview with CNBC, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick expressed that he doesn’t believe Activision Blizzard’s games should platform for political ideas. For people to feel safe, he noted that he isn’t the “operator of the world’s town halls.”
“My responsibility is to make sure that our communities feel safe, secure, comfortable and satisfied and entertained,” said Kotick. “And so I don’t—I don’t—that doesn’t convey to me the right to have a platform for a lot of political views, I don’t think. I think my responsibility is to satisfy our audiences and our stakeholders, our employees, our shareholders.”
It’s safe to assume all of this has taken the international stage. Protest in Hong Kong is still going strong. We’ve already seen tons of support from gamers all over the internet. It’s hard to say what will happen from here on out. Will they shut more player’s opinions on Hong Kong, or any other political issue, down?
How do you feel Blizzard handled the situation? Let us know!