[Please note this was finishing up just before BlizzCon, a 2nd article will be covering all of Blizzcon 2019 and the Pro HK protests/events that took place there]
How did we get here? What timeline is this? These are the questions many Blizzard fans such as our own staff have been asking for the past week or so. Blizzard was a beacon of hope, not just for quality AAA titles but the entertainment industry itself. Blizzard HQ has always been home to some of the most creative, talented and the most well fed employees in the videogame industry. So how did Blizzard become the butt of all jokes in videogaming? And how did they manage to do it in less than a year? To be frank, the downward spiral of Blizzard looks as if Internet Historian made a video about it, except this is all happening right in the moment. We’ll have to go back to how it started, then go through the quick response and apology to China, the backlash, the weak apology on a weekend night and the double down on hiding in the closet.
On October 7th, Professional Hearthstone player Blitzchung was in a postgame interview with two casters. However, Blitzchung was on with a full gas mask and goggles, similar to the wear of Hong Kong protesters (the protests had been going on for months before then). The casters had quickly hid behind their monitors and ducked while giggling. Blizzard’s response was speedy and full of sheer panic and wrath. Blitzchung was quickly banned from competing in Professional Hearthstone play for a year, disqualified from the global Hearthstone championship and all of his current prize money was taken from him. There was no delay when the Blizzard community heard of this and immediately erupted into a sheer, and understandable, rage. Thousands of memes from different Tienanmen Square tank pictures from different Blizzard games as well as the Blizzard logo but it’s red with 3 yellow stars were unleashed upon the world in a glorious outburst.
Now, regardless of the Hong Kong situation, using a company’s platform to spread what they perceive to be ‘political’ does deserve some punishment, especially if the company was already on a tight rope, that much I understand. HOWEVER, none of this was very clear in the rules, as basic human rights aren’t really a political issue (unless you count the Five Demands and US gov involvement) and there was no rule clearly stating it as the clause that Blitzchung was banned under was “ruining the company image.” To be fair, China’s market is much larger than anyone else’s, so ruining the image we see to prevent the image seen in China from being ruined is a profit decision… but that’s it. It’s just Profit. No morals, no freedom, no creativity, just big fat wads of cash. Plus the punishment was so absurd and distasteful, it felt like they were trying to make an example of Blitzchung rather than a real decision. And all of this is because he said to Free Hong Kong… is that really going to hurt anyone? Even the billions of Chinese people under so much propaganda influence wouldn’t take that to heart at all. So really this was just a massive fuckup from Blizzard altogether.
The decision made, again, erupted all throughout the internet and the PR team from Blizzard decided to crack down on the censorship this time. Accounts would be locked if their names even mention Hong Kong or the act of freeing it. Even some Tespa students in a US team held up a Free Hong Kong and Boycott Blizzard sign for it to be quickly cut away to show just the casters during a Hearthstone competition. In that case, many artists and players turned to Mei from Overwatch as a symbol of Hong Kong Democracy in hopes she’d be banned from China. Within a few days, Blizzard had pulled preorders from the $175 Mei Statue off the store. The rest of the Mei merch stayed up because those were all third party merchandise, such as Funko, J!NX, etc, so they had to stay as part of their contracts. The Mei Statue is made completely inhouse, so that being removed was proof that the situation had started effecting Blizzard. However, the Mei statue would later reappear shortly before Blizzcon.
Not only was this the month of Blizzcon but it was also the month of Overwatch’s release on the Nintendo Switch. A big release party was planned including many voice actors from the game and it was to be held at the NYC Nintendo Store. However, the Free Hong Kong event had taken a drastic toll on the PR team, so they canceled the event just two days before it was happening. It takes a lot to piss of Nintendo, and that was a pretty big dick move. So Nintendo did no announcements or advertising for OW’s release on the Switch and they even offered returns on the game, which they almost never do for Nintendo Switch downloaded games. Tensions built further as even the United States Congress issued a letter to Bobby Kotick, owner of ActivisionBlizzard, ripping him open a new asshole as they roast him to shreds. Republicans and Democrats can’t even agree of the rising effects on climate change but they can sure as hell agree that ActivisionBlizzard is complete shit.
Blizzcon is just less than a week away, and the amount of shit that’s gonna be thrown around there is something I absolutely cannot wait to see unravel.