Blizzard is in a hell storm as of late, with no thanks to their not-so-delicate handling of a political whirlwind. The recent troubles with Blizzard have now become a global incident, sparking controversy from fellow game companies – and now, from the US Congress.
And so it begins…
On October 8th, Blizzard came down hard on a Hearthstone player by the name of Ng Wai “blitzchung” Chung. During a post-match interview, blitzchung wore goggles and a gas mask in homage to the protestors in Hong Kong. He proceeded to state, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age”, right before the stream was cut to commercial. Following the incident, blitzchung was banned from playing Blizzard esports for a year, his win in the tournament was revoked, and his prize money rescinded. Also, both of the casters who were live during the incident were subsequently fired without any notice. Instantly the internet was in a rage, but this was only the beginning.
Within a week of Blizzard taking action, the American University collegiate Hearthstone team made a move of their own. At the end of one of their matches, the team held up a sign that said, “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz”. The broadcast was switched and no punishment was given to the teams, which ultimately led to more discomfort in the community. On October 11th, Blizzard reduced the ban of blitzchung, the two casters, and the American University team to six months. While the reduction for blitzchung was welcome, all things considered, he did break a rule regardless of what side he was on. But Blizzard is still being criticized by the community for their firm stance on the ban of the two casters.
Blizzard’s crisis becomes political
Blizzard faced an employee walkout, their subreddits have been ablaze with plans of protests, and there was a rumor that people were unable to delete their Blizzard accounts. The final cherry on top in this mess came exactly two weeks before Blizzcon 2019 is set to take place. On Friday, October 18th, news leaked that Blizard had been sent a letter by two Senators and three members of Congress:
In one section they state, “Your company claims to stand by ‘one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions,’ yet many of your employees believe that Activision Blizzard’s decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values.” The letter goes on to address the growing concern that China’s market power will more frequently be used to stifle free speech around the world. The authors urge Blizzard to reconsider their ban on blitzchung and reference the growing reality that protests will be present at Blizzcon 2019.
There is not much that Blizzard can do less than two weeks out from their largest convention of the year. No matter what they announce, if this issue is not handled first, any game will be dwarfed by controversy. So far, Blizzard’s statement from Jay Allen Brack was a PR word jumble that spent more time defending their decisions than admitting their faults. Despite the numerous events in this story so far, it’s a long way from being over.