This has been a hell of a week for Blizzard Entertainment, one of the biggest players in the gaming industry ever.
Following the conclusion of his Hearthstone match against DawN, Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung expressed his support for the ongoing demonstrations in his native Hong Kong in the post-match interview, shouting “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age.” A later statement by Chung explaining his actions followed.
As you know there are serious protests in my country now. My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention… It could cause me a lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue.
That did not go down well with the powers that be, with Blizzard announcing that Chung was in violation of the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmaster Official Competition rules and would be removed from the competition, and his winnings revoked.
To begin with, the rules by Blizzard were vague and nefarious, which forbade players from doing anything that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard’s image.”
The two casters that interviewed Chung were also fired, and he was further banned from competition for 12 months.
Such heavyhanded punishments were not looked at favourably by the global Hearthstone and gaming audience, especially considering the heavy Chinese investment Blizzard has received in China. With China recognised as one of Blizzard’s biggest market, the Americab company’s actions were seen as more profit-driven rather than a rule violation, and has since sparked a mass movement of #BoycottBlizzard.
The reaction was so bad that Blizzard even shut down the r/Blizzard subreddit as fans continued to make their voices heard.
One of the team leads for World of Warcraft Vanilla also took a stand against the alleged Chinese influence in the decision, with a full Twitter thread exposing the situation of game developers and China.
Politicians in the United States also had their say about the situation.
Employees within the company were also unhappy about the debacle, with dozens of employees staging a walkout this past week in protest of the decision.
Even the company values were called into question by the very people who work there.
Popular Overwatch character Mei has been adopted into an unofficial mascot of the protests, turning one of the company’s main attraction into a lightning rod of conversation.
Epic Game took the opportunity to wade in, stating that they will support the speech rights of its players, and not ban them for political beliefs. “Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights,” a company spokesperson said.
You would think that one of the biggest gaming companies would come back with a better response or plan to combat the tension, but according to new findings, it is quite the opposite.
As supporters of the #BoycottBlizzard movement tried to cancel their WoW accounts or getting refunds for games, Blizzard has been accused of blocking users from deleting their Battle.Net account.
All which have culminated in a firestorm of criticism, controversy, and bad news that the company could do without, especially with BlizzCon on the horizon this November 2.
While we understand that it is a business after all, a company as big as Blizzard should be a beacon for the rest of the industry when it comes to censorship and potential interference from governments.
By engaging in an overtly heavy punishment of a player that goes against the wishes of major investors in the company, it sends out a wrong message that the gaming industry is obviously against. Blizzard will definitely have a calculated response soon, but whether the Internet will forget and forgive, is another matter altogether.