To be a fan of Blizzard Entertainment is to be part of a family, or so the company hopes. At the annual fan event, Blizzcon, the opening keynote is usually ended with the phrase, “Welcome home,” signifying the close relationship between the developers of popular games like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Diablo, and their players.In 2019 that relationship was tested. In October, Blizzard punished Hong Kong Hearthstone pro Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung for publicly supporting the Hong Kong protests during an official Blizzard livestream.
Blizzard immediately reprimanded Chung after he appeared on a post-win interview in a gas mask and proclaimed, “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.” The punishment included a year-long ban for Chung and stripped him of his prize winnings, estimated to be upwards of USD 10,000. Blizzard went even further to punish the two casters whose only crime as far as anyone could tell was interviewing the wrong person at the wrong time.
Although Blizzard walked backed the punishment somewhat, the damage was done. Why, so many fans asked, did Blizzard go so strongly against what many observers say is a pro-democracy protest?Following the initial incident, groups began organizing efforts to protest BlizzCon in response to Blitzchung’s punishment. Multiple groups have banded together to protest, and that organization was apparent during the first day of BlizzCon.
An estimated 40 people were protesting outside of BlizzCon, by my own account. Many protesters were dressed in black t-shirts or pro-Hong Kong cosplay, even in the 82-degree heat.“That’s not Blizzard,” said one protester who spoke with IGN under the conditions of anonymity when asked what their first reaction was to Blizzard’s decision to punish Blitzchung. “To me, when that happened, I was just like, ‘Okay this is not Blizzard no more, this is not the decision of a Blizzard we know and love.’ So that was terrifying.”
Blizzard’s reputation for strong values is renowned. The company espouses eight core values and among them are “Every Voice Matters,” and “Think Globally.” For those protesting, these values were broken with their decision to punish Blitzchung.
“Blizzard, one of their core tenants is ‘Every Voice Matters,” So for me, it’s making sure we’re all equal here, we’re all human. [Hong Kong] needs a voice, and they need a voice from the outside, so I’m trying to add my voice to the many voices trying to support Hong Kong,” said the protester.
Some protesters outside the Anaheim Convention Center say that they’re protesting because they feel strongly about Blizzard. “I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since release, or at least, I was,” said Steven, another protester outside the Anaheim Convention Center. He said that Blizzard’s statements on the Blitzchung controversy since are “bologna.”
“I think Blizzard is trying to play all sides and make as much money as they can at the expense of people who are just trying to live their life. They’re not afforded the same opportunities as here, because we can stand here and protest without being teargassed.”
“I was angry, I was really angry,” said cosplayer and pro-Hong Kong protester Zephronica on her immediate reactions to Blizzard’s decision to punish Blitzchung. Her redesigned Mei cosplay has become a symbol of the pro-Hong Kong protests.
“I had the costume before, I made it about two years ago. But when Blitzchung got banned I immediately started working on this version.”Like other protesters, Zephronica hasn’t fully accepted Blizzard’s statements regarding Blitzchung since the initial controversy. “A six-month ban is still too long. Even though they revised [his punishment,] the damage is already done. They already censored someone.”
Some protesters were at the Anaheim Convention Center specifically for Hong Kong. Leo, another protester, said that he wasn't even familiar with Blizzard prior to the Blitzchung incident and was instead following the political situation in Hong Kong far more closely.
“I was disgusted,” said Dayton Young, director of product at Fight for the Future, one of the groups organizing the protests at Blizzcon. “Punishing someone, taking away their money, firing them, firing the livestreamers, as well, for saying, ‘I want political freedom, for wanting the same freedoms I enjoy as a person?’ I want everyone to have the same privileges that I have and we shouldn’t punish people for acts of non-violent peaceful protests.’”
On Blizzard’s two statements since the initial controversy, Young says that it raises more questions than answers. “I think it shows a problem with their rules if they have to keep rolling it back on a continual basis. They need to be transparent with gamers, they need to help us understand what the rules are, why the rules are that way.
“The rule they said for punishing Blitzchung was that it caused offense to members of the gaming community or otherwise damaged Blizzard’s reputation. I want to know who was offended. We’re very offended by their unfair punishment. We’ve had members of the United States Congress co-author a letter to Blizzard about their outrage for this. Why isn’t Blizzard listening to us? Who is Blizzard listening to instead?”
During the Blizzcon opening ceremony, company president J. Allen Brack apologized for mishandling the controversy and made allusions to the protests outside without addressing them directly, or Blitzchung.However, Young says Blizzard has not made any contact with the protest groups. “It’s strange. They keep making statements so they know they’re listening to us, but they’re not talking with us.”
The protesters are hoping to completely overturn Blitzchung’s punishment and have Blizzard clarify the best way to keep gamers safe and free on their platform. Meanwhile, Blizzard took the opportunity to announce a series of highly-anticipated games like Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2.
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