After years without releasing a new title, Blizzard Entertainment made several huge announcements at its annual BlizzCon event. An Overwatch sequel! News about the long-rumored Diablo 4! A trip to the afterlife in World of Warcraft! Fans are excited about Blizzard games at one of the darkest points in the company’s history.
A month ago, Blizzard decided to ban Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, a competitive player of the collectible card game Hearthstone, and two eSports casters who interviewed him. The reason? He voiced his support for the Hong Kong protests, made up of citizens fighting to hold on to human rights China wants to take away.
Blizzard laid bare that it values its relations with the Chinese government and the country’s giant market of gamers, well, human rights. It’s not a secret that corporations keep quiet about China’s human rights violations. But Blizzard’s actions were so transparently unjust that people took notice, and that went well beyond gamers. Politicians on both sides of the aisle condemned the company for catering to China’s whims.
Faced with heavy public pressure, Blizzard reduced Blitzchung’s sentence, but only to the extent that the company believed wouldn’t anger China. For weeks, everyone was furious at the long-beloved video game developer. Then, this weekend, BlizzCon happened.
During the Opening Ceremonies that revealed new games and updates, the president of Blizzard J. Allen Brack took the stage to deliver an utterly meaningless apology that said everything about the company’s actual priorities.
The title of the video is Blizzard Apologizes At Blizzcon 2019. That’s very fitting because Brack didn’t apologize for anything. He expressed how sorry Blizzard was for its actions, but never acknowledge what decisions they regretted. He admitted Blizzard moved too quickly, but the company never reversed the decision that created an international backlash.
During his non-apology, Brack also said that Blizzard didn’t communicate with its fans soon enough. The developer still hasn’t done anything that qualifies as communication, though. PR speak doesn’t amount to discourse. Brack spoke up when he did because the date for BlizzCon was set a year ago.
Listening to the non-apology angered me more than the initial news of Blitzchung’s ban. It felt gross and somehow worse than maintaining the silence Blizzard acted comfortable with until the start of the event.
Still, Blizzard is starting to build back up its reputation thanks to the new projects revealed this weekend. The new titles do look very impressive. Fans are excited by what they’ve seen. No matter their politics or righteous anger, gamers will always care the most about the games, especially additions to some of the industry’s biggest franchises.
A protest was held outside the doors of BlizzCon, though attendance was lower than everyone hoped. Righteous anger is dying down everywhere. That’s unfortunate, but inevitable given how quickly the internet news cycle churns.
In many ways, carrying the torch is left up to the media. Articles praising the latest reveals about Diablo 4, Overwatch 2, and other Blizzard properties should continue to mention how the developer prizes Chinese dollars over Chinese human rights. Near the end of Blitzchung’s ban, websites should release retrospectives on the chaos that befell Blizzard and what it says about corporate America at large. Gamers are forgetting, but journalists have the power to remind them. I hope they take that responsibility seriously.
I’ll leave you with one last excellent way to continue to protest Blizzard:
Blizzard banned pro Hearthstone winner for supporting free Hong Kong and took away his prize money. It would be SUCH A SHAME if Mei became a symbol of Hong Kong democracy and got #Overwatch banned in China like Pooh did
— Wenqing Yan (@Yuumei_Art) October 9, 2019
— Ng Wai Chung (@blitzchungHS) November 1, 2019