Blizzard has done the impossible. They have united both sides of Congress by creating perhaps the biggest scandal in esports history: the banning of Hearthstone pro Blitzchung and forcing him to forfeit his prize money following a tournament victory after he showed his support for the Hong Kong protests.
Not only that, but they added further fuel to burn by banning three college students who held up a “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz” sign during an official Blizzard livestream. The three students, who were intentionally looking to get banned in an effort to get equal treatment between a Hong Kong native and an American, were satisfied with the ban they received a few days after radio silence from Blizzard. However, the initial silence from Blizzard served only to prove Blizzard’s hypocrisy, in contrast to Blitzchung’s near instant ban and punishment.
This is just the latest in the recent trend of American companies bowing to their Chinese overlords. First the NBA, and now Blizzard Activision. It’s not a surprise, though, considering that 5% of Blizzard is owned by the Chinese megacorporation Tencent.
“The world could always use more heroes,” says character Tracer from video game Overwatch, one of Blizzard’s most popular games. Ironic, isn’t it?
Blizzard, who has been known as one of the pioneers in the video game industry for representation of minority groups among their roster of characters, such as LGBT and autistic people (Tracer and Symmetra from Overwatch, respectively), as well as representing different cultures (D.Va from South Korea, and more notably Mei from mainland China). Yet it seems instead of sticking to basic human ethics and morals, Blizzard wants to follow the money trail all the way to Beijing.
There is at least one piece of good news to come from Blizzard and China: the aforementioned Mei has been turned into a symbol of the Hong Kong protests, in spite of not actually originating from Hong Kong. A large amount of fan art depicts her wearing the signature masks of the protesters in Hong Kong in an effort to get Overwatch banned in China, potentially crippling Blizzard’s business overseas.
Once a titan of the gaming industry and widely respected by both gamers and other companies, Blizzard has become a shell of its former self, and rightfully so. The disgusting manner in how they handled Blitzchung not only damaged their company, but also damaged diplomatic relations in an already politically tense environment.
It also could have had significant repercussions for esports as a whole. At the time of the incident, the annual League of Legends World Championship was being held in Berlin, Germany. After the Blitzchung incident, Riot Games — the company behind League of Legends — was accused of censoring the phrase “Hong Kong”, with casters and analysts noticeably stopping themselves from saying the full name of the team, “Hong Kong Attitude”, and instead calling them by their acronym “HKA”. This has since been proven false, in light of a Riot employee stating that no such censorship was in place and the censorship allegations were due to communication errors. However, this doesn’t change the fact that Blizzard’s handling of Blitzchung could have reverberated and caused a domino effect, damaging Riot Games and further damaging international relations.
With nearly the entire gaming industry against them, and the annual Blizzcon coming up on Nov. 1, Blizzard has to do something to regain public opinion unless they want to completely ostracize their western audience. From the looks of things however, they might have already done that.
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