BlizzCon’s first day is here, and already Blizzard is dedicating time to doing damage control. The company’s image suffered over the banning of a professional Hearthstone player after he voiced support for the Hong Kong protests, and a Blizzard Hong Kong apology was first on the agenda when the convention started.
The entire incident began at the Asia-Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament back in October, when winning player Chung Ng Wai voiced support for the Hong Kong protests in an interview after he’d won the tournament.
Blizzard reacted to the statement by taking back his winnings, banning him from competitive Hearthstone events for the next year, and also removing his title. Blizzard also fired the two Hearthstone commentators that had laughed during Wai’s statement.
The move brought widespread condemnation across the gaming world and especially among Blizzard’s own fanbase and even its own staff, with many claiming that due to the popularity of Blizzard games in China that the company (or, at least, Activision) was doing the Chinese government’s dirty work by censoring Wai.
Various debates about other popular gaming companies and their ties to China also resulted from the controversy, particularly with Riot Games, where Chinese publisher Tencent has a huge presence. Overwatch players have even made Chinese-born character Mei into a symbol of the protests.
The move has continued in the weeks up until BlizzCon, where various protests are being held. Blizzard’s president J. Allen Brack gave the Blizzard Hong Kong apology at the start of the event, saying that the company acted too quickly and didn’t take fan’s thoughts into account.
The protests threaten to overshadow many of Blizzard’s announcements over the weekend, even though the new World of Warcraft expansion, Shadowlands, and Diablo 4 have both been announced. Brack has at least promised that Blizzard will do better going forward, but whether Activision (and the company’s ties to China) will allow them to is another matter.
Whether the Blizzard Hong Kong apology will be enough for its fans remains to be seen, but considering many Blizzard developers also reacted negatively to Blitzchung’s ban, it at least seems to be genuine, at least from Blizzard itself.