Activision Blizzard Is Completely Silent And Barreling Toward An Awkward BlizzCon

It has now been three full days since Blizzard stripped professional Hearthstone player Blitzchung of his winnings, banned him from competitive play and fired the casters who covered his event after he expressed a pro-Hong Kong message on stream.

In that time, Activision Blizzard has issued no public statement other than its initial ruling, quietly confirming that it would not ban an American collegiate Hearthstone team who held up a Hong Kong/Boycott Blizzard sign at a different event. The team later said they would forfeit the next event in solidarity with Blitzchung, saying that there shouldn’t be a double standard.

Absolutely no one from Activision Blizzard is talking about this incident at all. I reached out to my Hearthstone contact who was prompt to respond, but offered no new statement from anyone over there.

Activision Blizzard has a choice to make, and in its silence, it is making it.

It can reverse Blitzchung’s ban and rehire the casters, which won’t erase what it did initially, but it would show contrition for an obviously disproportionate ruling. However, given how high profile this event already has become, it may very well bring down the full wrath of China, which is what it was trying to avoid in the first place. It could risk a ban of Hearthstone or really, all of its products, and this comes at a time when Activision is seeking Chinese approval for Call of Duty Mobile to expand into the market there. In short, Blizzard risks losing hundreds of millions in revenue from the Chinese market if they anger the government there, which is how we got into this mess in the first place.

The second option is to wait it out. There are new controversies in video games every day, and by saying nothing, doing nothing, they are hoping this all just blows over. That does not seem to be happening, however, as in the West, things are getting quite a bit worse every day. Famed Hearthstone player Brian Kibler has dropped out of casting the Grandmaster event at BlizzCon, citing Blizzard’s recent actions. DisguisedToast, a former Hearthstone player, says he will start streaming the game again if Blizzard reverses course. But past players, we have Tim Sweeney of Epic, where China’s Tencent owns a huge share of his company, publicly saying that he would not have done what Blizzard did here in the interest of free speech. Someone asked him if say, Fortnite streamer Tfue expressed pro-Hong Kong support in an interview, if any action would be taken against him, and Sweeney flat-out said no.

This all comes at a tremendously poor time for Blizzard given that BlizzCon is only three weeks away. It stands to reason that attendees could arrive with pro-Hong Kong signs and shirts, and that livestreams of the event will be spammed with pro-Hong Kong messages. And in that situation, I genuinely have no idea what Blizzard is going to do. If it bans those kinds of messages that becomes its own news story and feeds into the narrative that exists already. If it doesn’t ban anything, then the story is instead the swell of support for Hong Kong at BlizzCon. Fans are already trying to tie Blizzard characters like Mei, a Chinese Overwatch hero, to the Hong Kong movement as a way to get Blizzard products banned in China as “revenge” for Blitzchung. Now, BlizzCon seems like it will exist entirely under the shadow of this event and could turn into its own very public haven for Hong Kong support, if fans continue this crusade for the next few weeks.

Blizzard has exemplified the Streisand Effect here. It is exceedingly likely that no one would have even batted an eye over Blitzchung’s statement if Blizzard simply let him collect his winnings and keep playing. But its reaction has created an entirely new Western pro-Hong Kong, anti-Blizzard, anti-China movement among the gaming community that spreads Blitzchung’s message far, far past its initial reach, and now Blizzard finds itself in a can’t-win situation where they risk upsetting China (which they were trying to avoid in the first place), or they lose the faith and trust of their Western audience (which may have already happened for many).

It’s going to be one hell of a BlizzCon.

Update: Blizzard has now issued a...rather odd statement about the whole incident, which you can read here.


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I write about video games, television, movies and the internet.