Blizzard invokes anger in the US as it tries to avoid the NBA’s fate
Hong Kong supporters want to get Blizzard banned in China after it banned a player for supporting the protests
“Dear Blizzard, even though the plot of World of Warcraft is written like crap, in light of this matter, I decided to get a year-long subscription.”
The online comment is just one show of support from mainland Chinese gamers after Blizzard punished a professional Hearthstone player for his vocal support for the Hong Kong protests in a post-victory interview. Stripping the player of his US$10,000 winnings and banning him for a year has resulted in a backlash in the US, but it’s going over much better in mainland China.
Blitzchung, whose real name is Chung Ng Wai, gave an interview wearing a gas mask after winning at the Hearthstone Grandmasters. He ended the interview with the popular protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times!” The American gaming company that owns Hearthstone acted quickly to try to avoid controversy in China.
It’s drawing parallels to the situation with the NBA, which ignited a backlash in China after Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong. But Blizzard has so far garnered more support in China than the NBA.
Blizzard issued apologies in both English and Chinese, but as with the NBA apologies, the two versions were different. Blizzard’s Chinese apology goes further than the NBA one, saying the company will “firmly safeguard national dignity.”
That seems to have gone over well in China.
“Yes, much better than the NBA,” one Weibo user commented in response to the company’s announcement expressing indignation about the event.
Blizzard certainly doesn’t want to lose access to China, the second largest gaming market in the world with an estimated US$36.5 billion in revenue. Chinese tech and gaming giant Tencent also owns 5% of parent company Activision Blizzard.
But trying to maintain the peace within mainland China is causing a pushback outside the country.
Senator Marco Rubio got involved in the situation on Twitter. A flurry of posts criticizing the company also appeared on the r/Blizzard subreddit -- before it was changed to private, effectively disappearing from view. (After the subreddit reopened, a message blamed it on a rogue moderator.) And there’s even an indication of anger among employees at Blizzard itself.
Some fans online have started turning a character from Blizzard’s popular first-person shooter Overwatch into a supporter of the protests. Comments suggest some fans hope the game gets banned in China, hurting Blizzard’s revenue.
The character people have chosen to transform is Mei, whose biography says she’s from the Chinese city of Xi’an.
Even as it invokes anger from its US fanbase, Blizzard is trying to avoid the fate of the NBA, which already lost several partnerships with Chinese companies like Vivo and Tencent. CCTV also said it would stop airing preseason NBA games, and Tencent followed by stopping online streams of the games.
The NBA incident has even spilled into gaming. Chinese game developer and esports event organizer Hero Game suspended all promotional activities for the mobile game NBA Live in mainland China.