As a massive fan of World of Warcraft and the Warcraft universe in general, it was incredibly disappointing – but not exactly surprising – when Blizzard took a kneejerk reaction after Hearthstone champion Blitzchung voiced solidarity with Hong Kong. The fallout of this event has hit Blizzard hard, but there are some important things to keep in mind while this continues to play out.
Firstly, be angry. My love for the game doesn’t blur my view on Blizzard’s actions for a single moment. I don’t currently have an active subscription because of university commitments, but I would definitely have cancelled it to express my disgust, even if I reset it after a certain period. There are arguments over whether boycotts of that sort work, but so long as the message from the fanbase, the gaming community as a whole, and just the general population, gets across, hopefully things will change.
And they have – Blizzard has returned the player’s prize money, reduced his ban to 6 months instead of 12, and brought back the two newscasters that were fired (although I did hear they wouldn’t be given any ‘important’ roles). That is still not good enough, in my view, but it’s clear the company is in damage control mode. Despite accusations of deletion, comments on YouTube and various forum sites have struck out at them continuously, satirising and condemning them.
Other gaming companies have drawn a line in the sand by standing with Blitzchung and Hong Kong, including a blockchain based competitor to Hearthstone, Gods Unchained, offering to pay the prize money (it should be noted, however, that while the nature of blockchain technology would support freedom of speech in this way, cryptocurrencies are banned in China, so the company does stand to gain from this without losses; still a positive, I think).
But there are two important points that, I feel, have been lost in this discussion so far.
First, you need to separate Blizzard the corporate gaming giant from Blizzard the gaming community and workers. Blizzard employees in the US have staged protests, one with umbrellas – a reference to the movement that sprung up in Hong Kong in 2014 – and two of their plaques describing the company values, “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters”, were covered up. It is clear that many people within the company, who actually work on the games in question, are not pleased with Blizzard’s conduct, and we should also stand with them. A prominent UK WoW YouTuber, Taliesin, even said he wouldn’t be dropping the game for that reason, supporting the game and creators whilst very loudly making his opinion known to push for change.
The second point is that, as hilarious as the many references to Blizzard being communist now are, China’s ideology is not the only one at fault here. Blizzard’s choice was not made because they don’t believe in freedom of speech, or the liberation of Hong Kong for that matter. Blizzard’s choice was made because their profits and growth in the lucrative Eastern market were, potentially, under threat if they didn’t intervene. It was capitalist greed and expansion that motivated them to crash down in a panic over this situation, casting aside human rights and proportionality as they went.
Yes, China is the one with the restrictive and authoritarian demands and expectations, but Western companies from capitalist nations and with capitalist hierarchies have a choice to make – as many have since – as to whether they will adhere to them or not. Nike forcefully keeps workers under foot with security and refusing unionisation; Apple products are made, often in China, in conditions that we would consider abhorrent; mining companies are involved in human rights abuses alongside the Indonesian government in West Papua.
There are countless examples of companies from capitalist ‘democracies’ that take advantage of unsustainable and abusive conditions across the globe, all in the name of profits and growth. Multinational corporate culture is no different to the repressive regimes they outsource much of their production to, and both systems deserve equal criticism for resulting in the suffering they cause – including Blizzard’s submission to China over the Hong Kong protests.
So where does that leave everything now, and for the future? Well, for now Blizzard is still under fire, and they will probably be reeling from the backlash for a long time yet. The real gauge of the affect, at least in the public eye, would be the attendance and reception of BlizzCon later this year – you can expect umbrellas and chants every day of the convention. But the question that we do need to ponder is what punishment Blitzchung should receive. Ideally, none, but there are a few reasons that Taliesin, in the video linked above, puts forward that are worth considering.
The rules do prohibit the actions that the newscasters and Blitzchung undertook, but the (legitimate) reason for that is not to shut down the free speech of competitors and commentators, but to prevent all streams and matches turning into a soapbox for political speeches. I fully support the right of someone to use that platform to broadcast their message, but I can also understand – from a competitive gaming perspective – that allowing this to continue unhindered could totally derail the contest.
The legitimate use of that prohibition would be to make a statement to that effect, and punish the player proportionately to the offense. Blitzchung, at the absolute most, should have only been disqualified from that specific competition, or even just whatever stream or match was taking place, and sent off with the winnings he had earned. That would bring awareness and spark discussion about the issue brought forward while also keep disruption to an appropriate level. Even that I would still be a little iffy with, and I would sympathise with those who would be angered by any punishment, but at least it would have been a reasonable and balanced response.
My sympathies with the no-punishment crowd come into play because that plausibly legitimate prohibition was, obviously, grossly abused by Blizzard in this instance, and it throws that whole rule into question now. You make one small concession because you can see the justification, but how long until you’re the one under attack when those concessions are taken too far?
Only time will tell how this will all play out for Blizzard. Despite all of this, I am still excited about World of Warcraft the game, including the upcoming patch content and expansion announcement – because I love the game and community. As Taliesin implored, if we turn our back on the good we see in a product, then all that will be left is that corporate evil lurking above it. To an extent, I agree with that, and I respect the intentions behind it.
Let’s hope that Blizzard has a change of heart and feels the same way – the world will be watching, closely. Liberate Hong Kong – Revolution of our time.
Liked this? Read Independence for Hong Kong Means Independence