Behind the backdrop of everything that went within the halls of the Anaheim Convention Center, BlizzCon 2019 was an event that was also marred by a serious controversy. Most of the attendees weren’t dismayed by this issue, and went about their BlizzCon experience as if it never happened. However, none of them could ignore the mass of protesters that gathered right outside of the main walkaway that lead to the entrance.
Although they were demonstrating peacefully, it was obvious that the group’s message was loud and clear. They no longer felt that the company harbored any integrity for their peers, and more importantly, their fans. This entire situation came about when Hearthstone Grandmaster player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai was suspended for an entire year, as well as having his prize money revoked, when he openly showed his support for his native Hong Kong amidst the ongoing protests in the country over government sanctions that were involving China. The livecasters who were interviewing him were also fired as a result.
This sent shock waves throughout the gaming community, and nearly caused the majority of Blizzard fans to revolt against their favorite company. Multiple groups began planning their protests for BlizzCon only days after the punishment, and in a panic, Blizzard canceled the Overwatch Launch Event for the Nintendo Switch which was supposed to take place at Nintendo’s New York Store. Blizzard finally broke their silence with a statement on the whole debacle, as well as reducing blitzchung’s punishment to six months and returning the prize money he won in the tournament. The Hearthstone player responded in a positive manner, and while both parties may have tried to move on, the fans and protesters are a whole different story.
The truth was, the amount of backlash that Blizzard was receiving was almost unprecedented, but not entirely unwarranted. This continued to persevere, so much so that the actual members of the United States Congress sent a Bipartisan letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick requesting that blitzchung’s suspension be removed completely. When members of both Democrat and Republicans band together to make a statement, that tends to be noticed by literally everyone.
Finally, we come to the BlizzCon event itself. As we said earlier, protesters from a couple of groups made their way to the fountain area next to the walkway that leads to the main entrance of the convention center. Both days they stayed perched in that spot, holding up signs and with a variety of shirts made for the protest. Neither Blizzard no the City of Anaheim did anything with the protesters, and allowed them to peacefully demonstrate their point.
Perhaps the most poignant part of BlizzCon was made by the Blizzard President himself, J. Allen Brack. Before he began the Opening Ceremony, he publicly apologized on behalf of the company for their recent actions and how they handled it. Sitting in the audience hearing it ourselves, we were taken aback, and in a way, made everyone feel more at ease and set the tone for the rest of the convention. Sincere or not, it was bold of Brack to stare into the camera and make his opening statements.
We wanted to get the protesters perspective on this apology by Brack, so we headed down to the walkway where they were demonstrating and spoke with Dayton, one of the main organizers of the group Fight for the Future. Dayton knew about the Brack’s acknowledgement that morning, and while he’s glad to see the recognition, he still wants a more definitive resolution.
mxdwn: Earlier today, J. Allen Brack made a public apology on behalf of the entire company. Does that make you feel any different or any better about the whole situation?
Dayton: “An apology is just words until the actions back it up. So we need to make sure that if their really listening to us that blitzchung’s punishment has been rescinded, the punishment of the livecasters is completely rescinded, and the punishment of the American University students has been completely rescinded. We also want them to sit down and start talking about what their rules are, and and why the rules are that way? So we can actually make sure that this does not happen again.”
“Rules that are so broad that allow them to punish anybody for causing offense to anyone anywhere at anytime, that’s not helpful, that puts us all at risk. We’ve been offended by Blizzards actions so why aren’t they listening to us and punishing themselves according to their rule? Clearly we have protesters here, we have members of congress writing them open letters, their reputation has been damaged by their own actions, so why are they punishing people for simply raising that issue with them?”
mxdwn: Do you think that this going to be doing anything for the future? Do you think Blizzard will take notice or actually acquiesce to the request?
Dayton: “Blizzard has taken notice and I think that’s one of the reasons why they’ve addressed their opinion, and adjusted their decisions twice now. But those half steps aren’t enough, they need to act in good faith, they need to make a strong statement if they respect the gamers, and they want to protect their rights.”
Dayton and the groups certainly have some valid points in what they’re asking, but the likelihood of Blizzard responding this is extremely low. In the eyes of the company, this was all but behind them now, and the reaction of the fans during the Opening Ceremony for the new IP’s Diablo IV, Overwatch 2, and World of Warcraft Shadowlands is their vindication that they’re back in their good graces. BlizzCon 2019 can be looked at as two sides of the same coin. One side has the fans excitement and everything that they enjoyed within the event. The other side is the anger and outrage that was brought upon by none other than the company themselves, which was manifested by the groups that traveled all the way to make their point.
Either way, Blizzard will be undoubtedly be put under a microscope, especially when it comes to their esports division. It’s more than apparent that blitzchung’s, the casters, and the student players suspensions won’t be removed anytime soon. However, it’s more than just violating a rule or two, it’s how they broke them, and what they broke them for that started all of this. One way or another, this entire month and a half will never be forgotten.