One of the longest-standing and most successful partnerships in gaming history is no more. After being announced that the agreement between NetEase and Blizzard Entertainment was not being renewed late last year, the promised time has unfortunately come for those in mainland China. As of this writing, almost every single Blizzard Entertainment title has lost its live game services and their respective online servers have been shut down. After 14 years of successfully collaborating together in several different avenues, Blizzard’s main voice in one of the world’s most populous countries has suddenly fallen silent, affecting millions of dedicated fans that have little solace in this unfortunate situation.
Millions of players in China have lost access to the iconic “World of Warcraft” franchise and other games, as Blizzard Entertainment’s servers in the country went offline after two decades.https://t.co/Sr2J1KtHGu
— CNN (@CNN) January 24, 2023
NetEase’s President of global investments and partnerships, Simon Zhu, released a lengthy post on LinkedIn in regards to the matter. Titled, “A Love Letter: The Memory Remains,” Zhu personally thanks various Blizzard employees, past and present, for their contributions in the 14 year partnership. Zhu also states near the end that “The biggest victim would be players in China who live and breathe in those worlds.” Those players, millions of them, all reacted in their own ways. One of them, Peter Yu, documented the shutdown on Twitter, where he posted a player in the game chat of World of Warcraft asking to be taken to the sky so they could “fall and die here.”
A low level character asked for a lift to the sky so he can fall and die here, joining others who did the same 🥺 pic.twitter.com/yfiPSeNc6e
— Peter Yu (@Peterodox) January 23, 2023
Another major aspect of this is esports, in which many players in China are participants of. Perhaps the biggest Blizzard title for this, Overwatch, took the largest hit when the servers shut down in the country, as there are four Chinese teams in the Overwatch League. One of these teams, the Chengdu Hunters, bid a tearful farewell on their own Twitter account to the game, with many of their worldwide fans responding in the same. Perhaps the most well-known reaction to this turn of events is from a user on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. In the post, the user stated “I cried all night in my sleep because the game went offline. I dreamed that I was crying in the middle of the class.”
Interestingly enough, there is still one Blizzard game that is operational in an online capacity in the country; Diablo Immortal. The free-to-play game was actually co-developed by NetEase themselves alongside Blizzard and has a separate licensing agreement between both parties. As for all of the other Blizzard titles in China, you can still turn boot them up to some extent, but you can no longer go online an play with anyone in any capacity.
Blizzard apparently attempted to amend and extend the agreement with NetEase just days before it was due to expire. However, the six-month extension was met with an unkind response from the China company, and as a result, actually tore down the legendary statue of Gorehow they had situated in their office. The only positive aspect about this whole situation is that Chinese players can actually still play online via different regions such as EU, NA, and Taiwanese. However, in order to do this they will have to create brand new Battle.net accounts, and essentially say goodbye to their hours and hours of gameplay they logged on their Chinese one.
Blizzard is apparently attempting to find another distribution partner in the country, but the timetable on that venture is unknown. As a result, millions of players in China, most of which are longtime Blizzard fans, have been forced to say goodbye to the franchises they know and love.