As you may have heard, there was a controversy involving Hearthstone (made by Blizzard Entertainment, which is part of Activision/Blizzard), and a Hearthstone player who publicly stated a viewpoint that has been described as political. This led to many fans of Blizzard’s games to call for a boycott of the company. (You may have seen #BoycottBlizzard trending on Twitter).
I am not among those who are boycotting Blizzard. Yes, I realize that there will be people who choose to become angry with me because I am not doing what they have decided to do. I’m sharing my reasons anyway, in part because I doubt I’m the only person in the world who chooses not to join in this boycott.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I’m going to do an explanation about what happened. A Hearthstone player named Ng Wai Chung (who is known as Blitzchung) won the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmaster tournament.
On October 9, 2019, CNBC explained the situation this way:
Activision Blizzard suspended a professional player from an esports tournament and stripped him of his earnings after he made a statement over the weekend in support of protests in Hong Kong.
In a post-match interview on the Taiwanese stream of Blizzard Entertainment game Hearthstone, Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai wore a gas mask and goggles and appeared to shout a slogan often associated with Hong Kong protesters: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
The day before, October 8, 2019, Blizzard posted news on its Hearthstone website titled: “Hearthstone Grandmasters Asia-Pacific Ruling“. Here is a small portion from it:
During the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters broadcast over the weekend, there was a competition rule violation during a post-match interview, involving Blitzchung and two casters, which resulted in the removal of the match VOD replay.
Blizzard then states that what happened violated the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmaster’s Official Competition rules section 6.1 (o) and is individual behavior which does not represent Blizzard or Hearthstone Esports. That rule states:
Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website terms.
Blizzard then issued a consequence:
Effective immediately, Blitzchung is removed from Grandmasters and will receive no prizing for Grandmasters Season 2. Additionally, Blitzchung is ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months beginning from Oct. 5th, 2019 and extending to Oct. 5, 2020. We will also immediately cease working with both casters.
Heavy reported on October 8, 2019, that when Blitzchung said the slogan used by Hong Kong protesters, the interviewers (or, casters) “hid under the table for a moment and then cut to a commercial.”
There has been speculation about that, which seems to have led to a few unanswered questions. Were the casters taken by surprise by what Blitzchung was saying – so they hid under the table to avoid consequences? Or, did the casters know ahead of time what Blitzchung was going to say – and hid under the table in an effort to avoid consequences?
I have no idea which is true.
It is my understanding that the #BoycottBlizzard hashtag started trending as a result of Blizzard’s decision regarding Blitzchung (and the two casters). People posted screenshots proving that they were deleting Blizzard’s games. Some tried to let Blizzard know that they wanted the company to delete their data – but it appears that wasn’t working out as hoped.
On October 9, 2019, Brian Kibler posted a Statement on Blitzchung on BMK Gaming. To summarize, he states that he felt that Blizzard’s action against Blitzchung was “incredibly harsh.” He continued:
…I won’t pretend to understand either the intricacies of the geopolitical situation in China and Hong Kong or the full extent of Blizzard’s business interests there, but to me this penalty feels like it is deeply rooted in both. The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself.
That kind of appeasement is not something I can in good conscience be associated with. When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at Blizzcon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward….
On October 10, 2019, Nathan Zamora (also known as “Admirable”), issued a statement on Twitter regarding Blitzchung, Hearthstone Grandmasters, and Blizzard. Here is a little bit from that statement:
…I will not be part of the broadcast team for Hearthstone for the remainder of this Grandmasters season, for the Masters Tour in Bucharest, or BlizzCon.
Blitzchung’s actions to support Hong Kong speak to me far more than I could have imagined. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and to make sacrifices in the process. His actions are inspiring to me, and I support him wholeheartedly….
October 12, 2019, Blizzard posted news on their website titled: “Regarding Last Weekend’s Hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament“. In my opinion, it appears that the backlash and controversy about their decision with Blitzchung had an effect.
The post is signed by President of Blizzard Entertainment, J. Allen Brack. Some have pointed out that the wording and sentence structure in that post feels a bit… off.
There has been some speculation about whether or not J. Allen Brack wrote that news himself – or if someone who was perhaps connected to the Taiwanese branch of Blizzard wrote it in Chinese (and it didn’t translate to English very smoothly). I have no means of confirming or debunking this speculation. I’m simply noting that I’ve seen this speculation passed around.
The key points from the news include:
…Over the past few days, many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties. We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.
We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value – Play Nice; Play Fair.
In the tournament itself, Blitzchung * played * fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention.
But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for Blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.
With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well….
On October 12, 2019, Blitzchung responded in a tweet that contained a link to a longer personal statement. Here is part of that statement:
…Many people have been asking me if I accept the latest decision of Blizzard, I will discuss that on two parts. Tournament prizing and suspension. For tournament prizing, I quote what Blizzard said on the official website, they mention that I played fair in the tournament and they believe I should receive my prizing. This is the part I really appreciate. Blizzard also said they understand for some this is not about the prize, but perhaps others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. People from Blizzard explained this to me through a phone call and I really appreciate that and I accept their decision on this part.
For second part about the suspension, Blizzard changed their suspension on me from a year to six months. Once again, I appreciate their reconsideration on this. To be honest I think six months is still quite a lot to me. But I also being told that I can continue to compete in hearthstone pro circuit which they mean the grandmaster tournament. I appreciate this decision they made because grandmaster is currently the highest level tournament in competitive hearthstone. However, I wish Blizzard can reconsider about their penalty on the two casters involved…
From all of this, it seems to me that the situation has been handled. Blizzard made a quick decision regarding Blitzchung (and the two casters). People who play Blizzard’s games made it very clear that they disagreed with that decision, in part by advocating for a boycott of Blizzard’s games. Blizzard reconsidered their decision, and gave Blitzchung a less harsh penalty than they originally imposed.
If the backlash and negative press was specifically because people who play one or more of Blizzard’s games felt the penalty on Blitzchung was too harsh – well, it seems that’s been resolved. There is now no need for me to boycott Blizzard in response to the penalty they originally imposed on Blitzchung.
What is happening in Hong Kong?
There is a whole lot going on in Hong Kong. I don’t have the time to do as much research as I would like to about this in order to explain it to people who are just tuning in now about the situation.
Instead, I will refer you to a BBC post that provides some context. It was written on September 4, 2019. There’s a good chance things may have changed since then, and you may want to see what else the BBC has written about Hong Kong in since then.
The BBC wrote that Hong Kong “…was a British colony for more than 150 years – part of it, Hong Kong island, was ceded to the UK after a war in 1842. Later, China also leased the rest of Hong Kong – the New Territories – to the British for 99 years.”
Skipping ahead in time:
…Then, in the early 1980s, as the deadline of the 99-year-lease approached, Britain and China began talks on the future of Hong Kong – with the communist government in China arguing that all of Hong Kong should be returned to Chinese rule.
The two sides reached a deal in 1984 that would see Hong Kong return to China in 1987, under the principle of “one country, two systems.”
This meant that while becoming part of one country with China, Hong Kong would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs” for 50 years.
As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system and borders, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are protected.
For example, it is one of the few places in Chinese territory where people can commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, where the military opened fire on unarmed protesters in Beijing….
The BBC mentions that one “sticking point” has been democratic reform.
…Hong Kong’s leader, the chief executive, is currently elected by a 1,200-member election committee – a mostly pro-Beijing body chosen by just 6% of eligible voters.
Not all of the 70 members of the territory’s lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, are directly chosen by Hong Kong’s voters. Most seats not directly elected are occupied by pro-Beijing lawmakers.
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says it should ultimately both the leader, and the Legislative Council, should be elected in a more democratic way – but there’s been disagreement over what this should look like.
The Chinese government said in 2014 it would allow voters to choose their own leaders from a list approved by a pro-Beijing committee, but critics called this a “sham democracy” and it was voted down in Hong Kong’s legislature.
In 28 years’ time, in 2047, the Basic Law expires – and what happens to Hong Kong’s autonomy after that is unclear…
In short, the people who are protesting in Hong Kong are doing so because they want to be independent of China. There is literally more than 100 years of history to consider regarding this situation.
Personally, I do not feel that deleting the Blizzard games that I currently play, canceling my WoW subscription, and trying to convince Blizzard to delete whatever data they have on me is going to make any change at all regarding what is happening in Hong Kong.
I’m not an “influencer”. I’m certainly not a celebrity or a well-known politician. My social media presence is (intentionally) tiny. I don’t spend a lot of time playing video games, in part because my chronic illnesses can make it hard for me to do that. There was a time when I was streaming on Twitch, but I stopped doing that a while ago.
There is no logical reason to presume that if I chose to boycott Blizzard that China would have any reason to even notice that I have done so. The country certainly isn’t going to be influenced to change their stance on Hong Kong based on what I do.
There is no reason to assume that Blizzard (or Activsion/Blizzard) would immediately separate itself from working with Chinese gaming companies or the Chinese government as a result of some players boycotting Blizzard’s games. I suspect that it would not be easy to sever that arrangement.
What About Blizzard Employees?
I’m going to flip things around for a minute, and take a different viewpoint. Assume that the purpose of boycotting Blizzard is to cause the company to lose money.
Let’s say that more than half of the people who regularly play Blizzard’s games, who purchase in-game items, and who pre-pay for expansions or other upcoming content all deleted their Blizzard games today. Let’s presume that more than half of the people who purchased BlizzCon tickets (and paid for hotel rooms, transportation costs, and intended to buy a bunch of swag at the event) instead decide not to attend.
For this thought exercise, I’m going to suggest that the results of the above are enough to not only make Blizzard’s stock drop (and its stockholders angry) but also to cause a significant financial hardship for Blizzard. A half-empty BlizzCon would look terrible. Those who were boycotting Blizzard would likely conclude that their message was heard – loud and clear – by Blizzard Entertainment.
What would happen next? Well, we’ve already seen the answer to that question. In February of 2019, Polygon reported that Blizzard laid off more than 800 people after 12 months of record setting financial performance. From the article:
On Tuesday afternoon, Activision Blizzard told approximately 800 employees they were laid off.
The company, which is comprised of Call of Duty publisher Activision Publishing, World of Warcraft and Overwatch developer Blizzard Entertainment, Candy Crush maker King Digital, Major League Gaming, and more did not have a bad year. In fact, it “achieved record results in 2018,” Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said during an investor call.
Activision made $7.5 billion is sales and $1.8 billion in profit last year. But in the eyes of management, the success wasn’t enough to keep the entire company employed.
Record results. 800 employees out of work. Those facts are more than just a recipe for cognitive dissonance, they create cerebral friction that could spark a forest fire…
In other words, I believe that if the #BoycottBlizzard trend is successful, the result won’t actually cause any harm to the “big wigs” at Activision Blizzard. (And it certainly won’t convince them to extricate themselves from whatever Chinese companies they are working with).
Instead, Activision Blizzard will simply fire hundreds of employees – again. I don’t want to see that happen because exactly zero of those employees had anything to do with the decision Blizzard made regarding Blitzchung. My best guess is that many of them first heard about the controversy when they read about it on Twitter (or maybe Facebook). None of this is their fault, and they shouldn’t have to lose their jobs because of it.
That’s one thing that I don’t think many people consider when they choose to boycott a big company. It is quite easy to give in to the immediate anger one feels about what was obviously a poorly made decision by Blizzard, and to decide to call for a boycott. Few appear to realize that even the most successful boycott outcome is going to mostly hurt the people who make the games that we all (until recently, it seems) love to play.
If you choose to boycott Blizzard, that’s on you. I’m not your mom, and I have no interest in trying to convince you one way or the other on this subject. This blog post is my (long-winded) way of explaining why I am not going to boycott Blizzard.
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