“Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our times.” Blitzchung said this on a livestream and when he did, I don’t think he knew what kind of an impact his words would have at the time. Now, we all know what happened with him, as well as the broadcasters but the quick notes are that Blitzchung got suspended for a year from being able to compete in pro Hearthstone events and had his prize money taken for the games he did win. The broadcasters were fired, despite never having anything to do with what was said. If anything, they ducked so that they could show they had no involvement. I suppose they were suppose to condemn the actions, but who knows. Either way, at the time, they were fired. After community outcry, the sentences got reduced; Blitzchung would only do 6 months off the pro Hearthstone circuit and the broadcasters would also get the 6 month suspension.
Now I, and many others, am under the impression that nothing should have happened to anyone. There should have been no suspensions, especially since Blizzard claims to be so pro-free speech. Well, evidence to the contrary. Since this all exploded, their stocks took a hit, they’ve lost some sponsorships, they’ve been called out for being too pro-China, and even US government officials have spoken up about this mess. Seriously, this has been such an issue that Republicans and Democrats came together to write a letter telling Blizzard that yeah, “you COULD keep doing this b.s.” but “you probably SHOULDN’T.” So far, Blizzard has stuck to their guns and kept the suspensions on Blitzchung and the commentators. I’ve skimmed over a ton of details, but let’s get to the core of what this is about.
BlizzCon 2019! We were all anticipating this ever since this mess popped off and in some respects we as spectators to it all got what we wanted. Now, I want to make this clear: I am not a fan of Blizzard and I never really was. So the games themselves interest me less than those who have been following them and their games. That said, I am an advocate of free speech and human rights. The actions of Blizzard do concern me on some level. My personal expectations were low going into this…and somehow, Blizzard still fell short of them. Let’s discuss.
As we expected, there were protests outside the Aneheim Convention Center. However, the protests were more centered around the liberation of Hong Kong and less around Blizzard’s political stances (or apparent lack thereof). How many protesters there were is uncertain; the most concrete number I’ve been able to find is around 50-60. Nevertheless, they were there with Free Hong Kong shirts. Through the weekend, the only real response Blizzard really had was to let it happen and tell the staff they’re welcome to voice their concerns throughout the convention. This lead to teamsters joining the protests or offering refreshments to the protestors because this was all in California and their fall is basically the season finale of summer.
In the midst of the protest, the Blizzard president J. Allen Brack opened the ceremonies with a non-apology, speaking about standards, being too quick on decisions, and too slow to speak up. Just a bunch of PR speak. It reminded me of the BP president apology from South Park. I mean, it was so devoid of resolutions and substance. And yet, people cheered. Mostly because the people attending probably didn’t care much about the protests and such. Plus, the tickets are like $200 ($49 if you paid for the “Virtual Ticket” aka their private stream) so I suppose if you’re going to pay that kind of cash, you really just care about the games and want to seperate the politics. Which, ultimately, is fine. What isn’t fine is that this apology didn’t really apologize for anything. Blitzchung and the casters are still suspended. In fact, the apology doesn’t even mention the incident, the players, the broadcastors, or China. So who or what this was for is anyone’s guess. My guess though is the investors. Gotta get back that goodwill, right?
As for the games…perhaps it’s me, but they didn’t show too much. Of what we know, Overwatch 2 was announced. Which…not surprising. The next gen will need something like an Overwatch game, so why not capitalize on it? If they’re smart about this, then they’ll keep their course with this game. I’m not fond of Overwatch’s gameplay, but I am intrigued by the world. While I may not be sucked in because of that, others might be. The idea that people play games because of lore and world building isn’t too absurd and I think that market could be tapped more. Be it more animated shorts or some kind of web show. Honestly, I wish they would make a show in the style of Doomfist’s animated trailer. It looked awesome and almost made me pick that game back up. But like I said, it’s wishful thinking.
Diablo 4 being a thing is also good. I thought the cinematic looked cool, but that’s about all I got. Diablo Immortal…a gameplay video came out for it and it looks…alright? I don’t know. I’m not holding out hope for it because a mobile Diablo has so much potential to go wrong.
World of Warcraft got a new expansion called Shadowlands announced and Hearthstone is coming out with an expansion called Descent of Dragons. There were other little events and show booths, but these were the major hitters. The most interesting thing though was during the WoW announcement, someone in the croud kept shouting “FREE HONG KONG” as well as a person asking one of those curated questions. And to my surprise, the guy with the mic handled it beautifully. He just…rolled with it and let them speak so they could move on. I…was surprised. Now I don’t know if that person got kicked out, but the optics were good.
All in all, not the meme worthy disaster that last year was, but certainly not the best foot forward for Blizzard. There was little to no word on Heroes of the Storm or StarCraft, what was revealed was slim and expected, and that controversy couldn’t help but loom over the event. Though I sort of wish it went further. I understand not wanting to be a disruption, especially with cops around, but the radical in me wishes we got to see a real mess go down. Though, the rational person in me is glad it didn’t. It seemed to be another BlizzCon in the books full of cosplay and new games featuring protests and bad interviews. We’ll see what happens from here, but I don’t foresee Blizzard walking from this too easily any time soon.