Blizzard Ruling on HK Interview - Worst thing a video game company has done?

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SilverSaint

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#1  Edited By SilverSaint

So in case you don't know, Sunday a hearthstone player won a tournament in Taiwan for the APAC region (China is separate). During the winners interview, the player said something to the effect of, "Liberate Hong Kong, the Revolution of our times" as for a while now protests have been going on in Hong Kong with multiple police shootings. Blizzard instantly removed the video. Then 24 hours later they issued a ruling, https://playhearthstone.com/en-us/blog/23179289 .

The player in question is banned for a year, removed from Grand Masters (pro league), receives no prize money, and the casters were fired, presumably for allowing him to say anything as they had an idea of what he was going to say.

Apparently human rights are irrelevant in the face of Chinese money.

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Onemanarmyy

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#2  Edited By Onemanarmyy

While i agree with the sentiment & think it makes total sense for a player out of Hong Kong to make that statement after a win, it is the type of statement that Blizzard has specifically accounted for in the rules that he agreed to. While outside of China it seems like we're mostly supportive of Hong Kong, naturally it's a very contentious issue that Blizzard doesn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole. Not acting on the rules they had set out beforehand would be just as much of a political message. Once you write down that ANY ACT that brings you in public disrespute or offends a certain group is grounds for punishment, you can't pick & choose with which acts you agree with and which you don't as a tournament organizer.

p.12, Section 6.1 (o)

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.

It's a very broad rule with the power weighted heavily towards Blizzard and their perspective on events, but it is the one everyone agreed to. I do wonder whether they would've punished him if he said these things outside of the tournament environment, like in a vlog or a Q&A on a youtube video. At that point it's a huge stretch to claim that his message has anything to do with the Blizzard image. Him doing it during an official broadcast makes it impossible to ignore for Blizzard. That said, controversial or political aspects clash with people's lives and it's very human to want to address those issues.

Ironically enough, having this rule in place & enforcing it probably did more harm to the blizzard image than this one political message from a competitor could ever do. A blanket 'we don't endorse the political views made by competitors' type of statement would probably have been far less damaging.

These rules are a classic case of a tournament organizer that does want to champion the universally positive aspects of their competitors, while not having to deal with any difficult subject matters. Even if that clearly impacts those players and is part of the storyline.

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doctordonkey

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I think it's something we'll be seeing a lot more of in the coming year(s). Companies do a lot of grandstanding and soap boxing for human rights, but in the end it's all in service of pleasing the public eye and consumers. It was never because it's simply the right thing to do, it's that it was an easy way to garner and bank "ethics points". I imagine we will be seeing a lot of this type of caving to Chinese investors within the next year(s).

When the chips are down, and money is on the line, companies will always do whatever garners them the most capital. It was never about actually doing what's right, and it will become very apparent, very quickly where the loyalties actually lie, and Chinese money (any money, really, doesn't matter where its from, but it's China in this case) is not something companies are going to give up, regardless of the implications.

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SethMode

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Between this and the ordeal with the Rockets GM, it feels like a dark day for speaking truth to power.

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clush

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Man, South Park was on point last week, wasn't it?

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Jesus_Phish

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@onemanarmyy: Them saying "we don't condone this" would be less damaging here but more damaging in China. Just look at the NBA who are going through similar events, bending over backwards and going back on opinions and views because it was upsetting and harming their prospects in China.

The truth of it is, people in the West will forget about this in about a week, while in China, they'd very likely pull Blizzards games from sale and make it very difficult to continue expansion into the country.

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BonelessSpirit

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#7 BonelessSpirit  Online

Not surprising.

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MrGreenMan

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Blizzard really has become a shell of it former self.

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gunflame88

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Yeah, don't think I'll be able to touch anything Blizzard Activision puts out after this. They can have their lucrative China market, I'll at least sleep better knowing I don't put money in the pocket of hypocrites kowtowing to totalitarian censorship.

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TheHT

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Oh man, even the casters too huh? That some inquisition shit.

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cikame

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I get it, and they have rules regarding what can be said on stream so it's not a surprise, but i would have probably settled for giving a stern warning that it wouldn't be tolerated in the future.
At the same time you have to show that you'll enforce your rules otherwise people will think they can get away with breaking them.

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Gundato

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Its shitty, but "worst thing (...) ever"? To co-opt a meme: Oh, you summer child. Just a few months back it was "revealed" that the Mordhau devs are straight up pushing white supremacist ideals and still have slurs all over their message boards. Not to mention all the other horrible shit other studios and companies have done. Gaming is still very much "tech bros" and studios don't know how to balance "don't be fucking asshats" with "but keep making us money"

As for this specifically: From my limited understanding of the subject, I strongly align with the "Free HK" side of things. But there is a time and a place for those statements and the player (Blitzchung) chose one where they had signed a contract saying they wouldn't do that. And they were punished as per the terms of the contract. I dislike that this happened, but I know I would be frothing at the mouth if a player insisted on wearing a MAGA hat. For better or for worse, companies tend to take the "neutrality" stance (which almost always favors the status quo), and that means not rocking the boat

As for the casters: I would need to read up more, but I think firing them was very harsh. Cynically speaking, I suspect it has nothing to do with this event and is more just a way to hire cheaper personalities.

So at the end of the day: Fuck Blizzard and more power to Blitzchung. But Blizzard are completely within their rights to say "Don't turn our events into a platform for your politics".

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Brackstone

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#13  Edited By Brackstone

Yeah I think this beats anything else that's happened as far as Hottest Mess style topics go. It was inevitable with how much money video games companies make in China, but that doesn't make it right. It's a decision of greed over morals, plain and simple.

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ZombiePie

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@sethmode said:

Between this and the ordeal with the Rockets GM, it feels like a dark day for speaking truth to power.

And I just want to say, as an NBA fan, there are plenty of reasons to hate Daryl Morey, but him saying "Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong," on his personal Twitter account is not one of them.

If anything, Adam Silver's reaction is entirely understandable and laudable.

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swaney

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I went ahead and asked Blizzard to delete my Battle.net account after this incident. Pretty gross for an American company to kowtow to a foreign authoritarian regime over such a minor incident. There's plenty of other great stuff to play. I've played all their games religiously since Warcraft II, including a fair bit of money into Hearthstone but I'm done. American companies have not only compromised their values but given away trade-secrets and other business assets to get into the Chinese market only to be replaced by Chinese copycats. Time for U.S. CEO's to have some pride.

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_Brojangles_

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#16 _Brojangles_  Online

Disappointed, but completely unsurprised by the whole situation, especially given how big Blizzard is in China.

I feel bad for the shit storm the developers and faces of Blizzard have to deal with now because the suits in charge decided to flak for a totalitarian communist government.

Shoutouts to the Hearthstone player though, very brave and admirable thing to do.

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BisonHero

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#17  Edited By BisonHero

I wish I could dramatically quit playing Hearthstone in response to this event, but I already quit back in December because 2018 was a truly wretched year for the game where the card releases and single player campaigns were all pretty subpar.

I know they flip their shit over the slightest disrespect, but would Chinese officials really significantly block Activision-Blizz in China over the comments of one non-Blizzard employee at a tournament? If Blizzard ceased to operate in China, then China would have to deal with a Hong Kong uprising AND a gold farmer uprising. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, Jinping.

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ghost_cat

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#18 ghost_cat  Online

I'm pretty sure Blitzchung did what he did willingly with the full understanding of what consequences it will result in, and I applaud him for it. Sucks for what happened to the commentators, though.

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Relkin

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Good on Blitzchung for sacrificing his moment to use that platform to voice his support of those fighting for both their freedom and their very lives in HK to this day.

Blizzard, on the other hand...

Shitty move by a shitty company.

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MezZa

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As always it's important to remember that blizzard is more than just its executives trying to save their market in China. Sounds like at least one employee is showing their disappointment in this by covering their Think Globally and Every Voice Matters value plaques with paper.

The situation is shitty all around. The higher ups at blizzard obviously are going to enforce their contract because this player put them in a bad situation where they have to risk sacking their financials in China or look like they're siding against what most would consider to be basic human values. Not surprised they threw the punishment out there, but he had to know it was going to happen since it was in their terms. Cant use a huge corporation as your personal platform without their permission and expect nothing to come out when the contract says not to do that.

That being said, though, it's pretty shit that blizzard has to bow down here out of fear of losing a market. Maybe they need to take a hard look at why they're relying on China so much. I'd maybe do something like not play their games anymore, but I honestly havent played diablo 3 in three years and havent touched ant other game of theirs for longer than that. So I guess I'm already not an active customer.

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north6

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#21  Edited By north6

@gundato: What? An indie dev not moderating their forums is worse than one of the most successful, wealthy gaming companies ever proactively working as a strongman, censor, and bully to silence speech on behalf of a authoritarian regime?

This is some sickening calculus. If, and probably when, if other companies follow suit, China succeeds in crushing these protesters throats, I hope Blizzard employees feels fantastic about lining their pockets here with the deals they earn.

Pro democracy leaders are being arrested in HK just for speaking out. Blizzard is firing its employees for even having spoken to someone speaking out. This is rubbish, fuck Blizzard.

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Gundato

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#22  Edited By Gundato

@north6: If you don't care about a developer actively promoting and protecting white supremacist ideals, fine. What about studios that are actively abusing their employees through excexsive crunch. Hell, whatever happened to that dude Telltale told to move (internationally?) right before going under?

And that isn't even getting in to the companies (Riot and Quantic Dream come to mind) that make incredibly toxic environments where employees are forced to put up with sexual harassment or quit.

And then you have folk like Brad Wardell and, as of late, Randy Pitchford who require lawyers to clean up their abuse.

This is a shitty situation, no doubt about it. But at the end of the day, it is a company telling a public figure, who signed a contract, to not do the thing they agreed to not do on stage/stream. I find Blizzard to be pretty shitty for how harshly they are punishing everyone involved, but they are well within their rights to say "Yo, please don't use us as a platform for your political agendas"..

Just like those who feel particularly strongly on this issue can say "Yo, fuck off"

But, at the end of the day, some perspective is in order. This is a shitty industry that does a lot of shitty things.

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north6

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@gundato: Perspective is in order. You just threw out a half dozen things that aren't remotely as awful as what Blizzard did. Have you not seen the rioting that HK has been up to for months? How does seeing one of the richest gaming corporations on earth lining their pockets by stepping all over these people not stir you into seeing the difference? These people want freedom. How does that not inspire you? If your company did something like this, how would you feel?

Yes, this is worse than a 10 person team at Mordaeu working slower than you'd like to fix the internet's racism as it swarmed their game. Yes, this is worse than the ever present, ill-defined, not even gaming specific spectre of "crunch". Yes, this is worse than Telltale's awful handling of their own implosion, and how they communicated this to their employees. I'm not sure what you're specifically referring to with Wardell or Pitchford. Pitchford is an idiot who likes porn and magic. Wardell is right wing, that's about all I know about them.

You're even defending Blizzard because this kid signed this draconian contract? That's cold.

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wollywoo

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#24  Edited By wollywoo

It is well within their rights to do what they did, per the regulations. It would also be well within their rights to NOT do what they did - the regulation *specifically gives them complete discretion*. As such, you cannot say that they are "just following through on the regulations". They had a choice.

Signing petitions is very easy and almost meaningless - some gamers boycott constantly over the dumbest things and then forget about the boycott when a new game comes out. I'd recommend deleting your battle.net account. It does mean you will lose access to your purchased games - a pretty small thing to give up, but it's something. I didn't see any option to leave an explanation, so I wrote a note below the photo ID image they require.

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Onemanarmyy

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#25  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@wollywoo:

It is well within their rights to do what they did, per the regulations. It would also be well within their rights to NOT do what they did - the regulation *specifically gives them complete discretion*. As such, you cannot say that they are "just following through on the regulations". They had a choice.

p.12, Section 6.1 (o)

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.

it's true that this says that Blizzard is the ultimate arbiter of what warrants a punishment. That means they alone get to decide whether the event is in violation of the rules or not. It doesn't mean that they get to decide if they feel like enforcing the rules or not.

i think it's pretty clear that saying `Liberate Hong Kong, the Revolution of our times` during an official broadcast offends a portion or group of the public. There is a pro-china camp on this issue that doesn't jive with that message at all and they will naturally knock on Blizzard's door if they let it slip. Especially when the rules should've prevented China from seeing stuff like this!

And sure, there could always be a group offended about something that happens during a tournament. Sadly, this group is way too important for Blizzard to ignore and they have the official rules on their side. Which were probably written in such a harsh way to appeal to this crowd in the first place.

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DrM2theJ

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I’ve been a lifelong fan of Blizzard’s games. I was a serious StarCraft player, even participated and placed in the very first ladder championships in the 90s. Loved WoW for years, really enjoyed StarCraft II, Diablo 3, Put hundreds of hours into Overwatch, even liked HOTS and Hearthstone. But the last couple of years especially, they have absolutely lost their way.

Based on reporting, it sounds like it’s the outside influence of Activision (among other things) poisoning the well slowly over time. The departure of longtime cultural heads like Mike Morhaime, Chris Metzen, and Ben Brode seem to have led up to this as well.

It’s fucking sad to see, and I feel for longtime employees at Blizzard who are watching their home go to shit in real time.

It’s hopefully obvious that I think this decision to ban Blitzchung AND the two casters who were on at the time is bullshit. As someone in an international industry (biotech) I do understand why companies want to do business in China, but American companies seem to forget their roots when they pull shit like this.

I, for one, am boycotting their products from here on until they respond to this. Just as they’re free to punish Blitzchung, I’m free to express my discontent with their decision and to not buy their products to protest them.

I was just about to resub to WoW. I was excited for Warcraft III Reforged. I very likely would have tried Modern Warfare (despite being turned off by the white phosphorous shit in it) And Overwatch on Switch. Forget it now. They can correct this and win me and people like me back but at this point, they need a wake up call.

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MachoFantastico

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I feel all this as been coming Blizzard's way for a while now so I'm not surprised.

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arcadefire

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A lot of you seem pretty passionate about what happened with Blizzard and their ruling.

I hope you'll follow suit with the plethora of other companies that have folded over to the CCP as well. Apple, Google, Reddit, etc.

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Hayt

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What a tremendously bad look. Sure, they're within their rights with whatever contracts but let's not pretend this is anything but defending China's (fragile) pride out of greed.

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gerrid

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I'm always surprised by how quickly people will jump to the defence of corporations, acting as if their actions and decisions exist in a void merely as an inevitable consequence of their search for profit, and are therefore above or beyond any sort of moral questioning. Often it's framed as "they're a business, so this decision makes rational sense".

As if it isn't ultimately humans making these cascading decisions at every single point. The decision to write their policy the way they did, the decision to enact that part of their policy in this case, the decision to implement the sanctions in this way. The decision to do business in China at all. None of it inevitable, none of it necessary, all of it motivated by individual people's own morally and ethically open judgements when taking those decisions.

The two other responses seem to be whataboutism, and victim-blaming. I'm sure we will see a fair amount of all 3 of these in reactione to what happened here, what happened with the NBA and the other companies who are silencing any mention of Hong Kong on their platforms.

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development

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Of course a large business is going to side with cops. Who do you think protects them from uprising? The police. Until the cops are an arm of the people and not the rich and in-power, businesses will continue to rally behind them at any cost.

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11111110

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#33  Edited By 11111110
@onemanarmyy said:

@wollywoo:

And sure, there could always be a group offended about something that happens during a tournament. Sadly, this group is way too important for Blizzard to ignore and they have the official rules on their side. Which were probably written in such a harsh way to appeal to this crowd in the first place.

But is it 'too important'? According to Activision-Blizzard's earning statements, less than 15% of their revenues come from the entire "asia" region. China's market isn't worth much to them now, but rather as a potential future source of massive revenues. Investors practically require them to have a foothold in 'emerging' markets regardless of how little blood there is to get from the stone. The biggest hit they would take would be to their stock price.

It's amazing that this happened at about the same time as South Park and the NBA hit similar scandals, which is propelling Blizzard into mainstream news articles for all the wrong reasons. Even Blizzard employees have been gagged on social media about it.

@arcadefire said:

A lot of you seem pretty passionate about what happened with Blizzard and their ruling.

I hope you'll follow suit with the plethora of other companies that have folded over to the CCP as well. Apple, Google, Reddit, etc.

When did Google or Reddit kowtow to the CCP in the same way? Last I checked google has abstained from even releasing a censored search engine for China

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kmj2318

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Im Interested in how someone like Lebron is going to talk about Hong Kong. Many athletes are outspoken about social issues, and have an image of speaking truth to power despite the consequences. Here’s a situation where will will actually learn who is willing to speak truth to power. It’s easy to be a mouthpiece for corporate left-leaning ideology when the corporate world endorses it, but how about when they don’t?

Anyone who works for a multinational company has to kowtow to some degree, and this China situation creates a chilling effect for everyone in the corporate world.

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Gundato

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@gerrid: And I could just as easily accuse you of attacking strawmen

Yeah, there are people who are going to defend whatever company they like. There are similarly folk who think they are Gordon Gecko and only care about profits they will never see.

But on this, and many other topics, anyone who doesn't immediately froth at the mouth and scream angrily enough gets accused of "defending corporations" or even "Defending human rights abuses". It is childish and obnoxious

As per Blizzard's own rules that have been cited repeatedly: the removal from the league and the negation of prize money is kind of a hard and fast consequence for using their venue as a political platform. It sucks, but I personally can't fault them for that on the simple grounds that I would be losing my shit if they gave someone an exception for wearing a MAGA hat and talking about whatever childhood nickname is on twitter today.

Where a lot of us get angry is what followed that. The one year ban ( so effectively getting banned from all of next year's league) and firing the casters is REALLY shitty and I do wish Blizzard/Activision had been more lenient on that front. And while I may not be screaming from the rooftops, I am also not giving Blizzard any money for the foreseeable future.

But the hyperbole surrounding this is really just hurting the actual "cause". Claiming this is the worst thing a gaming company has ever done is downright insulting to all the people who have been suffering for years to make the things we consume. Equating "Please don't use our platform as a political one" with supporting human rights abuses (and outright murder) is similarly childish and the same kind of stuff that pops up any time people don't understand that being a public figure has additional consequences. All of this just contributes to the narrative of "Angry gamers. Ignore them, they'll forget to be angry next week when new games release"

At the end of the day: What China is doing to HK is REALLY FUCKING SHITTY. What Blitzchung did was incredibly brave. Blizzard confiscating the prize money and kicking him out of this tourney was shitty, but kind of expected and well documented. And what Blizzard tacked on is quite shitty and reeks of "We don't want to rock the boat"

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Sombre

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An absolute top spot for "Hottest Mess"

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gunflame88

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#37  Edited By gunflame88

@gundato:No. This is still the shittiest thing that Blizzard should have had the balls not to do, period. They are exporting totalitarian censorship and causing a chilling effect with their actions. This can have much more far reaching consequences than anything you listed. As to the whole "Please don't use our platform as a political one" argument, Blizzard made a statement relating to this incident on Weibo that said “We will, as always, resolutely safeguard the country’s dignity” (source). Doesn't sound to me like the priority was avoiding just any political commentary on their platform. And the rules under which they banned him can be so broadly interpreted, they could ban anyone for anything under their "sole discretion". At most he should have been reprimanded, if comments of such nature were not allowed, and even then I'd find that objectionable and spineless. And please stop patronizing people with your "childish" this and "childish" that, when you clearly don't understand the gravity of the situation.

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Icemael

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Note that Tencent, who are pretty cozy with the Communist Party of China, own 5% of Activision-Blizzard (as well as 5% of Ubisoft, 40% of Epic, and varying amounts of shares in a number of other game companies).

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Onemanarmyy

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#39  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@11111110

You're right. It's an emerging market, the most natural place for Blizzard to expand towards in the future. If you ask me if the ability to speak up about the situation in Hong Kong is more important than making one of the largest entertainment businesses even bigger, naturally i'd say that being able to speak out on the situation in Hong Kong is more important. Blizzard is doing fiiiiineeee and will do fine even if they couldn't enter the chinese market.

But naturally when you are tasked with the job to grow Blizzard as a company, and you take a look at a map and see that China has a ton of potential customers that are not yet being serviced, it makes a ton of sense to enter that market for them. I've seen the same at a potatochip factory i've been at that decided to sell it's products in the middle-east. These choices are made with an eye on the future, not to secure the company's short term existence. China has gamers, Blizzard has games, we need to be a great force there in the coming decades is the train of thought. Whether the sacrifices you need to make to make that a reality are worthwhile is the question. Designing your games to not feature skeletons, blood & the word 'kill' might be manageable, but when you're also dealing with actual humans in live settings and China's strict rules on what is appropriate to say and what is not, things become difficult. Politics can't always be avoided when you're dealing with actual humans. An Israelian dota player not being able to attend a Malaysian tournament because of his nationality comes to mind. Or Scarlett being a transgender Starcraft pro.

For me, and this might be different for others, It's mostly the severity of the punishment that irks me whenever China is involved. Like i'm sure that there are some third party tournaments to play in, but the big money is probably in Blizzard tournaments. Being banned for a year might as well be the end of his Hearthstone-career. Retroactively taking away his previous prizemoney is extremely petty. All because this guy had a winners interview in which he pointed out that Hong Kong could use some help in these times. The event that probably spooked through his head throughout this whole tournament and brought a ton of stress & insecurity with it. This isn't some kid from Denmark or something that sees that situation through his reddit feed at times, Blitzchung actually has to live in that situation. Some empathy should be in place for that i feel. But sadly there's no place for that in this tournament setting, despite them always looking for captivating storylines to tell. Getting rid of everyone involved with that moment, even the commentators that work there to.. you know, commentate what happens, all that for business reasons is just a real bad look.

While i do look at Blizzards point of view at times, please understand that i'm not condoning their action here. That's just the way my brain works, wanting to have a decent overview of the situation & the motivation of the parties involved.

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Ducksworth

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#40  Edited By Ducksworth
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Brackstone

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@icemael: I'm not sure how much Tencent actually matters in this conversation. Even in a world without Tencent, Blizzard likely makes the same move because China is a massive growing market where they make tons of money. That's not to say it has zero impact, but the money Blizzard's making in the Chinese market far outweighs anything they've gotten from a minority investor like Tencent.

Focus too much on Tencent and we get close to some "secret Chinese overlords" conspiracies that can just derail the issue entirely. It's more likely that this is plain and simple capitalist greed at the expense of morality. Companies don't want to lose access to the Chinese market, regardless of whether or not Chinese companies are directly invested in them.

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wollywoo

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#42  Edited By wollywoo

It's an interesting question to me how Blizz could have handled this better. I actually understand why they would not want to air this kind of protest, even though I support it. Maybe if they had just politely had their announcer explain that this is not the place for aggressive political speech, maybe take a small fine from the winnings or forfeit a game - what the reaction be? I don't think I would be so pissed off. But as it is - banning him for a year, taking all of the winnings, firing the announcers, deleting the video of the event, and vowing to "defend the pride of China" in their Chinese statement - well. I'm not giving them money ever again.

I do think this fiasco may have been worth it just for all the amazing Mei fan art.

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FacelessVixen

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I'd say that this is worse than finding squirt porn at Medieval Times...

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Efesell

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@wollywoo: There is definitely a world in which they handled this in their interests and only walked away with making twitter really angry for a few days and then in would have blown over like all the other shitty things going on. But they've gone too hard too loud.

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doombot13

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Glad to see this isn't dying.

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InternetDotCom

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These guys rule

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BladeOfCreation

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@internetdotcom: Pure fucking hypocrisy on the part of Blizzard. Absolutely disgusting.

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Shindig

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I'm sure a company's done something worse than this but can't really think at this point. All it needed was a disclaimer from the casters and then you're squared up. You don't need to revoke the guy's prize money and ban him.

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arcadefire

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MrGreenMan

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Trying to ban and censor anything about this is just going to make the situation far worse for Blizzard and people are just going to act out against it, especially considering Blizzard/Activition is whole hardheartedly supporting fascism and capitalism over basic human rights.

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