Blizzard Can’t Fix This

For those that follow gaming news regularly, the past two weeks have been a nightmare for Activision-Blizzard. Blizzard banned professional Hearthstone player Wai Chung “Blitzchung” Ng for speaking out in support of the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. With his declaration of “liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our age,” Blitzchung seemingly sealed his fate: a year-long ban from Hearthstone competition and the withholding of his prize winnings. The casters involved with the event were also fired, for reasons still unknown. After this, there was another incident where college Hearthstone players have also been banned for holding up a sign that read “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz” during an official Hearthstone tournament live stream.

Since then, Blizzard has been in the midst of an impressive backlash. With the initial announcement, fans have demanded that Blizzard rescind their punishment towards Blitzchung and the casters while also boycotting the company. As of this writing, Blizzard has only responded once by putting out a statement explaining their actions. In this statement, Blizzard opted for a non-apology apology. They invoked their “core values:” Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and Every Voice Matters. Their response felt like a back-handed compliment in which they propped themselves up, and defended their actions towards Blitzchung. And yet, without admitting any wrongdoing, they reduced Blitzchung’s suspension to six months and returned his prize money.

That being said, the damage has already been done.

Last November, Blizzard held its annual Blizzcon event in Anaheim, California. Ever since they announced Diablo Immortal for mobile phones, the specter of Blizzcon 2018 has hung over their heads. A mobile-only game, Diablo Immortal was not the game the Blizzcon attendees wanted. With a notably PC-heavy player base in attendance, the reaction was immediately negative. One response, in particular, gained mainstream attention and infamy among those who follow gaming news.

In the past, Blizzard was looked at as one of the “good studios” in the gaming industry. Until recently it was considered a company where aspiring developers wanted to work and make a strong impact. Ever since the merger with Activision in 2008, the gaming public perception towards Blizzard has gone down steadily as new games have been released. Infamously, the Diablo 3 launch was a notable low point for Activision-Blizzard as the game was plagued by “Error 37.” The bug was a nondescript error that forced players to exit the game back to the main menu. As the internet is wont to do, Error 37 became a meme amongst players as a way to vent their frustration towards Activision-Blizzard.

Blizzard responded to this controversy in the best way they could: they made the game better. Developers at Blizzard took the criticism in stride and returned to their workstations to fix their mistakes. After [look up time between game launches], Blizzard relaunched the title as Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls. With this relaunch, Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls was recognized as a great entry in a legendary series. Furthermore, Blizzard then went on to tease and launch one of their biggest games to date, the evergreen Overwatch. Up until 2018, Blizzard had been riding the waves of their successes and seemed to have only more to come. Yet with one impressive mistake, Blizzard alienated and drew the ire of their fanbase.

In less than two weeks, Blizzcon will be taking place once again. In the gaming community, there is a widespread feeling of unease towards the event. There are those who are planning to boycott the event by formally protesting at the opening ceremonies of Blizzcon. With this uncertainty comes an impossible decision to be made by Blizzard: how do we respond?

For Blizzard, there is seemingly no right answer. On one hand, they can attempt to be honest and apologize for banning those involved in the Hearthstone competition. They could also address their tone-deaf response letter, which Blizzard wrote off as the only course of action. Though an apology would be nice, it would be moot because it is unlikely that Activision-Blizzard will end its partnership with the Chinese based entertainment company Tencent.

More realistically, Blizzard can be expected to remedy the situation by announcing new games. As reported by a number of outlets, new games from Blizzard may have been erroneously leaked. These include a remaster of fan-favorite Diablo 2, the long-awaited Diablo 4, and the heavily rumored Overwatch 2. These announcements, coupled with updates for existing games, could sway players into a positive outlook for Activision-Blizzard.

Even with potential goodwill, people won’t forget Blizzard’s transgressions. In situations involving controversy, gamers tend to be a fickle breed — for better or worse. A company with past controversies can have waves of negativity destroyed with the announcement of one good looking game. In this situation, however, Blizzard doesn’t just have the easy answer of announcing a new game or two. This situation has evolved to the point where the U.S. government has made a statement admonishing Activision-Blizzard for their actions. This Blizzard situation is far from over, and with every move they make, eyes will be on them.

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