Before launching into the weekend-long celebration of Blizzard games that is Blizzcon, company President J. Allen Brack offered a vague on-stage apology for how the company failed to “bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone esports moment about a month ago.”
Though Brack didn’t delve into the details of that “tough… moment,” it’s an obvious reference to the company’s initial one-year ban for pro Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung after he shouted a statement of support for ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on a post-match stream. While Blitzchung’s ban was later reduced to a six-month suspension and his tournament winnings restored, the damage was done among a vocal segment of Blizzard’s fan base.
In the wake of the Blitzchung decision, Blizzard was forced to cancel a public promotional event and belatedly punish a college Hearthstone team for a similar on-stream protest. The company faced both a brief employee walkout and admonishment from a bipartisan group of US legislators.
“We moved too quickly in our decision-making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you,” Brack said from the Blizzcon stage this morning. Adding that the company “didn’t live up to the high standards we set for ourselves” and “failed in our purpose,” Brack said, “I am sorry and I accept accountability.”
How that accountability will manifest, and what if any changes were in store for the company, was less clear from Brack’s statement. The executive only offered a vague promise to “do better going forward.” Brack asked the audience to notice “as you walk around this weekend, I hope it’s clear how committed we are to everyone’s right to express themselves in all kinds of ways in all kinds of places. In fact we saw and heard many of you expressing yourself this morning.”
That’s an apparent reference to long-planned protests that are taking place this morning right outside the Anaheim Convention Center where Blizzcon is being held. There, dozens of protesters, who reportedly started setting up last night, are handing out T-shirts featuring Overwatch character (and growing anti-China symbol) Mei and offering support for Hong Kong. A truck carrying pro-democracy and pro-Hong Kong messages has also been seen circling the convention center.
Brack’s stated commitment to let those protesters “express themselves” rings a little hollow, since they are demonstrating on a public sidewalk outside of Blizzard’s control. And though Brack said he was committed to fans expressing themselves “in all kinds of places,” the company’s stance on protest during Blizzard-sponsored esports events seems unchanged from a month ago: “The official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.”
Brack’s apology was apparently received well inside the convention center, but the lack of specifics or commitments to change any policies seems unlikely to appease those gathering in protest on site and on the #BoycottBlizzard hashtag. We’ll have more reporting on the goings-on at Blizzcon through the coming days.