Over the past month, Blizzard Entertainment, a company known for releases like World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo, made itself a centerpiece of the Hong Kong controversy that has made its way to America. This started last month when they began what amounts to a censorship campaign on competitors for another of their games, Hearthstone.
"On October 8th, Video game developer Blizzard banned virtual card game Hearthstone player Ng 'Blitzchung' Wai Chung for voicing support for Hong Kong protesters during a competition live stream. Since then, Blizzard has banned three college students and temporarily suspended multiple people in a Twitch chat for also expressing support for the protests," according to the staff for The Verge.
The obvious and probably correct explanation for why Blizzard would do such a thing is simple: money. China, the country attempting to bend Hong Kong to its anti-freedom will, has relaxed its stance on video games over the past decade and has allowed American companies to penetrate the market there. With over a billion potential customers, this has had companies salivating at the opportunity to capitalize and make millions.
But it is not quite so simple to make Chinese money. To do so, meeting their censorship demands is a requirement. Thus far, this has simply been things like changing texture models in-game to replace "offensive" content, and Blizzard has already been doing this for years with World of Warcraft. However, on the back of China having more and more influence on American corporations, they have begun to flex their metaphorical muscles a bit, and when looking at a similar situation with the NBA where China has no way to suggest they are not directly pressuring NBA executives, Blizzard's situation becomes pretty apparent.
Of course, these actions have sparked a firestorm of blowback from politicians to the very gamers Blizzard is trying to silence.
As reported by Niraj Chokshi for The New York Times, "Gamers posted angrily on social media; an anti-Blizzard boycott trended on Twitter; company employees staged a walkout and at least one creator of the immensely popular World of Warcraft said he had canceled his personal subscription to the game. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, weighed in, as did Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat who said on Twitter that Blizzard had shown it was 'willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party.'"
Now, that is a harsh accusation and as such should be considered with care. Even though we do not know all the facts and cannot prove with certainty that Blizzard acted out of greed and subservience to the Chinese, we can analyze exactly how Blizzard has handled the aftermath of this controversy. A few days ago, Blizzard's annual event, BlizzCon, took place. Here, Blizzard's President, J. Allen Brack, opened the event with a speech addressing their handling of Mr. Chung and the other streamers involved in the incident. He did an admittedly masterful job of acting the part of an apologetic suit and almost convinced me this situation might not be black and white after all. Of course, in the wake of these flowery words, nothing was done to alleviate the bans of any of the streamers involved.
In an interview with Steven Messner for PC Gamer, Brack stated, "We want the official broadcasts, which are a small percentage of the overall content that gets created, to be about the games. And we want those to be focused on the games. Again, it's not about the content of Blitzchung's message. It's about the fact that it was not around the games."
Essentially, he was arguing staying on topic was such an important thing for Blizzard that banning streamers for long periods of time and confiscating thousands of dollars, initially, was the appropriate response and had absolutely nothing to do with their relationship to China. Even if this was true, what about the people just commenting on Twitch chats?
It quite simply does not add up. To me, Blizzard stinks of corporate greed and exposing themselves to the world as being in bed with one of the most corrupt governments in the world should honestly scare all of us. I could write an entirely new article on the implications of China censoring Americans through a proxy like corporations. If this continues and more corporations fall victim to greed, which they will, it is only a matter of time before China can exert considerable influence on our way of life. I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but in the world we live in, we cannot trust China and, apparently, not Blizzard either.