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Blizzard President J. Allen Brack apologized at BlizzCon at the Anaheim Convention Center on Nov. 1 for punishing a video game tournament player over showing his support for Hong Kong protesters.
Yet his apology did little to appease the 50 protesters parked outside the convention halls.
The professional Hearthstone tournament player, named Ng Wai Chung, publicly sided with Hong Kong in a dispute about its opposition to Chinese policies.
Anaheim protesters, and thousands of social media protesters, felt Blizzard was afraid to take on China, where Blizzard sells millions in products.
The Anaheim Convention Center has been home to every Blizzard convention, known as BlizzCon, since 2005. Year after year it has grown to become a significantly large event, and in 2018, it had an attendance of more than 40,000 fans.
While not mentioning the specific incident, Brack issued the apology at the Anaheim convention’s opening ceremony.
“Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone Esports moment about a month ago, and, we did not,” Brack said. “We moved too quickly in our decision making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you.”
But the protesters said the apology isn’t enough for what happened.
“The fact he didn’t have any actions and say what they’re going to do, going forward, is very telling,” said protester Ben Harris in an interview with Eurogamer.
Activision Blizzard is a multi-billion dollar American video game publisher and developer based in Santa Monica, California. Among some of Blizzard’s most popular games are Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Overwatch.
Blizzard has been receiving backlash from fans after punishing Chung – known by his gaming nickname of “blitzchung” – early this October.
The Hearthstone player was stripped of his monetary prize and suspended of one year of professional competition in Hearthstone after sharing his support for Hong Kong protesters in a post-match interview.
Although Blizzard has lessened his punishment, fans are still calling out the company for taking action under the pressure of the Chinese government and for restricting freedom of speech.
The Hong Kong protests started earlier this year in March, where Hong Kong citizens protested an extradition bill that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China.
The Chinese government has targeted companies who either support Hong Kong or fail to punish affiliated persons who do so.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV did not air pre-arranged NBA preseason games following a tweet in early October from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, where he stated his support for Hong Kong protesters.
Since Blizzard has a large fanbase in China, fans are accusing the company of selfishly protecting its financial interests instead of human rights. The gaming company has denied the charge in multiple published accounts, saying that Chung’s actions went against its competition policy of offending a portion of the public and damaging the company’s image.
Many gamers and activists online and at the BlizzCon protest were not impressed with the apology. They argued that Blizzard hadn’t taken action to show that it was sorry, and that the apology itself was empty, fake, or purely a PR move. The protesters at the convention continued to protest for the rest of the day.
Fight for the Future, a non-profit organization that strives to ensure freedom of expression and creativity on the internet, and one of the organizers of the protest at the event, took to Twitter to express its view of the apology.
“This was not an apology. An apology means taking responsibility for your actions and explaining how you are going to do better. This was a carefully scripted, but meaningless PR statement. If Blizzard is sorry they should change their policy banning political speech,” tweeted Fight for the Future.
This was not an apology.
An apology means taking responsibility for your actions and explaining how you are going to do better.
This was a carefully scripted, but meaningless PR statement.
— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) November 1, 2019
Another twitter user expressed his anger about the apology, tagging a creator of a web show (Jim Sterling) that criticizes the game industry to make a new video about the controversy.
“@JimSterling Did you watch Blizzcon’s intro? That ‘apology’? That was pathetic and cowardly. They did not address China or Hong Kong, the controversy or anything. I hope you have a video coming up about how weasley that ‘apology’ was,” tweeted Manuel, whose last name wasn’t given.
@JimSterling Did you watch Blizzcon’s intro? That “apology”? That was pathetic and cowardly. They did not address China or Hong Kong, the controversy or anything. I hope you have a video coming up about how weasely that “apology” was.
— Manuel Gonzalez the 3rd (@MaAlGon3) November 1, 2019
Fight for the Future teamed up with Freedom Hong Kong and Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles (HKFLA) for the protest on the first day of BlizzCon, Nov. 1. The protest was coordinated with the gaming and internet activist communities through online message boards and social media accounts.
The protesters raised awareness on the struggle in Hong Kong and freedom of speech rights.
The protesters handed out 4,000 free T-shirts sponsored by Freedom Hong Kong to attendees. The shirts featured an image of Mei, a popular Chinese character from the video game Overwatch, holding a Hong Kong flag, with the phrase “Mei with Hong Kong”.
Mei has become a symbol of the protests against Blizzard.
— alessandro fillari (@afillari) November 1, 2019
Charles Lam, one of the protesters from HKFLA, said that he was mostly concerned about democracy in Hong Kong and not gaming companies. However, he admitted that the two issues came together here.
“We really treasure the freedom of speech in America and we urge the companies here not to succumb to Chinese bullying on the freedom of speech,” said Lam in an interview with PC Gamer.
Many protesters held umbrellas, a symbol of the Hong Kong protests, and dressed in Hong Kong protester gear and other costumes to show their support. Protesters also carried signs with statements supporting Hong Kong or calling out Blizzard to take action.
— suhauna hussain (@suhaunah) November 1, 2019
One of the more popular protester costumes was Winnie the Pooh, another symbol of the Hong Kong resistance. Winnie the Pooh was banned in China because of the multiple comments that compared Chinese President Xi Jinping to the cartoon character.
— Alex Stedman (@a_sted) November 1, 2019
Various chants from the protesters were heard throughout the day, such as “Gamers for freedom,” “Gamers unite for human rights” and “Oppression is wrong, free Hong Kong.”
While the protest numbers might not have been large, many attendees said they supported the protesters and their message. Some attendees even raised their fists and cheered while walking past the protesters.
For those that did protest on the convention floor, some wore costumes that supported Hong Kong or walked out of specific game segments. According to PC Gamer, crowd members in different game promotion stages such as Hearthstone and World of Warcraft walked out at the beginning of the segments.
Some fans, having already bought the ticket itself months ago, decided to not buy any Blizzard merchandise.
Another young attendee named Matan Evenoff interrupted a fan question, chanting “Free Hong Kong.”
Blizzard president Brack told the audience: “We aspire to bring the world together in epic entertainment, and I truly believe in the positive power of video games.”