World of Warcraft and Overwatch publisher Blizzard Entertainment is in a mess. It punished Hearthstone esports competitor Blitzchung for speaking out in support of Hong Kong protesters. It even plans to stop working with the commentators who conducted the interview. Now, Blizzard is facing a wave of criticism. And while that outrage’s is happening online, BlizzCon — the company’s fan expo — begins October 31 at the Anaheim Convention Center. And many attendees are planning to bring their anger and disappointment with them.
BlizzCon is a weekend gathering for Blizzard, its games, and the people who love them and make them. It has presentations, panels, and keynotes where the studio makes big new announcements. Traditionally, it is a big celebration, but that was less true for last year’s event. Many Blizzard fans were expecting the company to announce a new PC and console entry Diablo action role-playing series. Instead, the publisher revealed Diablo: Immortal for iOS and Android, and fans were furious. During a question-and-answer session, one fan sarcastically asked the Diablo Immortal team if they were making an offseason April Fools’ joke.
Last year’s BlizzCon has now set the stage for the 2019 event. Fans are already skeptical of Blizzard. While it was once beloved, Blizzard has lost some of its luster as it has succumbed to the influence of its parent company Activision (which goes by the name Activision Blizzard). To some long-time fans, Diablo Immortal seems like the company leaving them behind to chase after Chinese mobile players. And now Blizzard is rushing to punish a pro player to insulate China from criticism.
For angry fans, BlizzCon is a chance to make Blizzard pay.
What’s going to happen at BlizzCon?
All anyone on the BlizzCon forum on Reddit can talk about is China, Hong Kong, and how to respond to Blizzard. Moderators are closing topics in an effort to funnel all discussion into one thread. But new topics, like this one asking for a repeat of the April Fools’ guy from last year continue to bubble up.
“BlizzCon is about the people, and video of the event often shows crowds and attendees of the events,” Reddit poster G3t0nmyl3v3l writes. “You won’t be able to make out the shirts unless we pick a color to support HK, like a bright neon orange, and even then posters will have a higher chance of making an impact.”
With these calls to protest or disrupt, others are worrying that Blizzard will eliminate the chances for audience participation.
“Blizzard knows what’s at stake and they have never been in a worse spot both from the perception of the community and the revenue from their games,” Reddit poster Timboron writes. “This BlizzCon is where they have to turn it around (with rumored announcements of Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4) and they won’t risk it by giving room for the ‘vocal minority’ they have invited to their event.”
Can you still enjoy BlizzCon?
Many attendees just want to go and have a good time. And their concern is about protesters disrupting that fun. And others are justifying Blizzard’s actions in an effort to ensure everyone still wants to go with them to BlizzCon.
“Could we please just enjoy BlizzCon and their games,” Reddit user Queenx writes. “In my heart, I think Blizzard did that to keep politics out of gaming, but people are thinking it was a political move. Let’s say Blizzard decides to do nothing about the episode. Suddenly, now people would think it’s OK to do political manifestation during livestreaming. Would you want that in a hearthstone match? Like someone doing pro-Trump or pro-China in tournaments? I honestly think politics should stay out of gaming.”
Of course, Blizzard isn’t even hiding that this is political. In its original statement about banning Blitzchung, the company said this was about defending China in its post on that country’s Weibo microblogging service (via esports consultant Rod Breslau):
“We’re very angered and disappointed at what happened at the event and do not condone it in any way. We also highly object the spreading of personal political beliefs in this manner…We will always respect and defend the pride of our country.”
All of this is tainting BlizzCon. I’m sure many people will go and still have a good time. It’s even possible to have fun while criticizing Blizzard. But if you want to go to BlizzCon to experience a bubble where everyone has hearts in their eyes for the developer, that’s gone. And it could creep into every party of the event. Some genuine protesters may show up. Others may use this as a launchpad to renew anger over Diablo Immortal.
This is a mess.