Like many big names in the gaming industry, Blizzard has not had a great relationship with gamers in the past. In 2010, the company tried to introduce Real ID, requiring forum users to use their real names, but had to back down after a strongly negative reaction and fears of privacy abuses.
This time, the big controversy has to do with the banning of a Hong Kong Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung, known as Blitzchung, who used a gaming event to express his support for the Hong Kong protests.
Blitzchung was fined and banned for a year, but Blizzard had to backtrack and reduce the penalty to six months, giving him back his $10,000 prize. This happened after the company started losing sponsors while receiving bipartisan criticism from US politicians, and from some of its own employees.
A “venomous online backlash” against US video game developer and publisher Blizzard is souring the upcoming BlizzCon – the giant’s annual convention, the LA Times writes.
According to the LA Times, that may prove to have been too little, too late to save BlizzCon as a positive experience, where, according to anonymous sources from inside the company, security is being increased for fear of protesters showing up at the event.
Blizzard – in which China’s behemoth Tencent has a 5-percent ownership stake – defended its decision to punish Blitzchung by saying it came because he broke the company’s rules on bringing politics into its gaming events, rather than out of a desire to appease China.
And although at the time about 30 employees walked out in Blizzard’s campus in Irvine, discussions on internal forums showed that not everyone was convinced the company had made a mistake, said an unnamed employee.
Once again, the debate appears to have come down to whether political speech should be allowed within a company. Some current and former employees believe that Blizzard’s actions don’t have much to do with the Chinese financial influence – considering that Tencent has much bigger stakes in other American publishers.
Instead, they speculate that the stepping down of founder and president Mike Morhaime last October – who was known for opposing the #GamerGate movement – has produced a company culture that is “increasingly corporate and less focused on its values and its people” – an odd statement to make considering the majority of those GamerGaters are the ones that have been most supportive of Hong Kong and free speech.