In its opening address to BlizzCon attendees on Friday, Blizzard finally gave an apology (of sorts) for its handling of the Hong Kong Hearthstone player controversy - but despite pledging to back up its words with actions, many fans expressed disappointment the company hadn't explained exactly what these would be. In particular, there was no word on whether pro-Hong Kong Hearthstone player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai's suspension would be further reduced or repealed, or whether the two Taiwanese casters would have their own six-month bans overturned.
Now, thanks to an interview with PC Gamer, we know the answer to that question: no.
"We want the official broadcasts, which are a small percentage of the overall content that gets created, to be about the games", Blizzard president J. Allen Brack reasoned. "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. If we hadn't taken action, if we hadn't done something, you can imagine the trail that would be in our future around doing interviews. They would become times for people to make a statement about whatever they wanted to, on whatever issue. That's just a path that we don't want to go down."
Brack also stated Blizzard wants players to express themselves on their private social media, but not through official channels. The company doesn't have a great track record in this regard, however, as three weeks ago an Overwatch coach said he was forced to delete his pro-Blitzchung tweet in the aftermath of the initial controversy (via The Dallas Morning News).
Referring to the two casters caught up in the controversy, Brack said the debate over whether the casters were actively involved in Blitzchung's protest was "not really something [Blizzard] considered". The main reason for their suspension, according to Brack, was that they failed to "keep the broadcast focused on what it needs to be focused on, which is the games, the winners, and the stories coming out of there.
"They were not successful in their job. That's how we made the decision on that."
Later in the interview, Brack also reiterated that the Chinese Weibo post made immediately after Blitzchung's suspension - which was widely circulated on western social media - was made by Blizzard's Chinese publisher NetEase.
"Blizzard is not legally allowed to operate or to publish games in China. You must have a partner. That is the regulation, that is law. NetEase is our partner. NetEase is not a government agency, NetEase is a company. They are the publisher.
"We are not legally allowed to operate those channels. We are not legally allowed to contribute. That is a NetEase decision, they are the publisher in China."
As our Robert Purchese found out from walking around BlizzCon, Blizzard's apology wasn't enough to silence protesters at the event, who felt Brack hadn't backed up his words with, well, actual actions. Blizzard did adhere to one of its promises, at least, which was to allow protesters to voice their opinions at the event - such as the kid who interrupted a World of Warcraft panel with chants of "free Hong Kong".
I came to #BlizzCon19 to make a point! My point has been proven! I ran up on the Q&A panel (World of Warcraft) and Yelled, “FREE HONG KONG!” Now remember, to keep fighting for basic human rights! #hongkong #blizzcon #BoycottBlizzard pic.twitter.com/z6M4VVpCnB— Matan Even (@mataneven) November 2, 2019
Given the consensus online that Blizzard is yet to qualify its words with significant actions, and frustrations remain over Blizzard's continued insistence that Chinese business interests had no influence on its decision, it seems this controversy isn't simply going to go away.