When I was in 8th grade I remember getting home, hitting up the 56k modem and hearing the familiar “clang” of the Battle.Net menu buttons. From 4-pooling on Blood Bath to VTEC Paintball to intense trading post games, Diablo and StarCraft were fundamental parts of my childhood. And even before then, the magic of PC gaming was first introduced to me when I was at a friend’s house and got to play Warcraft for the first time. Sally shears and glittering prizes are still phrases I remember to this day.
Blizzard for many people has been a community more than a company over the course of their lives. Their games, while fewer than other developers, hold these incredible lifespans and legacies that literally pass through generations. How many people lived in the RTS version of Azeroth just to see it open up in the MMORPG genre with the World of Warcraft release? How many people can remember killing Diablo underneath Tristram for the first time and now await the announcement of a fourth game decades later? These games have defined childhoods and relationships of all kinds. They’ve created countless online communities and living histories. And this week the company behind these experiences may have squandered all of that with a single decision.
Earlier this week Blizzard administered a striking punishment to Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for making a pro Hong Kong statement following a tournament victory. Political statements during sporting events are no stranger to controversy, and I personally hold the belief that Blizzard was well within its rights to administer some sort of punishment to keep levity in their entertainment products. But their punishment went beyond enforcing rules and well into “making an example” territory by suspending Blitzchung for a year, removing his tournament winnings and his previous season winnings, and even firing the two casters who performed the interview.
It’s clear to me that this was clearly a political gesture in response to a political gesture.
The rest of the world seems to agree as well. Since the decision Blizzard has been the target of incredible attention, receiving condemnation from Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. The news story about Blizzard employees staging a walk-out is currently the most upvoted story ever on reddit’s r/news, passing stories such as Stephen Hawking and Stan Lee passing away. A cursory glance on any community site shows countless posts of people unsubscribing and deleting accounts.
I’m one of those people that deleted their account. The thought of even playing a game of theirs makes me feel uncomfortable. But this wasn’t the only thing the company has done that’s caused me to reflect on my time spent with their products. Earlier this year the company laid off nearly 800 employees. The carefully crafted diversity of the Overwatch cast is erased in markets like Russia or China. Profanity filters on Chinese servers have included Hong Kong related terms for some time.
But it was this moment that really caused me to realize that the company I had grown up with was not the same anymore. That’s literally true of course, as Activision Blizzard is the company now, but most people usually just refer to Blizzard when discussing their specific products. But it goes deeper than that. While the company’s original games seemed to have a genuineness to them, going back to cases like Tracer’s actual identity being erased in certain markets makes you wonder – what if it’s not erased? What if things like her sexual orientation aren’t a part of canon with inclusionary intent but just a way to market progressive and then conservative values simply for marketing? While everything a company does is largely to generate profit, having the appeal to pathos laid so bare can make one take a more objective look at the entertainment they consume.
Along with the people speaking out against Blizzard there are of course the detractors that admonish any sort of action like unsubscribing or deleting accounts. They claim that individual actions won’t matter, or that you’re throwing away money, or that Blizzard did nothing wrong at all. My only response to those claims is that I removed this part of my personal history because I want to be comfortable with my own ethics. My entertainment is not worth the feeling in the back of my mind that I’m supporting a company that makes examples out of players who advocate for democracy and human rights. Especially when that company has a statue outside its headquarters with the words “Every Voice Matters” on it.
My first paid reporting job ended spectacularly when I publicly blew the whistle on them trying to pass off advertisements as editorials without labeling them as such. I had a Master’s in Journalism primarily because I wanted to report in video gaming. I was doing what I wanted and I was presented with a situation that would have made me compromise my values in order to proceed.
Quitting may or may not have changed their business practices. Deleting my account with Blizzard may or may not change theirs. Regardless of how many drops it takes to fill a bucket, the actions of those drops matter to those making them.
In closing I ask people to remember that not everyone is able to act on their ethics and that is in no way a failing on their part. Many people rely on Blizzard for income, maintaining personal connections, or other reasons. All we can do is what we’re able.
And with that my time as a Blizzard player comes to an end, with a simple email confirmation that my data protection request has been received.