The Blizzcon protests that were promised by irate fans appear to be underway. Several people are reporting Hong Kong flags flying, t-shirts featuring the Overwatch character Mei and pro-Hong Kong slogans, and a rash of Winnie The Pooh cosplayers.
If you're wondering why there are Blizzcon protests going on, here's the short timeline of events:
- Hong Kong has been protesting against an extradition law that is seen as an overreach of Chinese power. The protests have been going on for more than four months.
- A couple of weeks ago, professional Hearthstone player (and Hong Kong native) Ng "blitzchung" Wai Chung utters a pro-Hong Kong slogan in a post-match interview on a livestream.
- Blizzard Entertainment withdraws his prize money and bans him for 12 months.
- Understandably, people are outraged, deleting their Battle.net accounts and promising to protest at Blizzcon.
- The American University Hearthstone college team holds up a pro-Hong Kong sign during a livestream, but Blizzard does not take any action to punish them. They forfeit the season regardless.
- Four days after blitzchung's protest, Blizzard walks back his punishment to a 6-month ban and promises to pay his prize money.
- The American University Hearthstone team are finally banned by Blizzard, also for six months. One of the team members provides TechRaptor with a scathing statement on the matter.
- A bipartisan group of United States Senators pens a letter to Activision, asking them to reevaluate the situation and consider what they are doing.
- Mitsubishi Taiwan pulls a sponsorship deal from an upcoming Hearthstone tournament.
- Blizzcon begins, and multiple people and organizations (such as Freedom HK and Fight For The Future) follow through on previously-announced Blizzcon protests.
And that about catches you up with the broad strokes.
Essentially, the issue comes down to players perceiving Blizzard Entertainment and Activision valuing the Chinese market over freedom of speech. As such, they're not only protesting at Blizzcon — they're deliberately making use of imagery that can be viewed as provacative or offensive in China.
Mei with HK at the Blizzcon Protests
One of the earliest ideas wielded by protestors around the world is appropriating the Chinese Overwatch hero Mei as a symbol for their protests. Fanart (like the above image from @FreedomHKG) and cosplay were proposed for these protests, and the Freedom Hong Kong organization promised to hand out free "Mei With Hong Kong" t-shirts during Blizzcon.
Well, Freedom Hong Kong followed through with their promise and are giving away free t-shirts at Blizzcon while flying the Hong Kong flag.
The general idea behind approprating Mei as a symbol was twofold. First, it would be offensive as she is a Chinese character. Secondly, having Mei associated with the Hong Kong protest movement would put Overwatch in a tricky position in China, potentially forcing them to censor the game in the market.
Aside from this one move, another beloved character has made an appearance. Believe it or not, it's Winnie The Pooh.
Aside from Hong Kong flags, t-shirts, and Mei, there's also been several people spotting cosplaying as... Winnie The Pooh?
The choice to cosplay as Winnie The Pooh is pretty amusing. Back in 2017, China's leader Xi Jinping was not very happy about being compared to Winnie The Pooh. Consequently, the country banned Winnie The Pooh in various forms... and people compare Xi Jinping to Winnie The Pooh at every given opportunity as a matter of protest.
That, of course, has led to several people electing to go for a very odd (but nonetheless appropriate) cosplay choice for the Blizzcon protests.
And a lot of Winnie the Poohs pic.twitter.com/iCifPJrBJ4— Patrick Shanley (@pshanley88) November 1, 2019
Fighting for the Future
In addition to Freedom Hong Kong, Fight For The Future will be organizing action throughout Blizzcon:
On Friday, November 1st, Gamers for Freedom will be organizing protests outside of BlizzCon. Gamers from around the world will be in attendance to share their voices in support of banned Hearthstone player Ng Wai “blitzchung” Chung, Hong Kong residents standing up for their liberty, and free expression online. The day will be filled with passionate speakers, fun events, and acts of legal, nonviolent protest.
J. Allen Brack Addresses The Blizzcon Protests
Blizzard President J. Allen Brack addressed the crowd live on air.
"Before we start the opening ceremony, I want to say a few words. You know, Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone esports moment about a month ago and we did not. We moved too quickly in our decision-making, and then — to make matters worse — we were too slow to talk to all of you.
What I think about — what I'm most unhappy about — is really two things. The first one is we didn't live up to the high standards that we really set for ourselves, and the second is we failed in our purpose. And for that, I am sorry and I accept accountability.
So what exactly is our purpose? Blizzcon is demonstrating it even as we speak. We aspire to bring the world together in epic entertainment. And I truly believe in the positive power of video games.
When we get it right, we create a common ground where the community comes together, to compete, connect, and play, irrespective of the things that divide us. As an example, Blizzcon has people from 59 countries all around the world here at the show today. That is amazing. And that is the positive power of video games. To transcend divisions that surround us in so many of our places today.
We will do better going forward. But our actions are gonna matter more than any of these words. As you walk around this weekend, I hope it's clear how committed we are to everyone's right to express themselves in all kinds of ways in all kinds of places. I've actually seen and heard many of you expressing yourself this morning.
You use your vacation and your family time to be here in Anaheim here with us, and we are so grateful that you're here this weekend. Our best moments are here in our shared passion for Blizzard games. So once again, Blizzcon has brought us together, and today you're gonna see a lot of the hard work of the Blizzard team.
I am personally— I am personally so proud of what we are building and I hope you love it, too. Thank you for joining us."
What Lies Ahead?
J. Allen Brack's opening speech may have helped defuse the situation, but the Blizzcon protests have only such begun. The wider reaction and long-term effects remain to be seen.
Blizzcon 2019 is now well underway. Stick with TechRaptor for all your Blizzcon 2019 coverage!
What do you think of the Blizzcon protests? Do you think J. Allen Brack's apology is sufficient? What do you think the long-term effects on the company will be? Let us know in the comments below!