At a time in which major game publishers seem desperate to one-up each other’s catastrophic PR fiascos, Blizzard has seemingly cornered the market on controversy in 2019.
For those unaware of what’s transpired in the past few days, Blizzard has caught an overwhelming amount of flack for essentially kowtowing to Chinese censorship after the winner of a Hearthstone tournament voiced his support for the Hong Kong protests. Headquartered in Irvine, California, Blizzard aren’t technically at the behest of China, though they’re business interests in the communist state were clearly at risk, as they rushed to rescind the winner’s prize money and slap him with a one year ban.
Wai Chung, or Blitzchung, as he’s better known, later stated that his on-stream actions were “just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention.” Blizzard’s actions against Chung prompted severe backlash from Hearthstone fans, and they later halved his twelve-month ban and returned his winnings, though it did little to assuage angered fans.
The principal issue here is that, while Chung did technically violate terms to which he had agreed before competing in Blizzard’s tournament, Blizzard was conspicuously quick to silence him despite their “every voice matters” slogan. It also seems highly hypocritical that a company apparently so invested in the perpetuation of diverse ideals would immediately comply with China’s strict regulations. In a nutshell, Blizzard’s refutation of Blitzchung’s remarks laid bare for all to see the fact that they’re much more interested in parlaying with a repressive, controversial regime than standing up for the values in which they supposedly so strongly believe.
Though Blizzard later claimed that their dealings in China didn't impact their decisions on the matter, that failed to appease the skeptical masses, and all of this has culminated in a massive boycott of the World of Warcraft and Overwatch publisher. #BoycottBlizzard was trending on Twitter not long after this all went down, and many consumers are currently abstaining from any of their upcoming releases—that’s where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare comes in.
Though Call of Duty has always been an Activision brand, gamers tend to forget exactly how closely connected these two corporate entities are. Back in 2008, Activision merged with Vivendi, Blizzard’s parent company, and took on the name Activision Blizzard. Despite the name, Activision Blizzard’s two halves need to be treated as a whole, and that means Activision also deserves blame for what has transpired.
Call of Duty isn’t nearly as large in China as titles like Honor of Kings, Hearthstone, or even PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. In fact, Call of Duty Mobile, a game developed by infamous Chinese multimedia conglomerate Tencent, isn’t even available in the country at the time of writing. That said, Activision Blizzard’s business interests in the region still supersede their moral convictions, and, as a result, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare should fall in the crosshairs of their most recent controversy, and players taking a stand by deleting their Battle.net accounts and uninstalling their launcher need to maintain their rejection of the company’s attitudes by leaving Modern Warfare on store shelves.
The gaming community can protest all it wants, but we’ve long known that Activision Blizzard is beholden to no one besides their shareholders, and, should this dust-up cause Modern Warfare’s sales to tank, they’ll have no choice but to offer more than a limp apology.
Activision Blizzard are, of course, the same geniuses who asked fans if they didn’t own smartphones when they announced a Diablo mobile spin-off that nobody wanted at last year’s Blizzcon. They’re also headed by CEO Bobby Kotic, who was recently allegedly linked to the questionable dealings of Jeffry Epstein, though that story has more or less been swallowed by the Blitzchung affair.
As it stands, gamers looking to protest Blizzard need to keep in mind how closely tied they are to Activision, and, if activism of this nature is to be successful, it will have to have an impact on Activison’s output. While boycotting Hearthstone or deleting a World of Warcraft Classic account may be a start, gamers will need to make a true stand by ending their support for the Call of Duty franchise.
NetEase called it a bug, but others called it a feature.