Blizzard President Discusses the Fallout From Blitzchung Controversy
Blizzcon 2019 was always going to be a big one. At the annual Blizzard Entertainment fan festival, the company unveiled two highly anticipated, albeit leaked, projects with Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2. But for Blizzard president, J. Allen Brack, there was a Hong Kong-sized elephant in the room.IGN spoke with the Blizzard executive after his opening keynote to dive deeper into how the controversy around Blitzchung impacted Blizzard in the lead up to Blizzcon. The first thing IGN asked Brack is how he feels about the protesters who gathered outside Blizzcon this weekend.The Blizzard China Controversy Explained“We’re big believers in free expression. I’m personally a big believer in free expression,” Brack said to IGN. “So, it’s a little interesting for me personally to be a person who’s involved in not being a supporter. The supporters there are welcome. Protest is part of what it is to be in our culture.”Brack says that he’s happy if there are Blizzard employees who partake in the protest, similar to what employees told Kotaku. “That’s something we’re happy to have as part of our culture.”During his opening keynote, Brack apologized for mishandling the Blitzchung controversy when Blizzard punished Hong Kong Hearthstone pro Ng Way “Blitzchung” Chung for publicly supporting the Hong Kong liberation protests during an official Overwatch stream. Blizzard initially punished Chung by banning him for 12 months and stripping him of his prize money.However, a vocal online push back from the Blizzard community and U.S. lawmakers led to Blizzard walking back and lowering Chung’s punishment to a six-month ban and restoring his prize money.Chung is still banned from competitive play, and Brack did not mention him by name during his keynote. Brack says the reason why Chung remains banned but had his punishment lessened, comes down to two things.“Do we think that official broadcasts are something that we want to keep about games? They are. And I think that is clear in terms of how we came back and said, ‘hey, we’re going to continue to have a suspension.’”At the same time, Brack acknowledged there was concern about the “heavy-handedness of the penalty,” and that he agreed. “That’s why you saw us walk back the penalty, walk back the earnings that Blitzchung had earned.”Blizzcon 2019 Hong Kong ProtestsBlizzard’s confusing message behind the Blitzchung controversy was compounded by an official Hearthstone Weibo post that IGN was able to translate. In it, the Chinese-language statement made it clear that Blitzchung’s punishment was part of protecting “national dignity.” Compared to Blizzard’s statement where the company said its relationship with China had no impact behind the initial punishment.“I think there is a lot of confusion around how publishing games work in China,” Brack said. “We are not legally allowed to [publish our games in China].” We must have a partner… in this case, Netease.”Netease runs the official Hearthstone Weibo account, and Brack said the statement made on that account is wholly theirs. “It is their quote. It is their employees that made that quote. It is not something that we approved. It is not something that we would have approved. It is not something that we feel like is representative [of Blizzard].”Brack didn’t address how the company’s interest in the Asian video game market played into its Blitzchung decision, and on the whole, Brack appeared more apologetic over how the situation unfolded and affected the company than how it impacted Blitzchung. But Brack says that it will be looking into its esports rules to make them clearer and hopefully prevent a similar situation in the future.“I think this has been a humbling incident for Blizzard, really across the board, if you think about how this has really, kind of, taken over and kind of taken on a life of its own,” Brack said. “I think there’s a lot of work that we want to kind of continue to do, to think about how to prevent something like this from ever happening again. It’s been a – I think – a nightmare for all involved.”
Interview conducted by James Duggan.Matt Kim is a reporter for IGN. You can reach him on Twitter.