Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Ice Cold

So here’s something I’ll admit upfront: I’m a huge fan of Blizzard Entertainment and their games. Diablo, WarCraft, StarCraft, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm… I’ve spent quite a bit of time and even money enjoying those titles. Even though I haven’t played World of WarCraft, arguably their most popular product, I still own the lore books and the cookbook. So that leaves me in a bit of an awkward position because while Blizzard has announced some good looking games at their own convention, BlizzCon, it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable because of the recent controversy.

I hear many of you rolling your eyes right now. A corporation courts controversy? What a shock! But what is this controversy? Did they take bribes? Were there big layoffs that were really unfair? Did a CEO exploit their power for sexual favors?

Well… no… the screw-up here is a bit more… ummm… global.

On October 8th, Blizzard suspended a Hearthstone player by the name of Ng Wai Chung, also known as “Blitzchung” for an incident during a professional eSports tournament. This may seem reasonable on first reading it… except that the “incident” was Blitzchung saying “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution in our time” during the competition livestream. That was it — no revenge porn, naming names to sick fans on, or flashing a vulgar tattoo on the underside of his scrotum. Showing vocal support for protesters was enough to get him a yearlong ban from any Blizzard eSports.

For those who don’t know — and I don’t blame you because this was the first I’d heard of the situation — Blitzchung is referring to protests in Hong Kong against the Fugitives Offenders amendment bill, a bill that would allow extradition to China for criminal trials. That’s barely scratching the surface, but what’s important is that it’s an incredibly controversial bill that has sparked immense public outcry and human rights concerns. In this era of human rights violations and oppression, banning a player for taking a stance on an important issue — and then suspending three other players for agreeing with him on their own stream — can send a troubling message.

Now there are a few different factors to consider here. On one hand, Blizzard is a private company and as such, they’re perfectly within their right to set limits and guidelines for a tournament they own. “Revolution in our time,” after all, isn’t the most harmless phrase. On the other hand, taking a stand on human rights is a noble goal and taking a stand against that makes a very troubling statement, intentional or not. There’s also a third angle: see, like most video game companies, Blizzard gets a lot of business and money from China and it’s hard not to see this as a move to protect their bottom line. Suffice to say, it’s a messy situation.

The backlash against Blizzard’s actions was swift and immense, not only from fans but from Blizzard employees as well. There were numerous walkouts from Blizzard offices and even though the company denied their investments in China having influence in their decision, several employees, including head of Overwatch Jeff Kaplan, more or less called bull. In response, Blizzard shortened Blitzchung’s suspension from a year to six months and allowed him to collect his prize money from the tournament. Still, the fact that his suspension remained at all didn’t sit well with a lot of people and hostility toward the company was bubbling over.

Jump to this year’s BlizzCon where Blizzard president J. Allen Brack came out with an apology of sorts, saying that the actions they took were not in keeping with Blizzard’s mission. “We aspire to bring the world together in epic entertainment. I truly believe in the positive power of video games,” Brack said. “…We will do better going forward. But our actions are going to matter more than any of these words.” This received a… mixed response. Actually, who am I kidding? The response was profoundly negative. Many, like Jim Sterling, found the non-specific nature of the response and the fact that they still upheld the suspension cowardly. Suffice to say, though the response was not what Blizzard was hoping for, there was still some resurgence of goodwill toward the company (mostly from the trailers they released). That said, a lot of gamers were and are left conflicted.

See, even though some people have forgiven Blizzard, they still have reservations about the statement they’ve made through their actions. So begins the classic dilemma of liking a product (or many) but not wanting to support something objectionable. Complicating things even further boycotting the company would hurt workers in the company who had nothing to do with the decisions. I mean, let’s face it, people want to like what they like, but people still want to have a clear conscience. Well, for those struggling with the dilemma, let me clear it up for you…

This has been another important Sonic Says.

Now I realize that bashing Capitalism is controversial because we live in a capitalist system, though there’s been some pushback as of late. But let’s be real here: every corporation has done at least something shady, especially game companies. Bioware forces their employees into constant crunch time. Konami abandoned making games entirely to make gambling machines and screwed artists out of opportunities. EA… has far too many transgressions to list. Hell, the act of purchasing games on disk is problematic because a key component in the disks and most electronics, coltan, is a conflict material in the Congo.

Bottom line: there’s no way to run a guilt-free life, so you have to pick and choose what your conscience can handle. I hesitate to call it the Polanski dilemma because none of these CEOs have molested children (I hope not (please god no, I’d have to burn my entire hard drive)). Still, it all comes down to what you can handle or what issue you feel most strongly about. If you can’t stomach the fact that the Blizzard higher ups more or less supported a government that violates human rights, don’t support them. But don’t deny yourself happiness either or at least don’t make yourself suffer — we aren’t monks, after all. If your life is truly enriched by World of Warcraft or the Diablo series, you shouldn’t need to give that up. Yes, it’s important to take a stand, but it’s also important to remove suffering from your mental landscape. Finding the balance is when you truly live your best life.

So how about that Overwatch 2 trailer?

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