Gamers aren’t happy with American video game company Activision Blizzard.
Although the company just announced a new shooter game and more expansions to its nostalgic franchises, including “World of Warcraft” and “Hearthstone,” some gamers say they are hesitant about giving the company their time and money.
The American company has come under fire after it banned Hong Kong player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung in October for shouting the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” during a livestreamed post-match interview. Blizzard said the act violated its competition rules because it brought the player into “public disrepute,” offended the public and damaged Blizzard’s image. Ng was initially stripped of his potential winnings and banned from competing for the next year.
Last month, social media reacted in outrage at news of the ban. Players posted images of themselves uninstalling or canceling subscriptions to hugely popular Blizzard games. Blizzard eventually shortened Ng’s ban and restored his winnings. It later banned an American University team for holding up a poster that said “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizz.”
The company’s president apologized Friday. “We moved too quickly in our decision and then to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you,” said president J. Allen Brack at the kick-off event on Friday. “I am sorry and I accept accountability.”
But many onlookers, who are attending the annual BlizzCon gaming convention in Anaheim, California, or tuning in online, said it wasn’t enough.
“The apology Blizzard made was absolutely PR damage control,” said Fadel Ragheb, 23, a gamer, streamer and podcaster in Montreal who tuned into the event online. “Having the CEO come up on stage and expect everyone to get over it by basically saying ‘sorry’ and then showing a game trailer for ‘Diablo IV’ shows just how much they want to bury the story, instead of tackling it head on and trying to fix their image.”
Mass protests in Hong Kong, which began five months ago over a controversial China extradition law, have grown into more violent demonstrations over fears around Beijing’s tightening grip on the important financial hub. China denies the charge.
The protests have been a thorn in China’s side and have ensnared many Western companies, including the NBA. Some gamers believe Blizzard’s move to punish Ng was an assault on free speech and a bow to China. Blizzard has said that its interests in China did not influence its decision to ban Blitzchung, but gamers remain skeptical.
“I don’t see any legitimate change happening in the future. It sounds like they’re hoping people won’t pay attention to the language used and will just forget about it,” said Eli Jackson, 27, a gamer who works as a manager at a Las Vegas shipping center and who also tuned in online.
Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN Business on Saturday.
Many protesters also showed up on Saturday outside BlizzCon after attending events on Friday. They handed out thousands of t-shirts to attendees on both days. Some wore shirts protesting Blizzard or expressing a pro-Hong Kong stance.
On Friday, American University student and esports player Torin Wright, 19, shared a poem he had wrote earlier in the summer as the Hong Kong protests ramped up. “The wounding from your massacre, wading into rough swamps, wondering like childhood’s touch,” he read.
He told CNN Business Saturday, “I chose to read it in place of my speech because I felt it was a great way to show how people’s different passions can be expressed in free speech.”
Charles Lam, 46, a protester with the nonprofit Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles said: “Blizzard is not in the thought police business. I hate to see the company be drawn into that.”
The dissatisfaction with Blizzard’s response could reverberate to sales, some players said.
Blizzcon attendee Andrew Kane, 32, a game developer who has been in the industry for 9 years, said, he and his three friends were thinking of delaying their purchases of any new Blizzard games until the company resolved the issue.
But other gamers think the extended fallout will be minimal.
“It would unfortunately be very uncharacteristic of the gaming community to stick to their guns on this issue for an extended period of time,” Jackson, of Las Vegas, said. “Gamers are largely consumers first and foremost, so game announcements and trailers are like dangling a shiny object in front of a cat.”
Nomura Instinet analyst Andrew Marok told CNN Business, “There are certainly a number of gamers who feel very strongly about this issue, but we think it’s a relatively small part of Blizzard’s total player base. From a business perspective, we think the company’s emphasis will continue to be on producing high-quality games and that’s what will drive results.”