In a rare convergence of video gaming and international politics, Blizzard has spent much of the last month embroiling itself into a PR nightmare of its own making, leaving it squarely in the middle of an unwinnable tug-of-war between the need to please its fan while protecting its bottom line on the eve of its biggest event, BlizzCon.
The situation began after Blizzard banned a player (and confiscated his winnings) after he shouted a slogan supporting the Hong Kong protests during a livestream.
Blizzard later cut Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai’s suspension in half and returned his prize money—but most fans weren’t satisfied.
Many Blizzard fans aren’t happy over the company’s perceived acquiescence to Chinese autocracy. Fans have promised to uninstall Blizzard games and top streamers and gaming personalities have made statements condemning Blizzard’s decision. Now, the backlash is threatening to upset Blizzard’s biggest event of the year: BlizzCon, its annual convention, esports extravaganza, and self-aggrandizing party.
Fans have already formed communities online to organize protests of BlizzCon. The ProtestBlizzCon Reddit calls on users who live in Southern California to gather at the event. One of the top posts on that Reddit lists the ACLU’s guidelines for a peaceful protest. The Quartering YouTube channel just funded an entire Gofundme geared toward peacefully protesting BlizzCon. There’s also a similar Gofundme that recently exceeded its goal to send a protestor to BlizzCon.
Assuming protests do happen, how Blizzard reacts could have major repercussions for the company going forward. Outside of the event, Blizzard will likely want to push non-ticketed members of the public as far out of sight as possible. The company will want to keep any anti-Blizzard rhetoric as far away from its media parade as it can.
The issue with ignoring the protestors? It simply won’t work. Once anything happens, it’ll be recorded, commented on, and blasted across social media. If any protest takes place at the event, players watching at home will see it all over the internet. Any sign of heavy-handedness on Blizzard’s part, meanwhile, could enflame an already taught situation and further turn off fans who were on the fence.
Many players will recall last year’s BlizzCon when an attendee asked if Diablo Immortal was an out-of-season April Fools’ joke during the game’s post-reveal Q-and-A session. Since Blizzard screens questions before they’re asked, the guy who trolled Diablo Immortal had to lie to get mic time. With all of the outrage Blizzard has inspired, it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple fans take over the mic to make a political statement this year.
How Blizzard reacts to the protest and dissent that’s expected to be showcased at BlizzCon will continue to shape the company’s image in the public eye. And, longterm, if it only further enflames fan outrage, then it’ll eventually hit Blizzard where it hurts the most: Its pocketbook.