Blizzard’s annual gaming convention, Blizzcon, kicked off today at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. As expected, there were protests over the company’s mistreatment of a Hong Kong gamer who made a comment supporting freedom in Hong Kong during a live-stream.
The protesters gathered outside of the Anaheim Convention Center on Friday afternoon, the first day of the two-day event. Many held up signs that read messages including “Free Hong Kong,” “Shame on Blizzard” and “Blizzard = China’s bitch.” Several attendees were also dressed as Winnie the Pooh, which has been banned in China over jokes that the portly character resembles President Xi Jinping. One protester wore a Xi mask in addition to his Pooh costume, asking passersby, “Would you like to commit some genocide?” while holding out dollar bills.
Protesters started early in the morning by handing out “Mei with Hong Kong” T-shirts near the entrance of BlizzCon before the protest’s official noon start-time. Mei, an “Overwatch” hero, has become a symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Around noon, chants of slogans like “Oppression is wrong, free Hong Kong,” “people over profit” and “gamers unite for human rights” broke out.
Inside the event, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack started the show by making an apology. “We moved too quickly in our decision and then to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you,” he said. He added, “And for that I am sorry and I accept accountability.” That’s an apology of sorts and he also promises to “do better going forward.” Later he added that Blizzard is committed “to everyone’s right to express themselves.”
That sounds good, but you’ll notice he doesn’t ever mention Hong Kong or the name of the gamer in question. So will this American company actually stand up for American values like freedom of speech the next time this comes up or will they flinch the moment someone uses their platform to criticize communist China?
You can watch his statement below and judge for yourself. What I see is another carefully phrased attempt to sound like they’ve learned their lesson without actually saying anything that might agitate China. This is basically what the NBA has been doing over the same time period. They come out and claim to be defending free speech but no one (except Shaq) is willing to say they support freedom in Hong Kong. In fact, NBA Commissioner Silver was recently seen talking about the freedom not to speak. That’s what Blizzard seems to be exercising.
Here are some social media videos and images of the protests taking place outside the event:
Protest gearing up outside of Blizzcon pic.twitter.com/xOn012JFPf
— Jake Dekker (@jacobdekk) November 1, 2019
— alessandro fillari (@afillari) November 1, 2019
Here’s one of the protest organizers explaining the reason for the protest. You’ll see some people in Winnie the Pooh costumes representing President Xi:
Protestors at #BlizzCon in Anaheim are upset gamr company Blizzard stripped a title, took prize money and banned gamer #Blitzchung for supporting the Hong Kong protests. Blizzard has apologized and returned the money. @KFIAM640 pic.twitter.com/IPD9dRFihv
— Corbin Carson (@CorbinCarson) November 1, 2019
And here’s the President’s opening message. Again, this sounds to me like corporate-speak which praises free-speech in theory without ever daring to say anything but YMMV. As I’ve said before, I don’t expect American companies that do business in China to go all out attacking communism in every corporate communication, but they ought to be able to say something like ‘Everyone everywhere deserves the freedom to speak’ (as he does here) without breaking out in a flop-sweat and taking weeks to get to the only possible answer to what should have been a very simple question.