Several groups had planned on-site and online protests against Blizzard Entertainment as a result of the Irvine, Calif-based company’s decision to ban Ng Wai Chung, known by his gamertag blitzchung, a professional player of Hearthstone, for one year and take his winnings. That ban was reduced to six month and his winnings were reinstated after a bipartisan letter from U.S. congressmen and senators.
Along with the change in course, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack issued an apology for his company’s action at the opening of Blizzcon, saying, “We moved too quickly in our decision-making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you. … I am sorry and I accept accountability.”
Blizzard went on to announce two highly anticipated games, Diablo IV and Overwatch 2, to cheers.
For the protesters outside, Blizzard’s apology and new games, were not enough.
“We are talking about freedom of speech," said Carmen Yu, 61, a retiree who was among the protesters, who chanted slogans, waved flags and handed out free t-shirts. "[Blitzchung] didn’t do anything but just say ‘free Hong Kong’ and then he got banned from playing the game. Blizzard doesn’t have to do that. We call it kowtow.”
“This should not happen in America. These actions should not have happened, especially with an American company,” said Charles Lam, 46 a longtime pro-Hong Kong activist whose NGO was giving out the shirts.
Protesters said they hoped to raise awareness of the Hong Kong freedom movement among attendees and encourage them to pressure Blizzard by not purchasing its products.
Though the number of protesters outside the event did not reflect the degree of opposition online, many attendees were seen with Hong Kong and Tawian flags inside the event as well.
A cosplayer who goes by Dani Skye, who was dressed as a mash up of Sailor Moon and Sylvanus from World of Warcraft, included a Hong Kong flag in her get up.
“They already have my money, no refunds kind of thing," she said. "You make more of a statement by showing up and saying something than not coming at all."
She added that she cancelled her Blizzard subscriptions, despite being a huge fan of their games.
“It put me in a really hard ethical place … but until the situation is rectified a little but better, I don’t think I’ll be resubscribing anytime soon.”
Another Blizzard fan, Paul Braganza, originally from Washington, D.C., said he was excited to hear the game announcements, but was disappointed by Blizzard’s apology.
“I feel like we should never limit somebody as far as their political stances and beliefs or anything like that," he said. “As it stands, gaming is a community that brings everybody together, regardless of all these things that are going on in the world. The issue at hand was acknowledged, but I wish they would’ve gone into deeper detail. But at least they said something.”
Others in attendance felt politics should be kept out of gaming.
“I think politics should stay out of video games just like it should stay out of sports,” said Paul Colunga of Houston. “[Politics] has its own podium, so there’s no reason for it to be here. We’re just here to play games and have fun.
“It’s an escape from reality and so people just want a hobby that can get them away from real life sometimes.”
Both Colunga and friend James Mills said they were stoked by the announcements, as well as having a chance to be around other passionate gamers while engaging with titles they love.
“It’s what I came for, so I got exactly what I wanted,” said Mills.
Outside the convention center, American University student Casey Clarke Chambers, who flew in from Washington early Friday morning, was standing in front of the convention center and hanging out with a teammate as the protest was winding down.
He too was banned by Blizzard after holding up a sign in support of Hong Kong protests and encouraging a boycott of Blizzard products.
“For anyone that sees these protests, I just want them to think about their relationship with Blizzard," he said. "The whole point is personal agency and freedom of expression, so they can do what they feel is best. Obviously we took it pretty far and there are different ways to show discontent.”
For those with moral quandaries who were inside the packed convention center, scurrying between demos, panels, developer meetups, and esports matches, a kind of pragmatism emerged, despite the larger political context.
“I just hope this whole weekend ends up being fun,” attendee Dani Skye said.