Analysts fret over Blizzard’s prospects following wildly unpopular ban of Hong Kong Hearthstone esports star


Anger over the “international incident” sparked by Blizzard’s ban of a Hong Kong Hearthstone pro player and apparent firing of two Taiwanese commentators over vocal support for home rule in Hong Kong during a Blizzard interview stream has only continued to rise over the course of this week as more and more mainstream websites have covered both the original and event and the reaction around the world.

Probably the most disturbing new development today has been the news that Overwatch League team Dallas Fuel assistant coach Justin “Jayne” Conroy was pressured to delete a tweet supporting the banned player. As Dotesports and Dallas News report, the tweet referred to “the censorship and severity of consequences brought against an individual who was campaigning for a human right social movement.”

CBSNews reported this afternoon that Activision-Blizzard’s stock had dipped as much as 4% this week as the #BoycottBlizzard hashtag continued its frenzied scroll. (It’s recovered a bit now.)

MarketWatch quotes Cowen analyst Doug Creutz as being “concerned that the internal backlash within Blizzard may be more harmful for the company as a clash of corporate cultures comes to a head.”

“In the wake of the departure of long-time CEO Mike Morhaime and the first-ever major restructuring the company has had to go through, there have been reports about concerns within Blizzard about the growing direct influence of Activision corporate in decision-making. […] We suspect that the decision to punish Blitzchung, which almost certainly had input from senior Activision management, was met with dismay by a meaningful portion of Blizzard’s staff. […] Investors are counting on a turnaround at Blizzard to reinvigorate growth, but if the internal culture is in turmoil, there is a lot of risk to that thesis. […] After last year’s disappointing event [at BlizzCon 2018], Blizzard has a lot of pressure to deliver a very positive experience this year. […] The possibility (likelihood) of protestors disrupting events has to be of concern to the company. A heavy-handed approach to dealing with that eventuality could cause further damage to the brand.”

The same publication quotes FactSet’s estimate that 5.2% of Blizzard’s revenue comes from mainland China – that’d be less than half of the 12% it derives from the Asia-Pacific region in total as accounted for in Blizzard’s own investor reports. (We point this out as there’s been rampant speculation that Blizzard’s financial stake in China far outstrips its stake in the western market. This is clearly not remotely the case.)

Worth noting is that it doesn’t seem as if Blizzard has been cracking down on player criticism on at least some of its forums. Multiple threads laying into the studio have been posted and are still up – including this one that informs Blizzard that it violated the “human decency clause” of the players’ terms of service and lays out the pentalties players will be applying to Blizzard until it rights its wrongs.

However, other players claim that Blizzard is blocking at least some Hong Kong-related battletags on Battlenet.

Protesters have also tried their hand at different forms of protest around the web, like the folks who apparently vandalized Blizzard’s Irvine HQ’s entry on Google Maps so that it’s listed as a “Chinaware store.” (That’s the image in our header up above.) [Update: It’s back to being a “corporate campus” now.]

Just catching up? Here’s the short version: Professional Hearthstone esports player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung wore a gas mask to a post-match interview on Blizzard’s official Taiwanese stream and shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” as the casters ducked behind their desks. Blizzard cut the stream and wiped the videos, banning Ng for a year under a vague competition rule that allows Blizzard to ban pretty much anyone for anything. It also clawed back $10K in winnings and booted him from the tourney while firing the two Taiwanese commentators, who’d said they’d been blindsided by the segment and dismissal. Since then, players, politicians, and other pro gamers have made their anger at Blizzard’s actions, seemingly more about appeasing China than about preserving esports, rather loudly known.

You can read up on our complete coverage of the incident and fallout from it right here:

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