Earlier this week, we reported that former World of Warcraft Team Lead Mark Kern had very publicly posted that he was quitting WoW over Blizzard’s handling of the still-festering Blitzchung incident in which the company banned and punished a Hearthstone pro player and two commentators for a pro-Hong Kong stunt during a post-match interview. He even posted a screenshot of his angry message to Blizzard as he was nuking his account.
But we didn’t report on the accusations that led up to Kern’s own Twitter stunt, which might actually be even more interesting for our particular genre than to others.
Let’s do a little backstory here on the highly controversial Mark Kern (“controversial” is his word, not ours). After leaving the Blizzard and World of Warcraft, which he repeatedly slammed, in 2006, Kern founded Red 5 Studios, which began building the MMO Firefall. He was then forcibly removed from Red 5 in 2013 (he contested that) following layoffs and the suspension of PvP in Firefall, as employees called his behavior as CEO “erratic” and “destructive” and mocked his infamously terrible e-sports bus project. He also founded and raised seed money for a now-dead VR MMO and became embroiled in you-know-what in 2014. In 2016, he tried to make himself the symbol of the Nostalrius WoW emu drama, insisting on hand-delivering a player WoW vanilla petition to Blizzard. He then resurfaced to volunteer to buy Firefall after insulting the game that launched after he was booted (to be fair, it was a mess – at one point Red 5’s Chinese owner The9 traded part of the studio to a Cayman Islands cashmere manufacturer whose stock immediately crashed). In the last couple of years, Kern has been hawking a crowdfunded “spiritual successor” to Firefall called Em-8er, whose first movement demo apparently became live in June (and yeah, they’re still planning a Kickstarter on top of the Indiegogos and Patreon).
So let’s get back to this week’s Twitter thread, where Kern explains why he’s boycotting Blizzard, a company he used to work for. He points out he has personal experience here; he was born in Taiwan, lived in Hong Kong, and is ethnically Chinese. He claims that China has poured free money into local game companies that in turn have corrupted western companies by pouring that money into them too. He’s not just speaking generally; he outright accuses Red 5 of this corruption, claiming that he was booted from the company for refusing a kickback bribe and that China “planted press stories” to shade him.
“I’ve seen firsthand the corruption of Chinese gaming companies, and I was removed from a company I founded (after Blizzard) for refusing to take a 2 million dollar kickback bribe to take an investment from China. This is the first time I’ve ever spoken [publicly] about it. I’ve also seen how American company reps in China have been offered similar bribes to get licenses for large AAA titles. Not everyone refused like I did. Chinese companies tried to ruin my career with planted press stories. Money is often paid for favorable press in China and some of that money flows here to the US as well. Unfortunately, money talks. China has succeeded in infiltrating all levels of tech, gaming and more.”
But Chinese company The9 acquired its majority stake in Red 5 Studios in 2010. “We are very excited to welcome The9 as our key investor and to announce that they are making a commitment to us with the equity infusion,” Mark Kern wrote at the time. He was not dismissed until 2013. It is not entirely clear why a bribe would even be necessary for further investment from China since the company was already controlled by a Chinese company, so we can only assume there’s a lot more that hasn’t been said here.
Kern has a ton of fans on Twitter, but Reddit seems less impressed. Kern’s pinned tweet, from October 9th, advertises his new game.