BlizzCon 2019: Here’s Blizzard’s apology for its Hearthstone esports disaster

    
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Oh my.

Blizzard’s Hearthstone Hong Kong fiasco was very much on our minds this morning as the Massively OP team prepared for BlizzCon, and we were taking bets as to whether or not the studio would even address it publicly, never mind say sorry to fans. Some of us didn’t even believe Blizzard President J. Allen Brack would show up live onstage at all.

But surprising almost everyone, Brack apologized for the studio’s mishandling of the situation during his keynote address. He actually said the word “sorry,” contrary to his statement a few weeks ago.

“Before the opening ceremony, I want to say a few words. Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone e-sports moment about a month ago, and we did not. We moved too quickly in our decision making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you. When I think about what I’m most unhappy about, there’s really two things. The first one is we didn’t live up to the high standards that we really set for ourselves, and the second is we failed in our purpose. And for that, I am sorry, and I accept accountability.

“So what exactly is our purpose? BlizzCon is demonstrating it even as we speak. We aspire to bring the world together in epic entertainment, and I truly believe in the positive power of video games. When we get it right, we create a common ground where the community comes together to compete, connect, and play, irrespective of the things that divide us. As an example, BlizzCon has people from 59 countries all around the world here at the show today – that is amazing. And that is the positive power of video games to transcend divisions that surround us in so many of our places today.

“We will do better going forward, but our actions are going to matter more than any of these words. As you walk around this weekend, I hope it’s clear how committed we are to everyone’s right to express themselves in all kinds of ways, all kinds of places. I’ve actually seen and heard many of you expressing yourself this morning. [Eds: Seemingly a joking reference to the protests from today, as well as attendees in pro-Hong Kong gear and Pooh costumes.] You use your vacation and your family time to be here in Anaheim with us, and we are so grateful that you’re here this weekend. Our best moments are here in our shared passion to Blizzard games. So once again, BlizzCon has brought us together and today you’re going to see a lot of the hard work of the Blizzard team.”

Worth noting is that not everyone is feeling all that appeased by the apology, which could be interpreted to be apologizing for the wrong thing, especially since he mentioned neither Hong Kong nor China.

Other bloggers have pointed out that while Blizzard’s apology may have been oblique, its allowing of political protests at BlizzCon itself seems to signal that it recognizes its Hearthstone tournament decision was wrong.

“This is exactly what they punished Blitzchung for, so their ACTION here is a complete reversal of that original decision,” blogger Syncaine wrote. He’d previously been boycotting the company over the incident. “Short of outright telling China to go F itself, I don’t know what more they could have done to show they are correcting the mistake. That someone is being allowed to walk in as Winnie the Pooh is, in fact, that direct F You to China.” He also argues that folks who said the protests and boycotts wouldn’t work have been proven wrong. “Some part of Brack saying sorry was due to a financial hit related to this incident, whether direct via cancelled subs or indirect in bad PR. Here the protesters and players won, and China lost. That’s a good thing, that goes far beyond just silly videogames.”

A take from RPS adds another angle to think about. “Blizzard’s explanation makes little sense. They claimed [the punishment of Blitzchung] was just because he interrupted the tournament with an off-topic demonstration, not because he voiced support Hong Kong’s protests and Blizzard feared reprisals from China. ‘The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made,’ Brack said in October. It seems unlikely that a one-year ban and forfeiture would be a fitting punishment, then. Especially given how common other off-topic chat is. Even the reduced punishment still seems harsh.” In that context, it’s not clear why “everyone’s right to express themselves” is now being invoked by Blizzard, nor why Blitzchung, the casters, and the American University team haven’t been fully and retroactively reinstated.

You can hear the full apology in the video below and decide for yourself whether it influences your opinion.

Source: YouTube

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PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

Why such a vague apology? Is Blizz trying to bow to their angry fans without mooning China?

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luxundae

I think I’m pretty much with RPS on this one. The thing Brack seemed most sorry for was that the initial ban happened in such a way that it was clearly linked to the political speech and thus resulted in backlash against Blizzard by those in favor of democratic values (and I still find it weird that we no longer have a strong presumption that those are more important than profits).

This speech didn’t give any indication of what Blizzard is planning to change or suggest that Blizzard thinks the end result was a bad one. It only suggests that Blizzard might be a little more circuitous in the future to try and prevent such a strong backlash that Congress (?!) gets involved again.

Overall: 3/5 for style, 1/5 for content, 5/5 for Tencent

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rafael12104

Alright. It’s late, and I’m just now, finally, sitting down after a long day at work to unwind and… talk about the Blizz show.

So JAB finally apologizes, sort of. Heh. To be fair, it is a good apology for what it’s worth. He does say he is sorry. He does admit mistakes were made. But his platitudes about high standards and purpose fall on deaf ears.

It is disingenuous to come back now, during the con, and anoint Blizz as the standard-bearer for freedom and equal rights. It is self-serving and it is transparent.

Oh, I’ll admit he was screwed from the start with this little apology. And JAB had to address the debacle head-on. But JAB should have left the “gamers of the world unite” bullshit out. It was just unseemingly.

As for the rest? I can’t believe there are some still arguing about the rules. Listen, the issue isn’t about breaking the rules. The issue is that Blizz arbitrarily enforces its rules depending on what is most profitable at the moment. Blizz shows their true colors with the inequity.

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Utakata

I think it’s more about arguing of breaking rules they only agree with. You can break rules they don’t agree with all you want…and they’ll defend you to the death for it. /sigh

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MurderHobo

1:02:30 to 1:03:10 is pretty awkward.

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aussie_eevee

What do they have to apologise for? They did nothing wrong. Blitzchung broke the rules, and dragged video games into politics.

I’m sick and tired of these people that think video games are a political platform.

Now, to his credit… Blitzchung apologised. And Blizzard apologised for being too harsh (Yeah, I agree with that). So there is nothing more to say on the matter.

Move on. Politics doesn’t belong in video games.

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Bree Royce

Whom are you even telling to move on? Blizzard started its own convention with an apology. Clearly it felt there was unfinished business as much as many gamers did. If you wanna move on, go for it, but we’re all going to keep talking until we’re done, thanks.

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Utakata

They are apologizing because they’ve done something wrong…or they wouldn’t be apologizing, would they? O.o

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rafael12104

Logic. It’s hard to understand it on the internets.

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Oleg Chebeneev

Not necessary. They can think they arent wrong and apologize just because they are sick of accusations and want to calm the crowds.

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Utakata

That would suggest they are being dishonest. I mean, it’s entirely plausible they are. But without any evidence to conclude this, we would have to give them the benefit of the doubt they are least being sincere. /shrug

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Bruno Brito

That would be pretty underhanded.

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rafael12104

Underhanded? NO WAY! Acti-Blizz? NEVER! Heh.

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zuldar

They did nothing wrong..

Yeah they did, they might have not done anything illegal but they definitely did something wrong.

I’m sick and tired of these people that think video games are a political platform.

Of course they are, just look at all those games based on WWII. Those are prime examples of games being political, only difference is nazis bad isn’t a controversial topic.

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losludvig

I wish you were right about your last point, but I feel we’re at a point where even that is debatable.

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Bruno Brito

Politics doesn’t belong in video games.

You’re still spouting this garbage. You’re wrong. It clearly does, or it wouldn’t be people protesting.

I’m sick and tired of these people that think video games are a political platform.

Videogames are an art form. They can be political or not. And gamers have agency in most games to be political if they want.

Who the hell died and made you a fucking authority on what videogames should be? Shut up.

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Utakata

I read that as, “Politics I don’t agree with doesn’t belong in video games,”actually. o.O

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Oleg Chebeneev

Agreed with everything you wrote

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Castagere Shaikura

This reminds me of why I hate politics in games too. I was playing Star Trek Online and loved the game back then. Then Obama got elected and the chat was filled with N-words and all kinds of racist comments. This really proved to me these MMO gamers are not real Trek fans at all. Imagine racist comments in a Star Trek game. I hated all these people and never saw MMO games the same way again. I play MMO to escape the real world. I don’t want to hear how some ass feels about Trump or freaking China.

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Utakata

But then wouldn’t you agree that Blizz shutting down Mr. blitzchung was all about politics? Be careful how you answer that.

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dreamer

He says he’s accountable, but what does that even mean? Has he been personally affected by the boneheaded decisions of his company? And if not, then he’s not really accountable, is he?

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Sorenthaz

Not really sure what could be expected here. Rules were broken and a punishment did need to be dealt out, but they screwed up hard on how they handled it. They also aren’t going to completely denounce China or anything like that. They are allowing folks to protest and aren’t banning Pooh costumes/etc. so they’re not trying to censor it at least.

Like Blizzard doesn’t really win no matter what they do. There’s going to be folks who want blood regardless of what they say.

They opened the ceremony immediately addressing that mistakes were made, mentioning the Hearthstone incident directly, and J Allen Brack accepted accountability. Actions speak louder than words, and he basically gave multiple hints without directly saying it that we can already see they’re allowing folks to protest and wear costumes/etc. in defiance of China’s actions.

And ultimately the message is they accept accountability but are still moving forward with focusing on making good games for everyone to enjoy.

I think those who want to continue ripping on Blizzard aren’t going to be appeased by this. There’s plenty of ways to pick it apart in a negative/cynical/critical manner, there’s also plenty of reading inbetween the lines for better or worse depending on perspective. Ultimately nothing they said was going to fully appease everyone. Brack did about as well as he could and it’ll be enough for some people and it won’t for others.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I’ve been thinking about this all day and this sums up my thoughts as well, said much better than the drafts I deleted.

There was something else I noticed today. Blizzard seems to have awoken from its daze. They seem actually to have paid attention over the last year or so to what gamers want from their favorite IPs. Every single announcement today, starting with Diablo, recognized that the state of their games needs improvement and they showcased a lot of things in all their games that players have wanted for a long time.

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Bruno Brito

I’ll repeat what i said on the other thread:

Desperation is a powerful fuel.

But really, don’t get used to it. If we go through WoW’s showcase, they’re still detached, and i can expect them to screw up on the long road. I don’t think people should give them the benefit of the doubt here, and really start voting with their wallet.

Blizzard showed that they can crumble under pressure and deliver what their fanbase actually wants. Then, keep them under pressure.

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losludvig

what I saw of d4 looked like d3 but with the brightnes toned down and graphic fidelity crancked up a notch or two. I fail to see how that’s going to be exciting in 3 years from now. The cinematic was nice, but that’s something you watch for 10 min. I would hope for at least 100 hours of gameplay in an arpg, and if this just is d3, round 2 I doubt I’ll last even 20. Them including sets again makes me think they don’t even realize what went wrong in d3

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Sorenthaz

Yeah, this seems to be the year where Blizzard at least appears to be getting their act together. Overwatch 2 is nothing but win-win as far as I can see – folks who are currently enjoying Overwatch and don’t care about the PvE content won’t have to worry about buying it. Diablo 4 at least sounds like it’s returning more to what made D2 the peak of ARPGs that folks continue to point back to with fond memories.

Did they cover everything? Nah, of course not. HotS and Starcraft didn’t get much beyond what’s expected. But those are the only two IPs really left with less satisfying announcements. Could they do more? Obviously, and I imagine they do have other things cooking or planned which weren’t ready to show or talk about yet.

But it showed that they’re listening. Folks wanted PvE for Overwatch, they’re getting PvE for Overwatch. Folks didn’t like that Diablo 3 lightened things up, they showed they’re committed to the dark/creepy/satanic atmosphere and want to bring it back more to feel like D2. Level squish has been needed for awhile in WoW, they’re getting that. Hopefully they continue to listen and actually start shaping games back into being games that folks want to play and enjoy.

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Darthbawl

He actually said the word “sorry,”

IMHO, saying you are sorry and actually meaning it are two different things. Guess the Court of Public Opinion has to decide which holds here.

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Dobablo

And he said sorry they failed to maintain their standards, not apologising for the actions they took. It was a generic apology without saying what they are sorry about.

MilitiaMasterV
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MilitiaMasterV

Thank you for once again reinforcing my reasoning behind boycotting the company.

Here’s another blurb from another website of it. :

You’ll notice they blocked comments…

Zola_Rose
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Zola_Rose

I didn’t expect it, and I think his apology acknowleged their error (which, in my opinion, was intending to avoid anything political and wound up censoring someone inappropriately). I think the events leading up to this were obviously wrong, but I think their handling of the situation today – literally opening the ceremony with a sincere acknowledgement of their own fuck up, and Brack taking full accountability for it – was the right thing to do.

I know a lot of people enjoy “cancel culture” and finding any reason to “go after” figures and companies, to the extent that someone or something new is being “taken down” every day – all to varying degrees of deservedness. There isn’t often room allowing for those entities to learn or own up to it – and apologies are certainly never enough to that crowd. I like to see people/companies continue to try to make something right, and I think that’s what Blizzard did.

I also understand that they didn’t want political commentary in their little safe zone of esports, and that while they do have corporate interests in China, I understand how a game dev wouldn’t want to take a geopolitical stance, especially without all of the relevant information. While I’m sure their business interests played a role in the scandal, I also don’t think their blind allegiance to China was what drove their response (as many seem to suggest).

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Sorenthaz

Yeah at the end it was a damned if they do, damned if they don’t, and nothing Brack said or did would really fully appease everyone.

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Bruno Brito

Well, next time then, let’s hope they don’t do something wrong.