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Protesters Rally Outside BlizzCon Over Video Game Company’s Hong Kong Censorship

By  Emily Zanotti
Yayin Chan, dressed as Tracer from the video game Overwathc, left, and Chun Tin Kuo, dressed as D.Va, posed for pictures during Blizzcon in Anaheim, California, November 4, 2016. Blizzcon is the annual gaming convention for Blizzard Entertainment, based in Irvine. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

Protesters took aim at Blizzard Games over the weekend, rallying outside the company’s annual fan convention, BlizzCon, to draw attention to the video game company’s censorship of a player who voiced his support for pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong during a livestream of Blizzard’s popular game, “Hearthstone.”

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Anaheim Convention Center, according to Variety Magazine, carrying signs “that read messages including ‘Free Hong Kong,’ ‘Shame on Blizzard’ and ‘Blizzard = China’s bitch,'” and wearing “Mei with Hong Kong” tee shirts, specifically referencing one of Blizzard’s main characters, Mei from the Overwatch video game series, which has become a “symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.” Cosplayers at the event modified their costumes to incorporate the Hong Kong “flower” and pro-democracy messages.

Some protesters even dressed in head-to-toe Winnie the Pooh costumes, a reference to China’s crackdown on memes featuring the lovable Disney character, banned in the Communist country after anti-Communist dissidents pointed out how similar the yellow bear looks to China’s president, Xi Jinping.

Winnie the Pooh popped up inside the convention, too, attending seminars in full costume as a reminder of the company’s policy on offending China (and the Chinese government, the gatekeeper to Chinese consumers and a video game fortune for Blizzard).

Blizzard Games has faced censorship allegations before, but things really got heated last month, when the company abruptly pulled international gaming pro, Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, from an online Hearthstone competition, yanked his prize winnings, and banned him from competition, determining him “ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months.”

Blizzard claimed, at the time, that Blitzchung had “engaged” in an act that brought Blizzard “public disrepute … and offends a portion or group of the public or otherwise damages” the company, according to CNet.

His crime? In a post-match interview, Blitzchung said, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!”

Blizzard, CNet explained at the time, is partially owned by a Chinese company, and its out-of-proportion reaction to Blitzchung’s statement demonstrates exactly how much control that Tencet, the Chinese conglomerate, wields over Blizzard games.

Blizzard’s president, J. Allen Brack, issued a statement after the Blitzchung incident, denying that the content of Blitzchung’s speech had anything to do with his ban — simply that he’d expressed any opinion in the context of an official post-game interview. Blizzard eventually walked back Blitzchung’s punishment, reducing his ban to six months and reinstating his winnings.

That didn’t placate protesters, though, who accused Blizzard of censorship and began a “Boycott Blizzard” campaign that saw thousands of gamers dropping their accounts on some of Blizzard’s most popular games, including Hearthstone, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft.

The organization Fight for the Future spun off a group called Gamers for Freedom that planned the Blizzcon protests.

The group’s organizer explained why they chose to take the protest so public.

“We encourage them to open up a dialogue with not only us, but the entire gaming community, because that’s one of the things that’s very upsetting about this,” he said. “They’re making rules that impact our safety, our health, our privacy, and they need to engage in a dialogue with us in order to make those decisions properly.”

“They need to talk to their customers,” Fight for the Future’s spokeman added. “They need to talk to their community. They need our input in order to make sure that they’re keeping us safe.”

Blizzard, stung by the controversy, toyed late last month with possibly cancelling or scaling back BlizzCon, but ultimately decided against it. Instead, J. Allen Brack opened the convention with a pointed apology.

“We moved too quickly in our decision and then to make matters worse; we were too slow to talk with all of you,” Brack said of the incident, “And for that I am sorry and I accept accountability.” Blizzard, he later added, is committed “to everyone’s right to express themselves.”

Winnie the Pooh showed up for that speech, too.

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