Blizzard Entertainment kicked off its annual BlizzCon fan expo today with a direct apology from president J. Allen Brack regarding the explosive Hong Kong controversy that’s engulfed the company for the past month.
“Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone e-sports moment about a month ago. We did not. We moved too quickly in our decision-making and then to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk to all of you,” Brack said onstage during the beginning of the BlizzCon opening ceremony. “When I think about how most unhappy I am, I think about two things. We didn’t live up to the higher standards we set for ourselves. Second, we failed in our purpose. For that, I am sorry, and I accept accountability.”
Brack, aware of the protests outside BlizzCon’s doors at the Anaheim Convention Center, decided he would address the situation head-on. And the controversy, in which Blizzard banned a professional Hearthstone player for supporting the Hong Kong protestors in what critics say was a direct appeasement of the Chinese government, still threatens to overshadow many of the company’s announcements today.
Before Brack took the stage and throughout his statement, Twitch users were filling up the live stream chat window with “FREE HK” and other similar sentiments. Brack was careful not to even mention the words “Hong Kong,” but he did go on to pledge that Blizzard “will do better going forward” and that its actions “will matter more than any of these words.”
That may not do much to quell critics who say the six-month ban, reduced from a year-long ban, it gave pro Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung was motivated by its relationship with the Chinese government, a claim Blizzard has tried to refute with little to no success.
The company, in defending its decision to ban Wai Chung, said it was because he used a Blizzard platform in the form of a post-game telecast for an Asia Pacific Hearthstone tournament to promote a political ideology.
“The specific views expressed by blitzchung were not a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision,” Brack wrote at the time. “We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took. If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same,” he continued.
Blizzard has since gone on to ban other pro players for supporting the Hong Kong protests, including three US college students participating in the collegiate circuit of the game’s e-sports scene and Twitch users who expressed support for Hong Kong during live streams of the European leg of the Hearthstone Masters Tour.