After facing weeks of backlash from fans over the company’s decision to ban Hearthstone eSports player blitzchung due to a post-game expression of support for the protestors in Hong Kong, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack took the stage during the Blizzcon 2019 opening ceremony to seemingly offer an apology for their decision, but instead offered only an apology that the company had “moved too quickly.”
Taking the stage, Brack begins by telling the audience that he wants “to say a few words” and makes a reference to the recent blitzchung controversy:
“I want to say a few words. You know, Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone e-sports moment about a month ago, and we did not.”
However, Brack then offers a non-apology to the crowd, apologizing for “moving too quickly” and being “too slow to talk to you,” making no mention of the issues fans were upset with such as the banning of blitzchung or Blizzard’s relationship with the Chinese government:
“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.”
Brack continued, moving the conversation away from the blitzchung controversy and attempting to speak to “the positive power of video games.”
“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. And that is the positive power of video games. To transcend divisions that surround us in so many of our places today.”
Concluding his opening remarks, Brack stated that “we will do better, going forward” and assured the crowd that “you’re going to see a lot of the hard work of the Blizzard team.”
“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, in all kinds of places.
I’ve actually seen and heard many of you expressing yourself this morning. You use your vacation and your family time to be here in Anaheim with us, and we are so grateful that you are here this weekend. Our best moments are here in our shared passion for 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.”
Fans and players immediately took issue with Brack’s apology, with many considering the statement unsatisfactory in its avoidance of addressing the true reason for the recent backlash against Blizzard:
Blizzard President J. Allen Brack addresses his and the company’s role in penalizing Hong Kong pro Hearthstone player blitzchung
“We didn’t live up to the standards we set for ourselves. We failed in our purpose. And for that, I’m sorry, and I accept accountability” pic.twitter.com/Ud5U7XLV6A
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) November 1, 2019
Why the fuck are people cheering for this?
This is not an apology. Once again, just like in the original statement Blizzard made, they’re not apologizing for punishing Blitzchung, they’re apologizing for “moving too quickly,” and taking too long to make an official statement. https://t.co/lleT6cCUpM
— Dollar Bill Montgomery (@HBJohnXuandou) November 1, 2019
“Sorry we upset you guys” rather than “sorry we actually did a bad thing and we’re not going to do it again” – to most people, somehow indistinguishable. Goes to show many can’t even see past their own nose.
— Jenny Darukat 😷 (@JennyDarukat) November 1, 2019
Seems like Blizzard has been taking advice from Todd Howard on how to apologize.
— Mr_Bare_Bones (@MrBareBones) November 1, 2019
Following his apology, PCGamer reporter Steven Messner conducted a phone interview with Brack and attempted to clarify their stance on the banning of blitzchung and the two stream casters, on behalf of one of the banned casters.
In the interview, Brack confirmed that the company would not repeal the punishments handed out to blitzchung and the casters, affirming that Blizzard “want players to express themselves, except for when it’s taking place through official channels” and that “if Blitzchung had said any political message, it would have incurred the same punishment.”
Messner then directly confronts Brack with the “suspicion that China and your Chinese business had an influence on the decision and the statement Blizzard made.”
To which Brack replies that Chinese video game company NetEase was responsible for the decisions relating to the Chinese government, and that Netease, “the [Blizzard] Taiwan team, […] the Hearthstone leadership team, […] the esports team” were all involved in the decision to ban blitzchung and the casters:
Messner: There’s been a suspicion that China and your Chinese business had an influence on the decision and the statement Blizzard made. Can you confirm for me on the record whether NetEase or any of your Chinese partners didn’t have any sort of influence on your decision in this incident?
Brack: Okay, glad you asked that because I’d love to be very clear. The first thing that I want to talk about is that there is a massive amount of either confusion or non-understanding around what the regulations are in China. Blizzard is not legally allowed to operate or to publish games in China. You must have a partner. That is the regulation, that is law. NetEase is our partner. NetEase is not a government agency, NetEase is a company. They are the publisher. One of the things that has kind of come up around this is the Blizzard Weibo post and the text around that. We are not legally allowed to operate those channels. We are not legally allowed to contribute. That is a NetEase decision, they are the publisher in China.
Was NetEase in conversation around this issue? They were, certainly. As were the [Blizzard] Taiwan team, as was the Hearthstone leadership team, as was the esports team. All those various constituencies came together and one of the things that we said was we acted very rapidly and we acted very quickly. And that’s certainly the failure of this story is those groups coming together and deciding in a very short amount of time what the right action to take forward was.”
Brack also stated that the Chinese-language Weibo post which claimed that Blizzard would “always respect and defend the pride of [China]” was independently made by NetEase and not authorized or approved by Blizzard.