The Tension Of Playing Overwatch During A Blizzard Controversy

Yesterday, like I do every day, I wrapped up my workday, closed my Chrome tabs and, without pausing, hit the Windows button on my keyboard. In the search bar, I typed “Over-” and hit enter. My eyes found the big, blue “Play” button on the game launcher. Overwatch’s familiar orchestral music swelled and, in an oblivious four clicks, I was queued up for a game. I won that game, and the next, and it felt good, like it always does, to win.

It was eerily easy not to consider my own actions in the context of the week’s Blizzard news. We often load up our go-to games impulsively, without consideration for what it may mean in a greater ethical context. Right now, it’s something we could stand to wrestle with more mindfully.

My play session was on the tail end of a news cycle criticising Overwatch’s publisher, Blizzard, for their excessive punishment of Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for saying “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” on stream. Blizzard said Chung, who had just won his Grandmasters game, violated the Official Competition Rules v1.4 P.12, Section 6.1 (0) by “engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard.” Chung received no prize money and a one-year suspension while the competition’s casters were fired. Outrage ensued, and I was not an unbiased bystander to it.

Someone covered up the “Every Voice Matters” and “Think Globally” phrases in a Blizzard headquarters statue expressing the company’s values. College Hearthstone players expressed their solidarity with a “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizzard” sign. The Hearthstone subreddit closed, overwhelmed by the explosion of criticism. Hearthstone casters have quit—famous ones, too. Dozens on social media said they were cancelling their Blizzard accounts or World of Warcraft subscriptions. All of this so consumers—fans, even—can show Blizzard that they will not support a company that thwarts people’s livelihoods and snatches away financial resources when they make statements about human rights they deem inappropriate.

I cannot, as a journalist who covers Overwatch and WoW Classic, entirely cut myself off from what I write about. But what deeply unsettled me was how easy it was to go from fury and rage over Blizzard’s decision to impulsively queueing myself up for a couple rounds of Overwatch to de-stress after work. We are creatures of pattern, and once my responsibilities are complete, an aura of droneishness overcomes me as I fall into my favourite pattern: a glass of bourbon on ice and an hour of Overwatch.

Games are designed this way. Seamless. Music engineered to transition you into the gaming mindspace. Fewer clicks before jumping into a game. No downtime during the gameplay loops. Fewer barriers before queueing up for another one. This immersive world with its own, separate set of values and stakes is designed to feel isolated from life. Overwatch presents a utopian, multicultural world, which, as game director Jeff Kaplan once told Kotaku, is meant to suggest that “it’s time to move on from some of these visions that we keep reinforcing rather than imagining something being a little different.”

An online game is simultaneously an escapist paradise and a big-money commodity. They’re both player-built digital communities and the products of publicly-traded companies like Blizzard-Activision, which above all function in the service of financial objectives.

They can be all these things at once, but it’s time I, and others, stop thinking of them as separate. Overwatch is not separate from Blizzard and the controversy its actions deserve. The place where it lives in my mind is. I need to do the mental work of folding my impulses around playing Overwatch into my deep, deep anger about how they behaved toward Chung and the Hearthstone casters. Once others do the same, we might find that we have more power over our impulses than we thought. 


Comments

    Money over Human Rights and the advancement of (at the very least, the concept of) demoncracy is unapologetically unethical and therfore outwardly evil.
    Blizzard/Activision has a chance to make a stand and they don't. So far, only South Park has fought back. Fuck the Chinese government. Fuck their increasingly totalitarian state, and fuck ALL of the companies that put Beijing's dick in their mouths for profit.
    People come first.

    Good article.

      *This is going to sound judgey as hell but we're all in the same boat here, i'm not singling you out.

      I'm guessing you typed that comment on a device made in China? Possibly whilst wearing clothes made in China?

      We all created China. Capitalist greed and consumers demanding cheaper products created China. We were all happy to ignore decades of human rights abuses while the good times rolled. Now we realise we created a monster and it cannot be undone. War is inevitable.

        oh Capitalism is absolutely to blame and the effect that had on Communist China was to change it into a Monocracy where capitalism and the literal worship of money has changed the people and their society for the worst. Money is worth more than human lives and human lives certainly have a price / value.

        My clothes are Australian made, but otherwise, this statement is 100% correct. Almost every piece of technology I own or use was made in china or had parts made in china.

        My phone... an Apple iPhone 8 Plus was made in Shenzen, China. my Nintendo switch was made in china... Every single component of my computer and the devices that connect to it was made in china - even though the computer itself was assembled in Australia.

        As Novasensei said... the problem isn't Blizzard... it's not this one controversy... It's the Chinese superpower that WE helped to create.

        China has virtually every tech company's privates in their grip... and is extremely willing to squeeze those privates to get what China wants.

        "War is inevitable."

        Do you mean between China and the protestors? Or did you mean the US should go to war with China to right these wrongs?

        Unfortunately, China as a nation is more powerful than the US. It was actually China that gave America pause during the North Korea incident. They couldn't invade North Korea to deal with them firing nukes at everyone... because it would anger China.

        Last edited 12/10/19 9:01 pm

        ABSOLUTELY I own stuff from China! And have Chinese family members and relatives.
        BUT what I don't own is the bargaining power or voice to make a statement via my money. Importing/exporting and manufacturing are one part of the manifold. Their government is a beast of it's own regardless of internationalism and globalisation.

          You absolutely have the voice and bargaining power to make a statement with your money because it always starts with you.

            Not to a satisfactory degree. History has shown us that "the power of one" is absolute bullshit. Unless you happen to be a billionaire. Which means you'd likely have China in your pocket anyway.
            Indeed, 2019 is officially the year I gave up on expending mental energy making a difference via my own profession as an individual, and, whilst I may be cynical after burning out recently, I can't see a world where one non-billionaire can make any difference without being stood on along the way.
            The individual is weak without excessive money. There are SO many humans now that our individual value has just plummeted. And nobody wants change unless somebody else starts it or sacrifices something novel as a starting point.
            Not saying the world "sucks", but it is certainly not weighted to be fought against by individuals. And because everyone is out for their own survival, we're happy to stay safe and hope others will fight on our behalves. Which never really happens.
            In this instance, China is about to prove a MASSIVE point: The protests will die out and NOTHING will change. They WILL win. And HK will become just another Chinese trade port and lose it's identity in the process.

        Speak for yourself please.
        All my electronic devices are second hand to avoid being 100% complicit in human rights violations and poor mining practices
        My shoes are made in Portugal. My jeans are made in Melbourne. My shirt is USA made.

        It’s still completely possible to divest yourself from China if that is something you have a moral objection to
        Even better would be to support companies that manufacture in China who treat their workers well.

    Or maybe Blizzard is a company and not a human being so it shouldn't have an opinion on world events.

      Except it does. On it's Chinese social media account Blizzard talks about defending the honour of China.

        It wasn't Blizzard, it was Netease, the Chinese publisher who handles Blizzards presence in China and controls their social media.
        This doesn't mean Blizzard is absolved, it just pays to know the facts.

        While they didn't make the statement they've screwed themselves over by allowing another entity to provide the point of difference that kills their stance of neutrality on the subject.
        (Which is probably why they've back-pedalled to cut the ban and restore the prize winnings)

          There is also a question of how much control the Chinese government has over that platform. Someone pointed out that China quite often edits messages on that platform to conform to their rules.

          Yes but I also don't see Blizzard refuting the statement or distancing themselves from it either.

          What they don't say can be as important as what they do

          Last edited 12/10/19 10:44 pm

      That's a little fallacious. Companies are run by human beings who's business decisions either directly or indirectly support specific groups. It is impossible for them to not have opinions, or, perhaps more accurately, impossible for them to not support opinions.

      E.g. A company that sources lumber from unsustainable sources because it's cheaper indirectly supports deforestation. They may not outright say "We hate the environment," but their actions certainly suggest they prioritise income over sustainable living.

        Fair enough but how far does that ideology extend?
        What about us as consumers?

    I'm not going to stop playing the games I enjoy, just because someone in that game's developer's upper management makes a policy decision I don't agree with.

    The majority of people at Blizzard Entertainment were not involved in the decision.

    That said, and I've said this before... Blitz knew what he was doing and what the consequences would be. He broke the rules that he agreed to in his contract.

    I don't think the upper management should have stripped him of his prize money, but I do think they were in the right to punish him for breaking the rules he had agreed to.

    They would have punished him even if his political message was about gun control in the US. The only difference here is that the punishment for that would have been 6 months instead of the full year this one was.

    If you want to be angry, then be angry. But boycotting the company only hurts the innocent developers, and other staff, that had no part in the management's decision.

    Direct your anger at the management.

      I keep reading this line that there was some obvious rule that Blitzchung apparently "broke", when the only justification we've ever seen for the suspension is a nebulous clause that allows Blizzard to ban anyone for anything that in their sole discretion, in hindsight, "brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard's image".

      Blitzchung didn't "break" anything, Blizzard triggered a ban clause at their own initiative and entirely at their own discretion.

      Banning someone by triggering this clause only makes sense if you are willing to accept that supporting democracy protesters is something that a reasonable person would consider offensive.

      Seriously. It's something that hundreds of thousands of Chinese themselves thought worthy of protesting in 1989, at least until the protests were brutally crushed by the Chinese government.

    My question is.... Do you hold the attitude when it comes to clothes you wear, vehicles you drive, products you use?? If not, then it's simply virtue signalling.

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