Hearthstone Developers Wish Blizzard Had Handled Hong Kong Controversy Differently

Image: Hearthstone

Nearly a month after Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai was suspended for his vocal support of Hong Kong protesters during a Blizzard-hosted competitive Hearthstone stream, the ensuing controversy still looms heavy over Blizzard’s every move. Protesters gathered outside BlizzCon over the weekend and were largely met with support from convention attendees. The situation has left Hearthstone’s developers in a tight spot.

During an interview at BlizzCon, Hearthstone game director Ben Lee and creative director Ben Thompson admitted that they wished Blizzard execs had handled the Hong Kong powder keg with more care.

“The initial decision was too harsh. Absolutely,” Lee told Kotaku, referencing Blitzchung’s original one-year suspension and loss of prize money. “Definitely should have taken more time to consider something more reasonable, but we can’t take that back.”

Image: Hearthstone

While Hearthstone was at the centre of the controversy, Thompson said that his team’s relationship with the issue wasn’t all that different from other teams at Blizzard.

“We saw it less as associated with our game and more as associated with our company,” he said. “We all feel very tied to Blizzard as a whole. We’re not so siloed off in our teams that we felt like ‘Oh, this is a Hearthstone problem.’ The reality is that it’s something that happened at a Blizzard level, and as a result, we wanted to know how Blizzard was going to react to it and what Blizzard was going to do going forward.”

As he continued, Thompson broadened his point to include the wider situation in Hong Kong: “It’s something that is, to be fair and honest, bigger than a gaming company. It’s bigger than games, it’s bigger than our game. It’s something that’s dealt with on a global, sociological level.”

Thompson and Lee said that, even as Blizzard initially put up a cone of silence that wound up serving as a megaphone for people’s rage, they encouraged team members to voice their concerns internally.

“We have a team that hails from all over the globe,” said Thompson. “For some of them, [Blizzard’s response] was felt on a much more personal level. That’s something that we really wanted to address. We wanted to help them feel as open as possible to express those feelings and to be able to come to us as leadership with those concerns and problems, wherever they fell on either side of the line or the middle or whatever it may be.”

As for where Thompson and Lee specifically fall in their reaction to Blizzard’s ultimate decision—to walk back Blitzchung’s suspension but to continue forbidding political commentary during events—they largely feel like it’s the right way to go.

“Of course I celebrate — as we all do to some extent or another—free speech,” said Thompson. “You should be able to say what it is you want to say. I also understand what [Blizzard president] J. Allen Brack himself addressed in his own internal communications and later on to the world at large, which is that being able to speak your mind and say how you feel from a personal level is always and should always be a welcome thing. Doing so from a platform very much not your own and done from a voice not your own to take control, so to speak, or on behalf of another is not free speech. That is on behalf of something that’s not yours to do with.”

So, Thompson said, while Hearthstone pros and streamers might be forbidden from expressing these sorts of viewpoints during events, they’re free to do so on their own streams.

“Our Twitch streamers and content creators asked ‘What if I want to [talk about this]? I’ve got things to say,’” he said. “And our answer was always ‘Say it. Do it. It’s your Twitch stream. It’s yours to do with what you will.’ That’s always something we want to support and celebrate.”

This stance might not please fans who feel that players should have a right to speak out regardless of forum or station, or who point out that Blizzard’s games have traditionally dealt with political themes like war, peace, and inclusion. But Thompson said that he feels like Hearthstone is a “home away from home” where players should “leave your world outside and join this world inside where all are welcome.”

“[Hearthstone] was never intended to be something more than that,” he said. “It was never intended to be ‘me against you’ or ‘I am different from you’ other than what my deck looks like and what my strategy is.”

Image: Hearthstone

Of Blizzard’s current stable of games, Hearthstone is easily the most lighthearted and escapist in nature. But no game can exist without context, no matter how much developers want players to just come in, sit down, and put their feet up for a game or two.

This goes double when a game like Hearthstone winds up becoming a battleground for an issue like Hong Kong. To react the way Blizzard did is still to take a stance, even if Thompson and company would prefer to project neutrality. Ultimately, though, that’s where Thompson landed on the whole thing: It’s an individual issue in his mind, first and foremost.

“I think you’ll find as you’re talking to people across the company, people are willing and able to express their personal feelings on [Hong Kong], because it’s something that we know doesn’t have really, truly much to do with our game and not much to do with our company, but is instead about people,” he said.

However, this remains uncharted territory for Blizzard as a whole, and the developer has apologised multiple times for its initial decision. Lee and Thompson recognise that there’s still room for education and growth.

“I think we all wish things had been done differently,” said Lee.

“We’re learning,” said Thompson. 


Comments

    Gotta say I agree with them on this.

    They didn't handle this the right way but I also believe the right way isn't what many people want it to be.

    Now this is how you apologise. I feel like the higher ups have made it harder for everyone else though

      It's definitely how you apologize if you don't want to actually apologize. They'd make great politicians.

        It sounds like they are as annoyed as everyone else, but it wasn't exactly in their hands to begin with. The higher ups are the ones in charge. They're the ones who made the decision.

    No - you cannot apologise for something you are still doing: the player is still banned - the streamers are still banned.
    Blizzard are still lowering their ideals of freedom coz they wanna suck on the warm teat of China.
    Twitter posters have been made to delete their personal messages of support, to say not is a lie.
    What a non-apology: I'm sorry, here's Diablo4...

      Well, nobody apologised for what they did, they apologised for how they did it and these fellas are just reiterating that in their own way.

      I completely understand if folks are still angry and don't want to accept the apology but it doesn't make sense to pretend it's something that it wasn't.

        So what you're saying is they're trying to apologize for the wrong thing.

        I think it's pretty fair to accept their apology for doing the minor bad thing (reacting too quickly, communicating too slowly), and still be angry that they refuse to apologize for the big bad thing (STILL overreacting, even after revision, and reserving the 'discretion' the rule allows, only to appease China).

          (If anything, the fact that they are willing to apologize for the minor thing but not the major thing indicates that they think the major thing they did wrong is nothing to apologize for, ie: doubling-down on being fucking horrible. Not only have they done it, they're not sorry about it.)

      Of course they're still banned because they broke the rules by doing what they did.

      You can't break the rules and expect to not be punished for it.

    I don't think Blizzard could have acted any other way given how they're chasing the Chinese market. They (and everyone else) will have to accept that it isn't possible for Blizzard to be an ethical company while they continue to do business in China, and the fact that they are a publicly listed company necessitates that they chase the Chinese market.

    “Definitely should have taken more time to consider something more reasonable, but we can’t take that back.”

    Yes, you can, you can unban him any time you like, you can take that 6 month suspension away at ANY TIME

    That theyve kept up the suspension of blitzchung and the two casters means they arent sorry for shit

    You dont just keep doing the thing you admit you did wrong if you are actually sorry, and notice during blizzcon they NEVER ACTUALLY SAID THEY WE4E SORRY for shutting down free expression for human rights

    They only said they were sorry for being slow to respond

    Its horseshit that they say they support free expression and it has nothing to do with china when the pride pins people were wearing on stage were blurred out on the chinese stream

    Fuck you blizzard, you sell out human rights support to be the chinese governments lackey

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