ApoligiCon

So how ’bout that BlizzCon?

Let me dedicate some space to the The Apology. Or, rather, “apology.” A lot of my fellow bloggers seemed surprised that one was offered right in the opening ceremony, but it seems unthinkable that Blizzard would have tried to not address the one thing that threatened to overshadow their whole trade show. Can you imagine the headlines all weekend if Brack said nothing?

Which is amusing to think about, because he did say nothing:

Before we start the opening ceremony, I want to say a few words. Y’know uh Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone Esports moment about a month ago and we did not. 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 that we failed at our purpose. And for that I’m sorry and I accept accountability.

I’m going to pause here, as it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine whenever someone says “I accept accountability” when there aren’t any consequences to account for. Imagine a parent saying that to the store manager when their child knocks over a display case, but then just leaving without, you know, paying for the shit that got broke. Brack “accepts accountability” and that means… what? Nothing. Is he going to take a pay cut? Resign? Maybe this will be filed in his Permanent Record?

[…] We will do better going forward. But, our actions are going to matter more than any of these words as we walk around this weekend. I hope it is clear how committed we are to everyone’s right to express themselves in all kinds of ways and all kinds of places. I’ve actually seen and heard many of you expressing yourselves this morning.

This is likely a reference to the protesters outside, the people wearing Hong Kong tshirts, and possibly the person walking around in a Winnie the Pooh costume. Which SynCaine sees as a huge deal, for Blizzard allowing someone to do. Because allowing them through the door is surely more potentially damaging than ejecting someone for an obscure reference to China’s president.

Give me a break.

What this apology did was give enough cover for those that were only reluctantly boycotting Blizzard to go back playing games guilt-free. As Brack clarifies in this PCGamer interview, the 6-month ban on Blitzchung (and the casters!) is staying. Would people have boycotted at all if this was the initial punishment? I don’t know – you tell me. The prize money confiscation was especially egregious in my mind, but the whole thing kind of reeks. At the same time, having no policy at all regarding non-Hearthstone speech during a Hearthstone victory interview seems untenable as well.

But, whatever. If an apology with nothing behind it is good enough to allow you to have fun playing videogames again, then have at it. I never joined the boycott myself, because half the items in my house come from China so it all seemed kind of hypocritical. Yes, Blizzard said the quiet part out loud. But if you think the makers of your George Foreman grill would not have also done the same thing in a hypothetical grilling tournament scenario, you are naive to the extreme. Same with the people flocking to Final Fantasy 14 after the controversy, as if Square Enix made some kind of heroic stand against China. You know, what with their partnership with Tencent and all.

I have nothing against principles. I love’em, in fact. But they only ever mean anything when you actually stick with them. If what Brack said at BlizzCon was enough to move your needle, well… maybe you were better off in the peanut gallery with the rest of us.

Posted on November 5, 2019, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. “Because allowing them through the door is surely more potentially damaging than ejecting someone for an obscure reference to China’s president.

    Give me a break.”

    Sorta like not taking action vs an unknown player in a regional tournament few people watched would have been easier than causing a massive PR firestorm at the request of China? How you and others don’t see the complete 180 in actions taken here is somewhat shocking. As is the seeming inability to see what potential consequences those actions by Bliz/Brack have in China.

    Also calling the Pooh reference obscure when China has literally wiped their entire internet of any references, AND the countless memes around this, is a bit disingenuous. It’s a direct slap to the face of China, and Blizzard allowed that slap in the face to not only come into the building, but appear on the broadcast.

    As was the goal of canceling a $15 sub; its a small message, that can lead to small changes. We saw those small changes in action at Blizcon. Thinking that just because you don’t immediately cut 100% of everything from China out of your life (which we all know is virtually impossible) you should do nothing is truly foolish. Just not how the world works.

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    • Images of Winnie the Pooh being dragged from BlizzCon in handcuffs would have been infinitely worse PR than letting him (or apparently several people) walk the floor in costume. You and I know about the Pooh connection, but the American public at large? Nope. But if Blizzard put themselves back in the spotlight by ejecting these people, that’s the whole Streisand effect x10 again. I award Blizzard zero courage points for picking the least damaging option.

      Again, what changed? Blizzard rolled back the ban to 6 months on Oct 11th, you made this post on Oct 14th, and… one mandatory Brack opening statement and Pooh bear later, everyone is rolling out the Mission Accomplished banner and going back to videogames.

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      • Bliz could have done what they initially did with Blitz; state that the rules of the convention forbid political statements, and not allowed entry. Now maybe Pooh resists arrest and makes a much bigger deal of it, or maybe he just says ‘ok’ and takes the costume off, reducing the whole story to a tweet that like 100 of us become aware of.

        I’d also argue more people are aware of the China/Pooh thing than about Blizcon overall, so a random internet person seeing Pooh ‘protesting’ China means something to them even if they have no idea wtf Azeroth might be. And we know, because we have seen it countless times, that China HATES that kind of thing circulating around.

        Overall I find it odd that people are downplaying the message being sent here by Blizzard allowing this kind of message to be part of the conversation, and to be allowed to be displayed. Look at NBA games and how quickly they pull the camera aware from anything Hong Kong related. Bliz could have EASILY continued to do that, but they didn’t.

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      • I don’t think Blizzard could have “easily” pulled the cameras every which way during their Live Stream to avoid Hong Kong messaging, especially without that quickly becoming the news instead of the games. And regarding the NBA, how many fans are still getting ejected? All the Google results just pull the 1-2 from Oct 9th.

        By all appearances, everything is back to normal… which is either subversive Chinese influence or who cares it’s just videogames, depending on where you started. Keep in mind that the initial “overreaction” was black & white text in the rules beforehand though, so I have a hard time believing anyone who went from “Damn China!” to everything being OK in less than a month.

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  2. Was BlizzCon publicly avbailable to watch in China? If it was, then Blizzard’s willingness to allow anti-China protests to be seen is significant. If not, then whether it featured someone walking around in a Winnie the Pooh costume or not is irrelevant, isn’t it? China censors for its internal market but as yet even the party isn’t attempting a worldwide ban on plump bears.

    As for the apology, it atempts to address Blizzard’s internal processes only. Speed of response and communication, the former to fast, the latter too slow, are all the shortcomings Brack is holding his hand up for. Was the boycott to protest Blizzard acting too swiftly and talking too slowly or was it a reaction to the substance of their action? Brack isn’t rowing back on that at all, is he?

    What he has managed is to make the whole thing so vague and opaque that all parties can now read into it pretty much what they want to hear. The key point as i see it is that in his strenuous efforts to avoid specifics he has placed Blizzard in the impossible position of having to live up to standards that exist only in the minds of his customers. Good luck with that.

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    • According to this Polygon article:

      Now, during the BlizzCon 2019 opening ceremony in Anaheim, California, the company has addressed ongoing criticism it has faced since then. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack appeared at the event to talk about the ongoing controversy — though on a time delay of multiple minutes for at-home viewers.

      Even if something is actually Live, I doubt China would allow it to be broadcast in real-time on their end. Seems like quite the loophole in the ole Great Firewall.

      In any case, yeah, it’s business as usual at Blizzard.

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  3. I don’t think the whole story would have blown up without the year ban and confiscation of prize money. The whole protest was never very specific about any aims though. I was satisfied when they reduced the punishment, but others seemed to believe that was not enough. I never figured out what would be enough though.

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    • Rationally, I don’t think anything would be enough because not much has changed other than the punishment being standardized at a lower level: six month ban for off-topic speech.

      Anyone who was concerned about China’s influence on Blizzard should still be concerned… but they’re not, apparently. There is zero evidence Blizzard “stood up” to China by apologizing or allowing Pooh to walk around because China themselves already walked everything back a few days after the media frenzy with the NBA. That’s why the big delay that Brack is “taking accountability” for was so important – he only moved after China said “just kidding.”

      That may sound all conspiracy theory, but I would argue that it is no more conspiracy theory than Blizzard’s original actions, which fell in line with previously written policy (including the bit with seizing the prize money). If Blizzard was a Chinese puppet before, they have done nothing to prove they aren’t now.

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  4. I think you’re taking “accepts responsibility” far more literally than perhaps you ought to. Did you expect Brack to restore Blitzchung’s winnings out of his own checking account?

    Saying that the company did something wrong and not attempting to mitigate it or justify it by pointing to external forces is, in its own way, an acceptance of responsibility. The lack of such excuses is important. Saying that it was their policy and procedures that were wrong and that they will do better in the future is not nothing. It is vague and unmeasurable, which deserves the eye rolls it gets, but that also means that it will be judged as time goes on by customers in their own way.

    As I keep doing, I compare this to how the NBA is handling its own problem with China, which came about not from something that happened at an NBA event by because of a tweet from a team’s general manager on his private account. They went on how big they were to stand up to China by not firing the general manager. Meanwhile, they’re ejecting people from televised games who hold up “Free Hong Kong” signs in the stands.

    In that context, letting Winnie the Pooh wander into camera range or not interrupting, cutting off, or ejecting somebody in the WoW Q&A who ends his question with “Liberate Hong Kong!” seems pretty progressive. Not good enough for you?

    It is easy to take the cynical view on this. I know I am deep into that. But you also have to ask what would you have done in Blizzard’s position. You attest that not having restrictions on what players can says during event broadcasts is untenable. And you’re right on that. But where does that leave Blizz room to do much else? You can’t unban Blitzchung completely, or how do you justify having that rule the next time you need to enforce. You can’t give China the finger and pull out of that market because, as a public company, you’d likely face an investor lawsuit assuming the board of directors would even allow it. And you cannot directly antagonize China for the same reason.

    So you’re Brack up on stage. What do you say? Remember, if you give people specific, measurable items, they’ll hold you to them, something that has bit Blizz in the ass in the past.

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    • Brack should nix the “accept accountability” and leave that sentence just as “I apologize and we shall do better.” Blizzard should then unban the casters, because how exactly were they supposed to keep things “on topic” when the winner shows up in the feed with a gas mask on? If anything, they should ban the… what, producer? Whoever looked at camera 1, saw the guy in a gas mask, and decided to switch the feed over anyway.

      As for the rest, Blizzard gets no courage points because China already backed down damn near a month ago. When I tried Googling “NBA fan ejection Hong Kong,” every story was about things that happened on Oct 9th, right in the thick of things. Have fans been ejected since then for supporting Hong Kong? You tell me. I’m guessing no.

      And that’s the fundamental problem here. If Blizzard rolled back the punishment BEFORE China backed down, that would be a profile in courage. That didn’t happen. Everything Blizzard has done up to this point is still consistent with a servile relationship with China. Yes, Pooh walked the BlizzCon floor. No, nobody in China will be seeing that – it’s an empty gesture devoid of consequence, and is exactly the sort of thing you would expect China to “allow” to get everyone to forget that they made Brack sign this bullshit.

      Maybe that borders on conspiracy theory. But my argument is that if you believed Blizzard overreacted due to Chinese influence to begin with, there is nothing to suggest something changed.

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