Gamers Are Organizing A Mass Protest At BlizzCon 2019
Digital rights group Fight for the Future known for organizing massive protests against SOPA, for net neutrality, and against government surveillance is teaming up with gamers, redditors, and Internet freedom activists to call for a protest at Activision-Blizzard annual conference, BlizzCon, which starts November 1st in Anaheim, CA and attracts tens of thousands of gamers from all over the world.
The controversy began when professional Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung (aka Blitzchung) expressed support for the Hong Kong protests during a post-match interview. Blizzard banned Chung from competitive events for a year and rescinded his $10,000 in winnings. Since then the response has been fierce, with gamers calling for boycotts and some deleting their accounts. US Senators criticized the move as censorship, some Blizzard employees staged their own protest, and host personalities like Brian Kibler announced they would no longer shoutcast Hearthstone events. Most recently Hearthstone’s first ever World Champion, James Kostesich aka “Firebat,” called the penalty ridiculous and unreasonable.
BlizzCon is home to championships, game reveals, fan events, and cosplay contests. This year it may host another spectacle: mass political demonstrations. In the wake of Blizzard heavily criticized decision to ban a player for making a political statement in a post-match interview, a group of gamers are organizing a protest to take place at the event.
Nonprofit activist group Fight for the Future is organizing the campaign, called GAMERS FOR FREEDOM, to keep a scorecard keeping track of companies that have publicly pledged to not censor players like Blizzard. It is calling on players to show up to BlizzCon, which starts November 1 in California, to protest against the company’s censorship. The BlizzCon protest is named after the 2014 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
“This is not going away,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future said in a statement, “Blizzard, and other companies who are engaging in censorship on behalf of an authoritarian government, are not going to get away with it. They have no idea what kind of Internet shitstorm they’ve unleashed. We’re going to make an example out of them to make sure that all companies know that throwing human rights and free expression under the bus to make some extra money will not be tolerated.”
Like many others in the tech and gaming worlds, we were extremely disappointed to learn that Blizzard banned a professional gamer and confiscated his tournament winnings because he advocated for his own political freedom. But we’ve been encouraged to see the immediate, widespread public backlash. And some game companies such as Epic and Immutable have made public pledges to never ban or punish their players for speaking about politics and human rights.
Dayton Young, Product Director at Fight for the Future, added: “Gamers deserve to know which companies are willing to engage in censorship on behalf of authoritarian regimes and which companies will defend basic freedom of expression. Blizzard has engaged in blatant censorship and should immediately reverse its decision to ban Ng Wai Chung, restore his tournament winnings, and repair its relationships with the livestream casters. No gamers should be punished for expressing their views on politics and human rights. And no game company should ever ban or penalize players for advocating for their own political freedom. We call on all game developers and publishers to make a public commitment to support the rights of their customers, employees, and fans to freely express their beliefs in America, in Hong Kong, in China, and around the globe.”
Fight for the Future is coordinating with gamers and activists in a Discord channel and across social media, where game fans from around the world have been voicing their outrage at Blizzard and planning their own creative protests for BlizzCon.
The list of prominent companies that have gone out of their way to censor on behalf of the Chinese government has been growing mainly because it has been profitable enough to look the other way.