Multiple groups are in the process of organizing protests to take place outside BlizzCon, the annual convention held by game developer Blizzard, in response to its suspension of a Hearthstone player express support for Hong Kong during a live event. Today, digital rights non-profit organization Fight For The Future launched a website and Discord to kick off its organizing efforts, and a The “ProtestBlizzCon” subreddit is gaining serious steam as well.
Take a look at the internet right now, and it's pretty obvious that people aren't happy with Blizzard. After it suspended Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai and stripped of his prize winnings at the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters for wearing a mask and saying “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age, ”fans and industry pros alike have been vocal about their disapproval of the move, which they see as Blizzard backing down in the face of Chinese economic pressure. Today, Blizzard partially reversed its decision, returning Blitzchung's prize money and cutting his suspension down to six months. However, it still tends to keep players from talking about politics at its events.
BlizzCon is Blizzard's annual fan convention dedicated to beloved game series like Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Overwatch, and Hearthstone. Last year, it was attended by over 40,000 people, with hundreds of thousands more tuning in to panels and esports events online. Also a place where Blizzard developers go to both make announcements and interact with fans. It is, in many ways, a focal point of Blizzard's year.
Fight For The Future's protest will take place outside the Anaheim Convention Center at noon on November 1, the first day of BlizzCon. The organization is asking protesters to bring umbrellas as a sign of solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong — who adopted umbrellas as a symbol — or to cosplay as their favorite Blizzard characters.
The digital rights group has decided to take up the protest banner because its central priority is to build an internet “free of interference or censorship and with complete privacy,” according to its website, and Blizzard's actions fly this past week in the face of that goal. Plus, the organization has its fair share of game-makers among its ranks, and they just sit back and do nothing.
"We have a lot of gamers at Fight For The Future, so it was on our radar," product director Dayton Young told Kotaku over the phone. “We are passionate about digital rights, and we thought this was a very clear example of censorship that was very disturbing to all of us. So we wanted to promote it to people in our community and let everyone know this was taking place. ”
“The heart of the matter is, they still censored a man and punished him for speaking out and advocating for his own political freedom, and what he continues to do. "
Fight For The Future's goal is twofold: to get developers and publishers to make a public commitment to supporting the rights of players, employees, and fans around the world, and to get Blizzard to completely reverse its decisions surrounding Blitzchung.
While Young believes Blizzard's statement and partial scaling back of Blitzchung's punishment on Friday night is a promising testament to the power of overwhelming public pressure, he doesn't think Blizzard's move solves the core issue, and the protest is currently set to proceed as planned. .
“The heart of the matter is, they still censored a man and punished him for speaking out and advocating for his own political freedom, and what he continues to do, ”said Young. “They're saying this because they don't want to upset people, but I think people are already upset by their decisions … If Blizzard's true goal is to ensure that every player always feels safe and welcome when competing in tournaments and playing Blizzard games, then Blizzard should let players, fans, and employees know that they can advocate for their rights without fear of reprisal. ”
Although organizing efforts only began in earnest today, Fight For The Future has already reached out to numerous subreddits and various other involved parties via Twitter and other platforms, Young said. He's happy to work with other groups organizing protests at BlizzCon, which will likely benefit them, including Fight To The Future has helped organize digital and physical actions including the 2012 SOPA / PIPA online protests against San Francisco-based company Salesforce's support. of ICE.
"I think hopefully we'll be able to use that experience to help these gamers who are interested in getting their voices heard actually find a way to effectively protest," said Young. “It's fantastic for us to make tweets, it's fantastic for us to make statements, but also to put something together, collaborating with each other, showing that we're all on this — I think it will be very successful in grabbing Blizzard's attention. ”
The two moderators of the ProtestBlizzCon subreddit come from a very different background. Neither of them have the experience of organizing protests, but they felt something needed to happen, and they were worried it would not be otherwise.
"I feel like one would happen," said one of the moderators, "TheStableBoy," whose first name is Adrian. “For me it's been a personal experience in a sense. Both my parents grew up in San Francisco and told me stories about the times they went to protest, ”he said in an email. “Honestly, I don't really feel like the right person, but who does in most situations? I just want to make sure something happens at least, regardless of just me standing alone. Basic human rights should be given. ”
The subreddit's other moderator, Mel "Kazemel89" Thomspon, had been watching things unfold in Hong Kong for months and didn't like what they saw from US-based companies like Apple, Google, and the NBA. For Thompson, Blizzard was the last straw.
"What is happening is terrible human rights violations and suppression," Thompson told Kotaku in an email. “When Blizzard, whose games and motto support heroes and freedom, and [who] has stated on their company grounds [that] Blitzchung took everything for granted by simply saying he supports Hong Kong as the revolution of our times, I was shocked … He never used any foul or extreme language about China. It shows how companies are willing to say they support diversity and heroes as long as they pay. ”
Blizzard's Friday evening statement will change Thompson's mind, either. He called the situation "ridiculous," saying that "Blizzard has shown its true colors and is now trying to put the genie back in the bottle."
Already, the ProtestBlizzCon subreddit is awash with sternly worded condemnations from Blizzard and the Chinese government, as well as creative protest ideas. Adrian and Thompson are planning to adopt some of those, many centering around the Overwatch character Mei, who has become a symbol of resistance in Hong Kong. Thompson said the protest will likely feature “shirts, banners, and flyers that have memes, images, and art of OverwatchMei's supporting Hong Kong. ”
"We have one Mei cosplayer trying to get BlizzCon to support Blizzard and support Hong Kong outside the Anaheim Convention Center," he said. "We are looking for ideas on how to donate or fund her into getting there."
Adrian and Thompson are aware, though, of how zealous some video game fans can get (and allegedly already gotten, in this case) when it comes to companies making moves that are ardently opposed to. They do not want their subreddit or ensuing protest to devolve into a movement of hate, harassment, or racism.
"We want to make sure we are on point and polite, because not everyone knows or has all the facts about the situation, and there is a lot of misinformation out there," said Thompson. “We also want this to become a subreddit of hate against Chinese people; Lots of mainland Chinese sufferers under the CCP government, such as Uighur Muslims who have lost their rights because of their religion … So far this subreddit has not become extremist, and I'm glad most people who have joined support Blizzard. in legal and well thought-out plans to gain awareness. ”
Fight For The Future's Young said his organization, too, would do everything it could to "discourage" poor behavior during BlizzCon protests. The staff of the Anaheim Convention Center have also been paying attention to these nascent organizing efforts, and they believe they are prepared to facilitate both convention and nearby protests.
"As a major visitor city, we have significant experience hosting high-profile events," a spokesman for the convention center told Kotaku in an email. “The Anaheim Convention Center works closely with event organizers and the Anaheim Police Department to ensure a safe experience for both attendees and those who may wish to express themselves peacefully.”
More than anything, Adrian wants a "peaceful protest" that raises awareness of the recent actions of both Blizzard and other companies that have similarly turned a blind eye to China's handling of Hong Kong. Apart from the number of people who are already rallied to their cause, though, they are not certain there will be much of a turnaround when the time comes.
“I say that because Area 51 [event] had about two million people, and it turned out to be 100-ish? ”Adrian said. "I know people have joined the sub for memes and shitposts, but personally, I hope to at least inform others of what's been happening."
"Many have already posted their Blizzard accounts already demonstrating their protest and that they support Hong Kong," Thompson said. "So hopefully in the coming days, as more people become aware, we can have enough members to protest big enough to make a change."
“We've seen this wave over the past couple of days of people making games, people doing cosplay, people making their own parody Hearthstone cards, ”said Young. “It's great to see people exercising their freedom of expression. Very important for them to do that. Activision-Blizzard and other game companies need to know that this is just going to go away. ”