He didn’t say Hong Kong or Hearthstone, but everyone watching knew what Blizzard President J. Allen Brack was talking about when he stepped out on stage at BlizzCon, the annual fan event for the company, and immediately adopted a somber tone.
BlizzCon opened not with a trailer, but an apology. Brack took the stage and talked vaguely, with as few specifics as possible, about the company’s decision last month to suspend Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai after he made pro-Hong Kong statements on a post-match livestream.
“We moved too quickly in our decision making and then to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk to all of you,” Brack said. "When I think about what I’m most unhappy about, it’s mostly two things. First, we didn’t live up to the high standards we set for ourselves .The second is that we failed in our purpose. For that, I’m sorry, and I accept accountability."
The apology did not come with any change to Blizzard's minor concession after a major backlash, in which it gave Blitzchung his winnings back and reduced his suspension from one year to six months.
Blizzard drew widespread condemnation in the wake of its decision to suspend Chung. U.S. politicians sent Blizzard a letter of complaint, popular streamers resigned from their positions, and human rights groups expressed concern. Even Blizzard’s employees wondered about the future of the company.
“So what is our purpose?” Brack said. “We aspire to bring to the world together in epic entertainment. I truly believe in the positive power of video games. When we get it right, we create a common ground where the community comes together to compete, connect, and play. Irrespective of the things that divide us."
Brack then pivoted to talking about BlizzCon's purpose: community.
“BlizzCon has people from 59 countries all around the world here at the show today," he said. "That’s the positive power of video games. We will do better going forward. But our actions will matter more than any of these events. We hope, as you move around, you recognize our commitment to allowing everyone to express themselves.”
Brack referred to protesters who had gathered outside of BlizzCon to express their anger at the company’s recent decisions. “We saw and heard many of you expressing yourself this morning,” he said. Fight For the Future, a non-profit that has fought for net neutrality and Amazon, organized the protests.
Despite Brack’s words, protests continue outside and may erupt inside. In the past, Blizzard always allowed fans to ask it questions during BlizzCon. Last year, Blizzard announced a mobile version of Diablo called Immortal. Fans booed during the presentation. It’s unclear what will happen if and when Blizzard allows fans to talk to it this year.