Blizzard’s Latest Blunder, The Lead-Up to It, and Why it Matters

Companies know the importance of the Chinese market when it comes to business and profit. Getting the all-clear to operate in the country, though… that takes a bit of time. Once approved to commence business, these companies will be required to operate according to the restrictions and laws of China.

On paper, this doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary; after all, different countries follow different procedures. China, however, requires businesses to comply with their intricate censorship laws. Or at least it does if you’re a major company with big investments from Chinese companies.

One such company is Activision Blizzard which was recently involved in a major controversy exposing the tension between business interests in China and American ideals of freedom of speech.

The Lead-Up

Activision Blizzard’s relationship with Tencent, a Chinese business titan, has always kept consumers on edge. Tencent has their hands in many businesses, including a pretty large investment in Activision Blizzard.

Tencent has a stake in many American businesses, but people have become quite suspicious of Tencent the past couple of years, and this recent incident shows why.

The Start of the Controversy

Activision Blizzard has a large stake in Chinese business; after all, a major fraction of their revenue comes from mainland China. So, when a popular Hearthstone player from Hong Kong, Ng Wai Chung, expressed support for Hong Kong amidst the recent political turmoil, Blizzard was quick to ban him. Not only did they ban him, however—they also took his prize money from the tournament he won just before.

Of course, none of this sat well with Blizzard’s fanbase, who were quick to express disdain for their actions.

After a few days of sustained attack by players, Blizzard reinstated the prize money of Wai Chung, but refused to lift the temporary ban. Players were still not satisfied, leading many Internet users to voice support for Hong Kong and even turn one of Blizzard’s video game characters into an icon for Hong Kong independence.

As of now, no news about Wai Chung’s suspension has changed, and Blizzard is currently acting as if nothing happened. Their latest Blizzcon shows that they have no intention of digging into the controversy anymore, and the positive reception from the fanbase shows they’ve lost interest in the controversy as well.

Why This Controversy Matters

Activision Blizzard is far from the first American business that has acted against the principles of freedom of speech in order to please the Chinese government. For example, Apple goes on and on about how much they value user privacy, but when China asked them to ban VPNs from the App Store, they were quick to comply. No DNS VPN for Chinese Apple users!

In a way, you can’t really blame these companies for adhering to the orders they’ve been given. Mainland China represents a large market that offers millions of dollars. Why ruin a good thing? It’s just business.

Not to say I agree with these decisions. In fact, I agree in their deplorability. What I am saying, however, is that the actions of Activision Blizzard represent more than their agenda—it represents the agenda of many companies, which is “turn a profit by any means necessary”.

And with the supposed boycott the fanbase of Blizzard were planning failing after a week, there’s not much to stop Blizzard, or any company, from doing this same thing again.

Conclusion

The banning of Ng Wai Chung only gives us a peek into the true intentions of Activision Blizzard, which if you didn’t realize by now, is to turn a profit. The happiness of their user base is only secondary, only required when it helps to make more money.

However, many other businesses are like this, American or not. And businesses with ties to Chinese businesses may be forced to go against the values of user privacy or freedom of speech. In that sense, operating in China often turns out to be the ultimate test of company’s real objectives and the strength of their moral spine.

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