Rabbit in a Snowstorm

This is my eulogy for Blizzard. If you want to cut to the chase here's a link to the unforgivable evil they've perpetrated.

I was 11 years old when the golden age of the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) genre hit its... golden age. That time in a child's life when their tastes for the future are unwittingly locked in, forever immutable. (It's for the same reason that 90's So-Cal Punk - Offspring, Unwritten Law, Alkaline Trio etc is the best music of all time. Music wasn't better when you were a kid, you just like things that remind you of being young.)

And at this time the king of the RTS genre was Blizzard. There was competition, Westwood had a real solid shot at the crown for a long time, but Blizzard held the hill. Because they had Warcraft II - The Tides of Darkness.

Warcraft II is probably the first game I can recall being really into. Obsessively so. I was gifted a copy by my uncle Darran, who surmised that I might enjoy it (he was correct in this, as he was the gateway to so much of my nerdery - he showed me the first movie I can ever remember seeing, The Empire Strikes Back. Much of my life is his fault). I fondly recall that he included all the cheat codes (GLITTERING PRIZES!), so that 11-year-old me could get the maximum enjoyment out of the game. He even wrote puzzles to hide the cheat codes, so I had to earn them (this was pre-internet, no jumping on GameFAQs).

I played it, and played it, and played it.

I took the instruction manual to school so I could read all of Chris Metzen's lore, which was surprisingly riveting. A side lament here is the loss of the physical instruction manual (shout out to Baldur's Gate, which contained not only game references but handwritten comments in the marginalia from in-game characters Volo and Elminster and... A CLOTH FUCKING MAP!) and the more innocent time from when I thought Chris Metzen was a decent writer.

I loved Blizzard.

I never really got into Diablo, but accounts suggest it was the same quality one would expect from Blizzard. Warcraft III was the same. What an experience. The rise and fall of Arthas Menethil. The fall and fall of Sylvanas Windrunner. The long-con reveal of Medivh. The heroic sacrifice of Grommash Hellscream. The hours spent in LAN cafes after school, free-for-all battling friends (I pride myself on pioneering the 'Meat Wagon Flank' behind a treeline).

And Starcraft. Oh, Starcraft. What a game. What an experience. Kerrigan's betrayal. Kerrigan's return! The tragedy of the Protoss. Brood Wars, which is still, to this day, the greatest expansion pack that's ever been released and an impossibly high standard never met.

I played online, on the nascent Battlenet, getting schooled as Terran and Protoss until I finally learned that I was good at playing Zerg. Then I discovered the competitive Starcraft scene and I became a dedicated fan of the sport. I downloaded a Korean TV client so I could watch Nick 'Tasteless' Plott call games as the only English caster (well before he was teamed with the equally fun Dan 'Artosis' Stemkowski, I'm showing my age). I was riveted as Jaedong and Flash did impossible things, like Ali and Fraser (Lee Jaedong is still one of my favourite sporting idols) - I remember Jaedong winning a final with nothing but two zerglings and I cheered like I was at the footy.

I spent a long, long time in World of Warcraft. Let us not speak of it.

Starcraft II was more of the same. I loved it like I loved the original. I loved the online scene even more - more tournaments, more great players - the innovation of Fruit Dealer (oh the Bane Rain!), the awesomeness of Innovation, Dark and Rogue showing how it's done as Zerg, Maru - The Wall, the insanity of HaS, the surprisingly non-Korean Serral showing that the rest of the world can match it with Korea, as does LGBTQI heroine Scarlett. A whole panel of new casters! (Vale John "Total Biscuit" Bain and Jeff "InControl" Robson, I miss you - you were fun.)

Overwatch was something different that was always going to be awesome because it was Blizzard. They loved. They cared. Overwatch remains one of the greatest intellectual properties I've ever seen and deserves to be more than a video game. It needs movies and books. It's a world I want to live in. And although I suck at it, I still love it. In what is perhaps a great piece of game design I gravitated towards Symmetra as a main long before it was revealed she was autistic.

Heroes of the Storm is incredibly underrated. It is, far and away, the best MOBA game out there. Blizzard took a look at the other MOBAs out there like DOTA and LoL and streamlined all the bullshit out of them. I played LoL after HoTS and I couldn't stomach it. It was just boring. Blizzard took that game and made it...good.

Overwatch was great because it brought diversity but it didn't virtue signal. It just made minority characters normal. Symmetra showed it was okay to be autistic. A long time after I did, but it's great to have backup. Tracer, the female face of the franchise, brought a girlfriend home for Christmas and it wasn't a big deal. Wrecking Ball showed that it's just fine if you're a genetically modified hamster in a robot suit - we're all people on the inside.

And then there's Hearthstone.

I honestly don't think I've ever put more hours into anything else in my life than I have to Hearthstone. I've played at least an hour a day since the open beta at the end of 2013. I loved Hearthstone. It was my game. There was a lot of criticism, much of it valid, but I loved it. I'm good at it. I've had multiple 12-0 Arena runs and I've hit Legend twice - a Darkshire Councilman led Zoolock a couple of years back and recently with Quest Shaman.

And I've never paid a cent for it. Hearthstone is the perfect freemium model - you can spend money, but there's nothing in the game you can't earn without it. If you're good enough.

Hearthstone was a major part of my life. Besides killing a few minutes here or there with a quick game there was the single player content, which is riveting in its own right. A solid, standalone deckbuilder and you get it for free!

I watched streamers on YouTube and Twitch. The hours I've logged watching the mayor of Value Town - Trump. Disguised Toast. Sottle. Kibler. Thjis. Firebat.

I would look forward to every Thursday for the new Tavern Brawl - the weekly event where something crazy and random would happen that allowed you to just have fun in weird and interesting ways. Thursday was an event for me, because of this.

Until today. Today, this Thursday 10th October 2019, I am not playing the new Tavern Brawl. In fact, I'll never play a Tavern Brawl again. I'll never play Hearthstone again. I'll never play any Blizzard product again.

Three days ago there was a Hearthstone tournament in Taipai. One of the game's leading players, the Chinese Chung Ng Wai - who plays under the sobriquet of Blitzchung - had just won a match. In his post-game interview Blitzchung, who was wearing the attire of the Hong Kong protestors, exclaimed “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” in Mandarin.

(I do sincerely hope that all of you are familiar with the shitstorm and pending World War III situation brewing in Hong Kong)

And with that, the live feed of the tournament was cut off. Blizzard later removed Blitzchung from the tournament, revoked all of his winnings to that point (some $10,000 USD) and also took the measure of firing the commentators who happened to be interviewing him at the time.

All for expressing an opinion on China's rampant human rights violations.

Blizzard's reactions since have been...reprehensible. The company hasn't issued a formal apology, although they did take to Weibo to issue an informal apology...to China. Other than that, there has been a deafening silence from Blizzard who desperately want that Chinese dollar and are partially owned by Chinese megacorp Tencent.

This isn't the first time Blizzard has bent over backwards for their Chinese overlords. There was the great "Card Art Revamp" not long ago, where Blizzard's artistic sensibilities just happened to coincide with Chinese cultural dogma. There was the blatant pandering to Chinese clients, who got a sizeable gift just for being Chinese. And then there was the whole Diablo Immortal fiasco, which was significant enough to enter the cultural lexicon as The Diablo Immortal Fiasco.

But this...this is the last straw. This is some high-level bullshit. Pandering to a target market is one thing. Shitting on values, and a customer base, established over a quarter of a century for that market - that's another thing. But openly supporting fascism and egregious human rights abuse is another. Actively censoring a political opinion and clamping down on perceived dissent is so antithetical to my own values that I can never support Blizzard again.

You're dead to me Blizzard. You and your fascist overlords.

I know I'm just one person. One customer. One customer who never actually spent any money on Hearthstone. But I'm not the only person outraged by this. You've pissed off a lot of people. I know I'm just one snowflake, but a lot of snowflakes together can be really powerful. I think there's a word for that.

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