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After layoffs and a PR disaster, some Blizzard employees are dreading BlizzCon

Suhauna Hussain, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

In a statement, Dustin Blackwell, a Blizzard Entertainment spokesman, said, "BlizzCon has always been a place where we celebrate the passion and diversity of the Blizzard community, where we encourage and support the many creative and thoughtful ways attendees share and reflect their views and interests -- and this year will be no different ... .The safety and security of our attendees is and has always been a top priority, and every year we iterate with new measures to bring our event even more up to date while doing everything we can to create a comfortable environment for everyone."

Within Blizzard, the reaction to the company's punishment of Blitzchung was immediate but far from uniform. On the morning of Oct. 9 at the company's campus in Irvine, roughly 30 employees walked out in protest. From 10 a.m. until around 6 p.m. they huddled around a 12-foot-tall statue of an orc that stands in the center of a courtyard. A creature from fantasy, the orc is seen as a symbol of Blizzard's offbeat culture. Although it was a sunny day, many protesters brandished umbrellas, a symbol of resistance in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests have roiled the streets for months. (A wave of protests in 2014 were dubbed "the Umbrella Revolution.")

Meanwhile, inside the buildings strewn around campus, there was a less visible discussion taking place, on the internal messaging system Slack, which the company had recently started using. Was the company's decision appropriate? Should Blizzard walk back its punishment? employees wondered, according to one employee who participated.

Outside the company, the loudest voices expressed certitude that Blizzard had done something wrong. But within its walls, the discussion was more nuanced, with some believing the critics were holding Blizzard and its parent Activision -- which is worth 42.8 billion and employs a workforce of roughly 9,000 -- to an unfair standard. Many workers defended the decision, and the discussion at times grew heated.

"There are a lot of differing opinions on what role political speech has within Blizzard," an employee said. "Is (there) a moral imperative to do the right thing -- do we just provide fantasies for people to set their real life aside?"

As rank-and-file workers debated the right course of action and watched backlash grow online, they waited for words of explanation or encouragement from Blizzard's leadership.

 

It wasn't until after nearly four days the company broke its silence with a statement from J. Allen Brack, President of Blizzard Entertainment, walking back the worst of the punishment it had issued for Blitzchung, whose real name is Ng Wai Chung.

The length of Ng's ban was cut to six months, down from one year, and the company said it would give him the $10,000 in prize winnings it had revoked, since Ng had "played fair." Ng could participate in the next Hearthstone Grandmaster's tournament if he wanted.

Externally, the statement, in which the company said it would continue to enforce limits on non-gaming speech in official company broadcasts, did little to reduce the pressure.

Prominent former Blizzard employee Mark Kern, who led the team that created "World of Warcraft," tweeted that the statement was ludicrous legalese that only reinforced the idea that the company will restrict players' speech if it offends the Chinese government. (Earlier, Kern had called for a boycott of Blizzard.) A bipartisan group of U.S. congressional members signed a letter calling on the company to reconsider its stance.

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