Hong Kong protesters gather outside of BlizzCon 2019 (Updated)

(Image credit: Future)

Blizzard's suspension of a Hearthstone player over their call for Hong Kong's liberation has been looming over BlizzCon, but so far, the reaction has been modest, and not disrupted the usual festivities. We've been following the protests throughout today as it unfolds, a collection of observations and interviews from the convention center. 

Sunday, 6:03 pm PST: The protesters returned for the second day of BlizzCon, and the turnout was similar. I saw a few people wearing pro-Hong Kong protest shirts inside the convention center, but it wasn't widespread. As I left today, my attention was instead drawn to an anti-Erdogan, pro-YPG protest in front of the tents used for badge pickup. A survey of the scene suggests it doesn't have anything to do with Activision or Blizzard (despite Call of Duty's obvious parallels with Syria). They came for a crowd.

6:09 pm PST: Early this morning I spoke with some protesters about the issues they hoped to bring attention to, as well as with general attendees about how they feel about the protests. Hear what they had to say in the video below.

5:28 pm PST: At this hour, there's only a handful of people left out front. After speaking to more attendees, most of them support the protesters, but the mood is cheerful. It’s as if the protest was a feature of BlizzCon, part of the festivities. We have to remember that most of the folks at BlizzCon will have spent hundreds of dollars to be here, to see what's next for the games they care about.

2:05 pm PST: Tyler here. I've been standing near the protesters on and off, as well as talking to people in the convention center. Most of the fans I've spoken to support the protesters. A few said they thought J. Allen Brack's apology was heartfelt, even though they think Blizzard ought to fully reverse Blitzchung's punishment. However, one noted that doing so might open the gates to any kind of speech during Blizzard streams, and so he thinks Blizzard's hands are tied at this point. One fan I spoke to said they think it's just typical corporate policy to not allow off-topic comments during official streams.

(Image credit: Tyler Wilde)

Amber Skies, who came to BlizzCon cosplaying as an undead rogue, told me that she doesn't feel conflicted about supporting the Hong Kong protest and also attending BlizzCon, because the individual developers don't get to make decisions about corporate policy.

The protest itself grew significantly after the Opening Ceremony started. I'm inside in the press room now, so I don't have eyes on it, but it's a mix of personalities. Some don't have any interest in videogames, but are connected with Hong Kong activism groups. Others are Blizzard fans—or maybe former fans—with anti-China signs and various chants, such as "gamers unite, human rights." American liberals and conservatives have clearly joined forces in this instance. One man said that Blizzard was born on "American soil" and shouldn't bend to communists. 

12:55 pm PST: Protests have grown since earlier in the day. Here's a look at what we're seeing at the moment: about 40 or 50 people actively participating in the protest outside the convention center.

(Image credit: Tyler Wilde)

(Image credit: Tyler Wilde)

12:16 pm PST: We spoke with a few protesters and attendees on camera earlier this morning and we hope to have footage of those interviews ready to share here later today.

11:52 am PST: As the Hearthstone stage segment started, about 50 attendees got up and walked out of their seats in an apparent act of protest. There was a large group sitting together near the front of the WoW stage that left at the same time, and smaller groups from other sections.

11:20 am PST: Here in the room where the opening ceremony is taking place, there hasn't been a perceivable negative reaction to Brack's opening statement, and certainly not to the Diablo 4 announcement that followed it, clearly a strategic decision by Blizzard to give players what they most wanted. Lots of enthusiastic shouts, oohs, and aahs. Attendees are eating up what they're seeing so far. 

Blizzard president J. Allen Brack. (Image credit: Blizzard)

11:03 am PST: At the very outset of BlizzCon's opening ceremony Blizzard president J. Allen Brack addressed the international scandal that erupted around Hearthstone's esports scene in October. "Blizzard has the opportunity to bring the world together... and we did not," Brack said. "We moved too quickly in our decision making, and to make matters worse we were too slow to talk to all of you." Attendees applauded Brack's apology.

10:42 am PST: The opening ceremony is kicking off in a few more minutes, and Joanna and Tyler from our team are in Mythic Hall inside the Anaheim Convention Center to cover the announcements and any noteworthy fan reactions. Blizzard has historically taken the opportunity to express a lot of gratitude to its community in moments like this, so it'll be interesting to see to what extent it acknowledges the tumultuous last few weeks the company has faced. 

Former president Michael Morhaime led the opening ceremony in 2018, so we'd expect new president J. Allen Brack to be the frontman. Three weeks ago, Brack reiterated Blizzard's values in the company's official response to the Blitzchung incident. "One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games," Brack wrote.

10:10 am PST: "We want to raise the issues in Hong Kong to the gamers here. We want them to understand what's going on there, and that what's happening in Hong Kong with the crackdown from China is also affecting businesses here, as you can see what happened with Blizzard Entertainment," Charles Lam, a member of Hong Kong Forum Los Angeles, told us outside the convention center. Lam says his group, which he describes as a leaderless movement, is assisting contacts in Hong Kong with distributing t-shirts at today's event.

9:37 am PST: If you’re wondering, police are nowhere near the protesters. They are on scene but just as they normally would be at a crowded convention. Blizzard is making no effort to move them whatsoever. One thing is clear: it’s not a protest against Blizzard’s political speech policy, but a “liberate Hong Kong” protest.

In any case, the vibe is pretty muted outside the convention center. I count around 20 obvious protesters at my entrance. It’s essentially them just saying “free t-shirt” to people walking by.

9:20 am PST: Now the protest truck has arrived. 

(Image credit: Future)

It's a bit ominous. 

The protesters have given out a lot of shirts and stickers so far, but most people are walking around them to get to security. There are police in the area, but like the convention employees they are completely ignoring the protesters. 

9:00 am PST: With BlizzCon 2019 about to begin, a group of around 25-30 protesters flying Hong Kong flags has gathered outside the security checkpoint. Convention employees seem to be ignoring them as they hand out tshirts featuring Overwatch's Mei, who's become a symbol of the Blizzard boycott and protests. 

(Image credit: Future)

(Image credit: Tyler Wilde)
Fraser Brown
Online Editor

Fraser is the UK online editor and has actually met The Internet in person. With over a decade of experience, he's been around the block a few times, serving as a freelancer, news editor and prolific reviewer. Strategy games have been a 30-year-long obsession, from tiny RTSs to sprawling political sims, and he never turns down the chance to rave about Total War or Crusader Kings. He's also been known to set up shop in the latest MMO and likes to wind down with an endlessly deep, systemic RPG. These days, when he's not editing, he can usually be found writing features that are 1,000 words too long or talking about his dog.