A year and a half after its bitter breakup with NetEase, Blizzard has made a new deal to bring its games back to China—with NetEase

After being gone for more than a year, Blizzard's biggest games will soon return to China. Blizzard confirmed tonight that it has struck a new deal with NetEase to bring all the games covered by the previous publishing agreement, including World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, "and other titles in the Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo, and StarCraft universes," back to the Chinese market. The new deal will take effect this summer.

"We at Blizzard are thrilled to reestablish our partnership with NetEase and to work together, with deep appreciation for the collaboration between our teams, to deliver legendary gaming experiences to players in China," Blizzard president Johanna Faries said in a statement. "We are immensely grateful for the passion the Chinese community has shown for Blizzard games throughout the years, and we are focused on bringing our universes back to players with excellence and dedication."

NetEase began publishing Blizzard games in mainland China in 2008, but that deal expired in January 2023, and was not renewed. Each company naturally pointed the finger at the other: NetEase said it "put in a great deal of effort and tried with our utmost sincerity to negotiate with Activision Blizzard," but that "material differences on key terms" prevented a new deal from being reached; Blizzard said NetEase was to blame for the shutdown because it wasn't willing to extend the existing deal by another six months while Blizzard looked for someone else to take the reins.

Rumors of the new deal first surfaced by way of a leaked photo posted to Twitter by CN Wire (via Kotaku) purporting to show NetEase CEO Ding Lei in a meeting with new Blizzard president Johanna Faries, who took over the role in January 2024; the account also said NetEase was expected to announce the return of Blizzard games to the Chinese market on April 10.

A short time later, the South China Morning Post reported the same thing, citing "a person familiar with the matter" and "local media reports." The SCMP report echoed CN Wire in saying that the new deal will be announced on April 10, but claimed that Blizzard's games won't actually return to China for at least another month.

Now it's official, and it's not an entirely unexpected outcome: Activision Blizzard has said multiple times since the expiration of the NetEase deal that it remains "committed" to the Chinese market. But it may have been the company's acquisition by Microsoft, approved by the Chinese government in May 2023 ahead of both the UK's Competitions and Markets Authority and the US Federal Trade Commission (which is still fighting it), that helped finally get a deal done. 

"Blizzard and NetEase have done incredible work to renew our commitment to players—Blizzard's universes have been part of players' lives in the region for many years," Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said. "Returning Blizzard's legendary games to players in China while exploring ways to bring more new titles to Xbox demonstrates our commitment to bringing more games to more players around the world."

Microsoft has also struck a separate deal with NetEase "to explore bringing new NetEase titles to Xbox consoles and other platforms."

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.