When Blizzard first announced that Diablo 3 would be coming to the Nintendo Switch, redditor Zein had a really funny idea. He went on GoDaddy and bought the URL "playdiablo4.com" and then made it redirect to Path of Exile's website (opens in new tab)—Diablo 3's biggest competitor. After Blizzard outraged fans earlier this November with the announcement of Diablo Immortal, Zein's little joke went viral. But now he's asking people to stop bashing the developer.
Zein showed me proof that he first bought the domain on September 20, well over a month before Blizzard would upset a massive portion of its fanbase by closing its annual Blizzcon keynote presentation by announcing that the next Diablo would be mobile-exclusive and created by Chinese developer NetEase.
"At the time, I played a lot of Path of Exile," Zein told me. "And when I saw the whole Diablo 3 on the Switch thing, the idea just came to me. It was all as a joke, with no malicious intent towards Blizzard or anything."
Blizzard expected a little pushback (opens in new tab), but the announcement of Diablo Immortal turned into an unmitigated disaster as fans raged over the notion that it was neglecting a core part of its audience. They wanted Diablo 4 on PC and instead Blizzard was giving them a spin-off mobile game.
That's when players stumbled across playdiablo4.com, saw that it redirected to Pathofexile.com, and thought it must be in response to Diablo Immortal. The joke quickly spread when the media got a hold of it, and Zein's little gag became the poster child of protest against Blizzard.
Yesterday, though, Zein received an email from "some guy who used Diablo fan forums" offering to buy the domain. "I entertained his email with an 'I might' response," Zein told me. But, apparently, that was just all just a ruse. Shortly after, Zein received an email from Blizzard's lawyers informing him that he was infringing upon their copyright and committing an act of cybersquatting (opens in new tab)—buying website domains containing someone else's trademark in the attempt to profit from them. It would seem that, by offering to sell the domain to this unknown buyer, Zein proved his intent to profit from Diablo's trademark.
"They asked to take down the pathofexile.com redirect and tried to get me to transfer the domain over to Blizzard," Zein wrote in a post (opens in new tab) to the Path of Exile subreddit explaining the situation. "Because they couldn’t see a reason I’d keep the domain except for commercial purposes."
Naturally, this has only stoked the flames of outrage. The post quickly blew up and reached the front page of Reddit, where the thread filled with comments like "Blizzard is freaking salty" and "tell them to get fucked." For many, this looked like Blizzard desperately trying to do damage control and silence criticism.
But Zein never wanted to be on the front lines of a war against Blizzard in the first place—and he certainly didn't want to be a martyr. "I made the website a long time before Diablo Immortal was announced," he said. "Why are random people on the internet writing articles saying I did it in 'protest' of Diablo Immortal or that I was an 'angry fan?' I don't even play Diablo."
After receiving that notice from Blizzard's legal team, Zein complied by taking down the redirect and instead had playdiablo4.com point to a Google image search for "phone." (Obviously keeping the joke alive, though more subtly.) After several redditors claiming to be lawyers told Zein that the situation could be serious, he became anxious and called Blizzard's lawyers.
"I was really getting insecure and anxious about Blizzard suing me because of all the replies saying I was done for," he said. "He was very kind with me though, and told me I had nothing to worry about. I'm grateful for that. It's why I really don't like how many people are trying to call Blizzard's lawyers scummy in the responses to my thread. The guy handled it really nicely and calmly with me, so I have no animosity towards him and Blizzard."
But for people who just want more reasons to hate Blizzard, that matters little—even after Zein made several updates to his post imploring readers to stop attacking Blizzard and its lawyers. "Guys, please stop attacking Blizzard over this," he wrote in one update. "This is standard procedure. [Grinding Gear Games] owns the [Path of Exile] website and they're a direct competitor of Blizzard with regards to Diablo. The lawyer clarified that Blizzard did find the joke funny too, but they also needed this done to minimize harm. It's not their fault."
That hasn't done much to quell the hordes of angry fans who see this as one more misstep by Blizzard, though. For the time being, everything seems to be alright for Zein. He's still unsure about the ultimate fate of playdiablo4.com, but Blizzard will probably end up owning it in the end.
"I disagree with the direction Blizzard has taken with both Overwatch and Diablo," Zein said. "But I have no malicious feelings towards them, and don't want people to look at them like some villain over wanting this meme taken down. To me, at least, it makes total sense why it'd have to be taken down."