Full Transcript of Mark Kern’s Analysis of Blizzard’s Response to China Hearthstone #FreeHongKong Incident

For the purposes of posterity, the following is the full Twitter transcript of former Team Lead for Vanilla World of Warcraft Mark Kern’s astute analysis of Blizzard Entertainment’s October 12, 2019 press release entitled: REGARDING LAST WEEKEND’S HEARTHSTONE GRANDMASTERS TOURNAMENT.

An analysis of the @Blizzard_Ent letter about @blitzchungHS and the #FreeHongKong incident. I apply everything I know from having been in the leadership team at Blizzard, my legal background, my decades of game industry experience, and my work with Chinese companies. Ready?

Blizzard released their official U.S. response on a Friday, well after 5:00 pm Pacific time. At Blizzard, as most places, we posted bad news on Friday’s, so that the news cycle would struggle to pick it up. They went the extra mile and released it after work hours too. Much fear.

The hope is that all reporters are already gone for the weekend, and that other news will break the cycle by then so that Blizzard becomes less of an interesting story, or faded with a little time.

Usually, we would follow this up with good news on a Monday or Tuesday. This is to give the press something else to talk about and to move the news cycle past the problem. I would not be surprised to see them drop some nice shiny stuff for everyone next week. A teaser trailer?

See the date. As others have noted, even though this post was on Friday, which was the 11th, the date on the post is the 12th, indicating that it was posted from overseas, possibly China. That’s not a big deal in and of itself, but let me talk about how these things are done.

Others have pointed out the linguistic analysis that shows inconsistent wording, some of it feeling non-native. Of course. Many hands would have been involved with drafting this. US employees and Chinese employee input “on the ground.”

To me, that’s not a big deal. This is what you would do, include your best minds in the territories affected. What is interesting is how this entire document rings….strange.

You see, the first thing you have to realize after reading this, is that this letter is not for YOU. This little fib starts in the very first sentence, “to the Blizzard community.”

There are hints of this through the entire letter. It’s formality, it’s very legal structure, and more points which I will highlight later. The first hint is the second paragraph that is explaining to people what eSports IS. Gamers already know. This paragraph was not for you.

Now, we start the legalize. Highly structured, numbered points (First, Second, Third). This paragraph reads like a legal brief, setting out the facts of what happened. Notice how they have to explain why there was even an interview. You already know why. It’s not for you.

Next they explain what shoutcasters are. Does any gamer really need to know what a shoutcaster does? Why players are interviewed, or what eSports is?

No, this is to explain it to someone else. Someone not a gamer.

Of course, because you, the gamer, already know all this, and we are many paragraphs in, your eyes are starting to glaze over. Good, because they wanted you (the gamer) to be bored by now. Maybe you’ll stop reading carefully as they drop the big lie.

And here it comes, buried in an already lengthy post about a bunch of stuff you don’t care about (but governments do). Here is where they say “China had no influence on our decision.” Gee, we hope you haven’t noticed this and will just jump to the nice ending message.

The word “influence” is carefully chosen. Governments are very concerned about “foreign influence.” It’s a specific term that gets used in the arena of politics, but not of games.

Again, this is not for you, the gamer. It’s for some very upset senators and non-gaming press How do we know that “no Chinese influence” is and continues to be a lie?

Because this exists. The official Netease Hearthstone statement on China’s largest social network.

You’ve seen it. It made you very angry.

So why is it STILL up?

Because it’s not for you.

Some of you say, this is Netease, not Blizzard. What you don’t know, and what Blizzard hopes you don’t care to know, is that US game companies can’t operate directly in China. This is from a joint venture (likely 51/49 percent ownership) between Netease and Blizzard.

Blizzard wants full control in every territory they operate. They have strong contractual terms to enforce this. Netease Heartstone is as officially Blizzard as Blizzard is legally allowed to be in China. Something as important as this would require Blizzard’s direct approval.

The China Heartstone statement stands in direct contradiction to the statement Blizzard released on Friday. A contradiction that has not been resolved.

Blizzard is smart, they would have taken this Weibo post down before posting this statement. Except…

Except the consequences to Blizzard and Netease for removing this message to the Chinese government, outweighs the outrage of the easily spotted lie they made in this statement. They would rather suffer the outrage of the gamer, than to suffer the loss of the China market.

In the equation of gamer vs profit, they choose profit. I can’t fully blame them. They are a public company, they have a duty to shareholders.

I can’t blame them, but I can still be angry and upset as a gamer. I can want better from Blizzard.

Now here we go into a formal statement about how Blizzard is going to remedy the problem. Legal brief: state the facts, state the intent, state what you did to mitigate damages and prove you acted as fairly as you could.

They say that there are two values here, Play Nice and Play Fair. @BlitzchungHS “*played* fair” Why the asterisk? It’s almost like there is a big BUT here. He *played* fair BUT…

Here they say he *played* fair BUT he is still WRONG and should be PUNISHED.

Gamers care about fair play. They don’t care about politics.

This is not for you. It’s for people who care about a gamer being punished for saying something political. Like, say, a government.

But did he really violate Blizzard’s policy? Here is the rule they cited.

It’s about bringing Blizzard into “PUBLIC disrepute”, and offending a “portion of the public” or that “damages Blizzard’s image.”

Did he really do that?

What BlitzChung did was to say “Free Hong Kong.”

What public or people was wronged by this? Did gamers and the people think any less of Blizzard for this?

No. This is not for you.

A Government, capital G, was offended. Not the public. There was no violation of any rule.

The only damage done to Blizzard’s reputation, was not by @BlitzChungHS, but by Blizzard *itself*.

By this rule, Blizzard should be banned from Hearthstone tournaments, not BlitzChung.

This makes zero sense.

Here is the big promise, the one that governments care about, not gamers.

Moving forward, they say, THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, WE PROMISE. We promise troublesome political views, however brief or innocuous, will EVER TROUBLE ANY GOVERNMENT EVER AGAIN.

Really, Blizzard? Who did you write this for?

Blizzard wraps with saying they just want players, no matter their political views, to be safe and feel welcome. How does punishing BlitzChung (and casters), literally for his political views, make him feel AT ALL “welcomed” or “safe?” WTF? Blizzard, you just played yourself.

But who cares? This statement was not FOR YOU, the GAMER.

This was a huge international incident, right on the heels of the NBA and Apple and “foreign influence” over our free speech.

This wasn’t for us, the gamers. There was no apology, no remorse, no sense that Blizzard did anything wrong. Just that maybe Blitzchung was a little bit less guilty. BUT STILL VERY GUILTY.

Blizzard knew this would piss you off. They don’t care, it’s not FOR YOU. This was written to keep US senators off their backs and to keep China happy. It’s a mewling justification to governments of both countries.

The only thing Blizzard was trying to keep “safe” was itself.

Parting Thoughts

Putting profits before human rights is an example of evil in our modern world. What Blizzard did here will probably go down as one of the most despicable and shameful things ever done by a studio in video game history. Not only has Mark Kern stood up for gamers with his tireless work in getting the voices of thousands of disenfranchised WoW gamers heard by Blizzard, he has also done the video game community a tremendous service with his insightful analysis of this specious press release.