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Non-Profit organization Fight for the Future have created Gamers for Freedom, a group dedicated to freedom of speech in video games and the video game industry – and they have their sights set on BlizzCon 2019.
For those unaware, Blizzard Entertainment have been in hot water since their suspension of pro-Hearthstone player Blitzchung for his support of the Hong Kong protests, and their overall handing of the entire debacle.
Blizzard finally released a statement, revealing they had returned Blitzchung’s confiscated prize money and reduced his suspension time. The statement also claimed that “relationships in China had no influence on our decision” (We recently looked into Blizzard’s financials to see if that was the case).
Fans and employees have been protesting the company in numerous ways, including: turning Overwatch character Mei into a symbol of the Hong Kong protests, Hearthstone caster Brian Kibler quitting the tournament, former Blizzard Producer Mark Kern joining the Boycott Blizzard movement, Blizzard employees walking out in protest, and a collegiate tournament team conducting a similar protest. Even US Senators condemned Blizzard’s actions in an open letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.
The fallout has been so bad, even other video game companies have clarified their stance on what players can and cannot say. Tim Sweeney stated that Epic Games supports free speech and their players discussing politics, though some still hold doubts despite Sweeney’s insistence that Chinese tech giant TenCent’s 40% ownership of Epic Games would not dictate that. “That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO, and controlling shareholder” Sweeney replied to one questioning Twitter user.
Riot Games on the other hand (wholly owned by TenCent), revealed it had asked casters and players in League of Legends tournaments to not discuss “sensitive issues.” Prior to this statement, some had noticed caster’s reluctance to call League of Legends World Championship team Hong Kong Attitude by their name; calling them HKA instead.
Players later noticed the term “Uyghur” had been banned from the League of Legends client (Uyghur muslims being the group allegedly being sent to re-education camps by the Chinese government). Riot quickly apologized for what it called an error, and fixed it on all versions of the game.
Enter Gamers for Freedom. As stated on the group’s website, they are dedicated to freedom of speech in the industry.
“Free expression is a fundamental human right, but companies like Blizzard and Riot are silencing gamers who speak up about “sensitive issues” like their own political oppression. Sign our petition to tell Blizzard and other game companies, “Support free expression for gamers everywhere we play.” “
The group has more planned than an petition however (which you can find on their website here). On October 29th, the group is planning an “Online Day of Action for Free Expression.” The group hopes that with enough public pressure (via social media and “influencers”), game companies will release statements in support of freedom of speech on the day.
On November 1st, the group is also planning a protest at BlizzCon 2019 (the main event running from November 1st to November 2nd). The “handbook” (via GoogleDocs) recommends protest signs, cosplaying as characters as though they were part of the Hong Kong protests, or wearing gas masks and carrying umbrellas (both symbols of the Hong Kong protests as they were utilized by protesters to repel tear gas and other “crowd control” methods).
As it is likely any individuals inside the convention will be removed for doing so, Games for Freedom states “the real party is outside,” and recommends uploading photos of the protest to social media, along with other memes and images.
The group has also made a list of major video game companies, marking each one with “might censor” or won’t censor”, hoping to prompt public statements by the companies. So far, Epic Games, Immutable, and Wizards of the Coast are in the clear.
It seems the biggest stories from Blizzcon 2019 may not be game announcements? We will keep you informed as we learn more.