It was about a year ago, at BlizzCon 2018, when Activision-Blizzard was dealt a challenge to public relations, when the mobile-only Diablo Immortal was announced — apparently at the expense to other franchises and sequels hardcore fans had wanted to see. Blizzard likely hoped to bide their time until Blizzcon 2019 to give fans what they want to see. BlizzCon is hosted this year in Anaheim, California from November 1-2. In the last couple weeks, leaks suggest that announcements around Diablo 4, Overwatch 2 and more will be revealed.
Great news for a lot of fans who’ve been waiting years for this kind of thing, right? Yes, but … that would be overlooking a lot of what has happened in the past year in and around Santa Monica, California-based Activision-Blizzard, especially the past few months:
- Several key developers left Blizzard after a StarCraft first-person shooter and mobile game were scrapped this year (Source: PCGamesN)
- After setting financial performance records for the 12 months prior, Activision-Blizzard laid off 800 non-game developer staff (public relations, community and customer support, etc.) in early February (Source: Polygon)
- What is likely to be the most challenging obstacle to overcome is also the freshest wound in Blizzard’s public perception: On October 6, Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung, a Hong Kong-based Hearthstone player made comments in a post-game stream relating to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Blizzard swiftly penalized Blitzchung with a year-long ban and claiming his earnings from the tournament and even the announcers with a ban as well. Given Blizzard’s investments in China, drawing the connection was unavoidable. Even after reducing the penalties to the involved parties, fallout has continued. Politicans, game developers, and other influential voices have called out Blizzard for what they perceived as pandering to Chinese interests (Source: TIME). In the intervening weeks, there have been promises of a protest at BlizzCon. In the last two days, Mitsubishi Taiwan has dropped out as a sponsor from a Hearthstone tournament as a result of the furor around Blitzchung.
Which forces will win the tug-of-war at BlizzCon 2019? Tide-turning news about Diablo 4, Overwatch 2 and other key franchises? Or protests, community apathy or rejection of any announcements and reveals? There are few events in the games industry with this much potential for soap opera-level drama, but Blizzard’s annual celebration of their gaming properties and community is one of them this year
To watch BlizzCon 2019 opening ceremonies for free at 11 AM PST, check out Blizzard’s Twitch channel. For the full virtual experience, BlizzCon virtual tickets remain available for $49.99 to watch more content from afar and pick up in-game perks for several Blizzard games.