Out of the Loop: Activision Blizzard's History of Scandal Explained

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Gaming giant Activision Blizzard has been mired in controversy for not just months but years. For many gamers, it feels like each new year brings with it a new set of things to be upset about when it comes to Activision Blizzard. Accordingly, each new scandal builds off the back of the last one, so it's easy to get lost. In this article, we'll explain what's been going on with Blizzard over the last few years.

Activision Blizzard: Some History and Context

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For some important context, you need to know a little bit about Activision Blizzard's past. Activision Blizzard was only born in 2008, and before then both Activision and Blizzard lived as independent companies for many years.

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Blizzard, then Blizzard Entertainment, built its reputation by making games like Starcraft, Warcraft, World of Warcraft, and Diablo. Activision has been around longer than Blizzard, publishing games from 1980 onwards. By 2008, Activision was best known for games like Call of Duty, Crash Bandicoot, Guitar Hero, and the Tony Hawk games, though they had a near-endless retro catalog.

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Both of these gaming companies were beloved, particularly Blizzard, and they were yet to produce some of their most famous and successful games like the later Call of Duty games or Overwatch. While it's usually worrisome to see a large media company become exponentially larger because there's a worry that a bigger company means more of a focus on monetization and mass-appeal, two respected luminaries of the games industry joining hands wasn't the end of the world to most gamers at the time.

Unfortunately, after the merger and before Activision-Blizzard became mired in the controversy of today, things began to sour for the company. Guitar Hero became Activision's reliable rehash, the release of Diablo 3 was an embarrassment for Blizzard, and Call of Duty from Call of Duty: Ghosts onward was littered with half-baked releases and devious monetization strategies, for example.

This once-loved giant of gaming seemed to be growing older and just, ultimately, wanted your money and not to actually bother with the games. This didn't become half as much of a problem until the last few years, but throughout the early-to-mid 2010s, many gamers asked themselves if this company that had made so many wonderful games was still the same.

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Modern Activision Blizzard and the Beginning of the Scandals

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By 2018, Activision Blizzard's reputation was tarnished, but it hadn't been tarnished beyond the general idea that games from the company nowadays weren't as good as they once were because fewer resources were dedicated to making a great game than were put towards monetizing each release and pumping them out as regularly as possible.

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This began to change with three major controversies (before the ones now) spread across 2018, 2019, and 2020. The first controversy was the 'Do you not have phones?' debacle from 2018. At their seminal Blizzcon event, Blizzard decided to finally announce something. Rumors had been swirling beforehand, too, with many suggesting Diablo 4 would make an appearance.

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What the most hardcore Blizzard fanboys got at their Blizzard-only convention was ... a Diablo mobile game, Diablo Immortal. Regardless of the quality of the actual game, fans were shocked and insulted that Blizzard thought that what their most ardent fans wanted was some phone game they could play on the bus to kill a couple of minutes.

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Blizzard didn't make the situation better for themselves when the principal designer of Diablo Immortal Wyatt Cheng incredulously asked an angry audience 'Do you not have phones?' in response to questions about why Blizzard was making a mobile game.

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Then in 2019 there was the Blitzchung incident. During an official streaming event, Hong Kong professional Hearthstone player Blitzchung voiced his support for the protests in Hong Kong, saying "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times" while donning a mask similar to those worn by protesters.

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Blizzard responded by banning Blitzchung from the current tournament, taking his prize money away (which was reportedly around $4,000 USD at the time), and announced he would be banned from other Grandmaster tournaments for an entire year. Blizzard also fired the two stream casters that had been interviewing Blitzchung.

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This was later amended, as Blizzard decided to give Blitzchung his winnings, reduce his ban to six months, and also chose to ban the stream casters for six months instead of terminating their relationship with them forever. However, this was not enough for many gamers.

The problem was that most saw the Blitzchung incident as Blizzard cow-towing to the Chinese government, trying to keep Chinese officials and citizens happy so they could sell their games and products in China by sweeping human rights abuse under the rug.

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The Hong Kong protests were seen around the world as a vibrant expression of democracy, as the will of the people in action, so for Blizzard to punish someone for expressing support for this movement in any respect was and continues to be seen as morally and ethically appalling, if understandable from a money-making standpoint.

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In 2020, though, things got even worse for Blizzard with the release of Warcraft III: Reforged. This was meant to be a loving reimaging of the classic 2002 real-time strategy game from Blizzard Entertainment Warcraft III: Regin of Chaos. The game was set to revamp then-ancient graphics, add new gameplay options, and bring the game into the modern Battle.net ecosystem with lots of convenient multiplayer features.

Suffice it to say the game missed the mark, earning overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics and fans alike. The game was so broken, so half-baked, and so much worse than the two-decade-old original that it became a meme online, just another entry in the then long list of Activision Blizzard mess-ups.

The Future

This all leads up to the controversy of today Activision Blizzard is mired in. The current scandal is a lot more serious and is ongoing, so for many, this is the straw that broke the camel's back. For years, Activision Blizzard has been making mistakes and upsetting gamers, and it's not much of a surprise (though heartbreaking) that the actual human beings forced to produce these products haven't been treated well.

Read our piece on the current Activision Blizzard controversy to learn what's going on.