I’m several days late on my YouTube viewing, so I’ve only now seen clips of Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack’s “apology” onstage at BlizzCon.
Youtubers in my subscription feed seemed split over whether this is “a step forward” (Laymen Gaming) or “a non-apology that said fucking nothing” (Jim Sterling). So let’s go to the source and see for ourselves:
He starts by describing Blizzard’s failure as vaguely and obliquely as possible, making no mention of Blitzchung, Hong Kong, or China. The most specific thing he said was that something happened “in a tough Hearthstone esports moment.” My favorite part is probably:
…we failed in our purpose. And for that I am sorry, and I accept responsibility.
It’s my favorite part because he starts making it sleazy one sentence later:
So what exactly is our purpose? BlizzCon is demonstrating it, even as we speak. We aspire to bring the world together in epic entertainment…
He failed in his purpose… to get everyone buying and playing Blizzard’s games. I suppose that is actually part of his job description, but he was trying to sound high-minded and principled mere seconds beforehand.
This is immediately followed by more corporate blather about how Blizzard’s products can unite us, transcend divisions, and have everyone, of every nation, race, creed, etc. buying and playing Blizzard games.
What’s Brack worried about, anyway? Maybe it’s the suggestion that the controversy he won’t name cost his parent company $54 million, but that’s (a) less than 1% of Activision Blizzard’s annual revenue, (b) still a profit, and (c) something I’d hesitate to attribute entirely to freedom-loving Hearthstone players before comparing their 2018 and 2019 games’ sales figures. (What’s Blizzard done this year, besides expansion packs for a five-year-old game and porting Overwatch to the Switch? I’d be surprised if their profits hadn’t gone down a bit.)
The least bullshit part of Brack’s speech was when he stiffly recited a punchline about people “expressing yourself this morning,” AKA protesting BlizzCon, and it was still somewhat bullshit. Scripted self-deprecation didn’t quite work for Bethesda’s Todd Howard at E3, and not only did Howard deliver it better, he had less to laugh off. Bethesda had merely released a bad game with bad monetization and bad merch; Fallout 76 was more intensely bad than usual, but it had nothing to do with tear gas, police crackdowns, and the consolidation of a tyrannical security state.
And for those benighted people who think Brack was sincerely apologizing, compare this speech, which starts as vaguely as possible before turning into a kind of sales pitch for Blizzard, to Blizzard’s initial statement on why they banned Blitzchung and those two casters. There’s still some corporate blather and boilerplate and no meniton of protecting access to the Chinese market, but there are specifics about which (ridiculously overbroad) tournament rule they were supposed to have violated and which “principle” Blizzard was defending with the bans (no controversy ever).