Let’s add some Overwatch to the ongoing Hearthstone drama, shall we? In an interview with the Washington Post late last week, Overwatch Game Director Jeff Kaplan was asked about the hullabaloo surrounding the banning of Hearthstone pro Blitzchung for his now infamous message of support for Hong Kong during a tournament stream last month. Blitzchung’s penalty, and those levied on the casters at the event, have been reduced, but the controversy still simmers, even after a pair of near-identical apologies from Blizzard President J. Allen Brack.
Kaplan told the Post that the suspensions “got to me personally” and that he was “greatly relieved when they gave his money back.” As someone involved in decisions related to suspensions in the Overwatch League, Kaplan thought that everything seemed to happen “way too quickly.”
“We had to deal with a few of them in season one in particular, and that process usually takes about four or five days to make the decision. There was always a group of us involved in deciding what the punishment should be, and we would heavily devil’s-advocate every part of the decision.”
This explanation from Kaplan only furthers my belief that the Blitzchung suspension was a snap decision made by a Chinese employee of Blizzard who was personally enraged by Blitzchung’s comments — something that could be laid more at the feet of one person rather than the entire company. Theoretically, J. Allen Brack’s statement that Blizzard will “do better” in the future will be, in part, putting better procedures in place to limit the possibility of a single employee taking such action without consulting with others first.
Hearthstone Game Director Ben Lee and Creative Director Ben Thompson have also voiced their dissatisfaction with how the incident played out. Lee said “The initial decision was too harsh. Absolutely,” while echoing Kaplan’s thoughts that any discipline should have taken more time to be decided. Thompson said that, while players should absolutely be free to say what they want on their streams or other venues, “Doing so from a platform very much not your own … is not free speech.”
While it’s good to hear this kind of talk coming from some of Blizzard’s highest-profile employees, I can’t help but be the tiniest bit cynical, as well. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Kaplan, Lee, and/or Thompson expressed their discomfort privately to Brack, who then suggested that they state their views publicly, to “show” people that Blizzard is fine with its employees coming out against the suspensions. It’s a way to make the company look more tolerant and generate some good PR in a time when it desperately needs some.