Hearthstone Battlegrounds – Brutal Battalion Fun!

Hearthstone has always been a game of pick-up-and-play styled fun. From randomized Tavern Brawls and crazy solo challenges, the game has never taken its playstyles too seriously despite the heavily weighted Championship and World Tournament brackets. Often introducing new off the wall rules through seasonal words, changing the game with combo-building eldritch horrors and interjecting light-hearted tones into dramatic storylines. In line with this theme, the Hearthstone team have injected a new gameplay mode into the versatile online collectible card game. Enter the Battlegrounds, the new free-for-all auto-battler slaughterhouse for commanders and soldiers alike!

The auto-battle has seen a big surge in popularity. Similar endeavours such as Dota Underlord and Teamfight Tactics do just as the name suggests; line up your units and they’ll engage in card-based warfare of their own accord. Crossing cardboard, they’ll attack one after the other until one side no longer has any foes standing. Rooted in the Multiplayer Online Batter Genre, auto-battlers distill the complexity into making plays between massive slugfests. For Card Game veterans, Hearthstone’s Battlegrounds play more like Yu-Gi-Oh! than it’s Magic: The Gathering roots.

Battlegrounds start off at a breakneck pace. Eight players will load into a match, selecting one of two randomly chosen heroes to work with. Some, like Ragnaros, can deal tremendous damage by spending the mode’s currency, while others like Patchwerk have a passive Hero Power. Each round begins with you loading into the Battleground Tavern headed by Bob (who will do something, when asked). There you can spend Gold which is generated once every turn like Mana in regular play, up to a maximum of ten. From there you can pick one of several options.


The first, and most obvious, is buying monsters. Your playing field can hold up to 8 at any time, including summonables. While you can store other cards and monsters in your hand, they won’t be doing anything when they aren’t on the field. You’ll start off with weaker rank 1 monsters, but can upgrade the tavern over time through large sums of Gold. Each rank up will unlock a new pool of additional monsters to draw from, but will not replace those already unlocked. Ergo, the more you unlock the harder it is to find duplicate creatures you may be looking for. And you’ll want to find them.

Assembling three of one card will allow you to create a golden, more powerful variant of the card. While this usually just results in a flat stat increase, it may also increase the power of certain Battlecry abilities. Playing a Golden Card will also net you a token to unlock a random creature from the next available unlocked rank. Giving you a choice between three powerful cards, which are often legendaries, these can rapidly evolve your gameplay and are worth cherry picking certain creatures. One must be careful about choosing which cards to play, as your board can fill up fast.

Like the main gameplay modes, your Battleground board has a limit to how many creatures you can play at one time. Unlike the main game, however, that cap is set at roughly 8 total creatures. This includes any additional minions your cards might summon, but fear not. You can certainly clear up the board by assembling a Golden Variant, but you can also sell cards in play to Bob while you’re at the tavern for one gold each. This, on top of the 10 gold maximum cap, stops you from buying and selling minions until you have the MOST optimal field, encouraging salvaging smart moves from what is available. Sacrificing is key to optimizing what you have.


During your preparation phase, you’ll set up your board by purchasing minions to add to your hand. If you don’t like what Bob offers, you can refresh his recruiting page for a nominal fee to improve your chances, or freeze what he’s offering to purchase after your next battle when your gold resets. Playing minions from you hand will allow you to sort out their placement on the board, as well as manage their on-summon abilities. Creatures with Battlecry, for example, will not use their ability when the next battle phase begins but when you play them during your preparation time.

After your board is set (or the timer runs out) you’ll be ushered into a Combat Phase. After randomly selecting your opponent, your two teams will duke it out against each other following Hearthstone’s traditional rules. Unlike other auto-battlers, however, the Azerothian AI is a bit smarter, striking your opponent’s row from their left to right. After a brutal gladiatorial combat session, those whose minions have survived will deal a certain amount of damage. Starting with the rank of your tavern as base damage, they then add the value of their minions ranks together to calculate how much damage they’ll do to your hero. Losing all of your minions to three Rank 1 minions hurts quite a bit less knowing they will only deal 4 damage, but knowing that player has a rank 5 inn can be devastating to your play.


Unlike Ranked or Competitive Play, the Battlegrounds aren’t meant to be completely competitive despite their full-frontal rating on its main menu. After playing a few games myself, it’s hard to see how it really could be; there’s simply too much luck and random number generation to consistently take home massive wins, let alone place within the top half of your game. There are roughly 10 heroes to choose from in the game mode, and every currently allowed card in Hearthstone seems to be up for grabs when you visit Bob’s inn!

There is, however, a sense of progression in the Battlegrounds though it’s currently locked behind a pseudo-paywall. Successive wins and participating in the system will unlock more options and flexibility in your playthroughs. Winning just one event will allow you to pick from one of three heroes instead of two, with additional brackets making future runs easier. Unlocking this progression system requires purchasing a pack from Hearthstone’s upcoming expansion: Descent of Dragons. With Battlegrounds in Open Beta and this in effect, its safe to say this will find its footing and a live release on December 10th alongside the newest adventure for Azeroth’s eccentric heroes.

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Despite Apology, Blizzard’s Hearthstone Player Ban Will Stay

During the opening of Blizzcon 2019 company president J. Allen Brack gave a bit of an apology about acting in haste to the Hearthstone player ban and the caster ban as well saying, “We moved too quickly in our decision making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you. When I think about what I’m most unhappy about, there’s really two things: The first one is that we didn’t live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves. And the second is that we failed in our purpose. And for that, I am sorry, and I accept accountability.”

What was clearly lacking from that apology was any announcement that anything was going to change. PCGamer later got the opportunity to sit down with Brack during Blizzcon and find out more, including the fact that Blizzard is not going to go back on the ban.

PC Gamer: I wanted to revisit the statement you made at the beginning of the opening ceremony yesterday. You said Blizzard is “committed to everyone’s right to express themselves in all kinds of ways and all kinds of places,” and you made a commitment to do better going forward and that your actions are going to matter more than words do. Are you going to be repealing the punishment against Blitzchung and the two Taiwanese casters involved in this incident?

Allen Brack, Blizzard president: We are not.

Why?

So, one of the things that we talked about in the commitment to expression about all kinds of ways and all kinds of places, is the fact that we’re huge believers in free speech, and we’re huge believers in free expression. We have a long history of that being part of the culture of the company for employees. That’s certainly part of the culture of the relationship that we have with the community. And so employees are free to post on their social media accounts. If you think about the people that we have that are esports athletes, our Grandmasters, or anyone who is participating in esports, they’re free to say and do whatever they want on their social channels. I feel like we have a far more open set of guidelines and policies than really any other traditional sport that takes a view around making sure that all of the people stay on message. And so, that’s how we think about free expression and how we’ve contextualized it.

We want the official broadcasts, which are a small percentage of the overall content that gets created, to be about the games. And we want those to be focused on the games. Again, it’s not about the content of Blitzchung’s message. It’s about the fact that it was not around the games. If we hadn’t taken action, if we hadn’t done something, you can imagine the trail that would be in our future around doing interviews. They would become times for people to make a statement about whatever they wanted to, on whatever issue. That’s just a path that we don’t want to go down. We really want the content of those official broadcasts to be focused on the games, and keep that focus.

 

With regards to the casters being reinstated, you’ve admitted that this situation was mishandled on Blizzard’s behalf. I’m wondering why that same sort of forgiveness isn’t being extended to the casters? Considering Blizzard admits it mishandled this situation, why haven’t you decided to be more graceful with them and their punishment?

We have been more graceful. The initial reaction was that we would not work with the casters anymore. In our revised statement, we came to the conclusion that it felt like the casters and Blitzchung, we wanted to align their penalty. So we’ve come out and said they have a six-month penalty.

 

He also goes on to say that the Weibo post that talked about defending the pride of China was written by NetEase and was not approved by Blizzard at all. They also talk about the casters and why they are still being punished. If you are a fan of Blizzard or you know someone who is I highly recommend you read the interview on PCGamer. It will quickly make you forget the damage control that is Diablo IV and Overwatch 2.

 

Source: PCGamer

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WoW Wednesday: Your Guide to Blizzcon 2019

The best weekend of the year now dawns upon us! Blizzcon 2019 has finally arrived and with it comes a smattering of panels, showings, demos our loot this year begins with a wide spread of content from World of Warcraft cosmetic armor to unique Overwatch skins. This week we’ll be giving you the best tips and directions to make the most out of your Warcraft experience at Blizzcon this year!

Like last year, virtual ticket holders already have a wide host of content prior to the launch of the convention on Friday, including content released last year. Starting on October 31st we’ll have the beginnings of the Overwatch World Cup to begin parsing through, lasting over 12 hours! This will be where the online preliminaries begin for the fabled e-sports tournament and will feature competitors from all about the world.

Blizzcon opens up live on Friday, November 1st, with the Opening Ceremony being streamed from all available stages at 2 PM EST! This will feature planned action from all of this year’s competitions as well as several previews of what’s to come that day on each stage. Immediately afterwards the major world tournaments will begin in Halls A, B, C, and the main Arena. Viewers can grab access to the continuation of the OWCs in Hall A, as well as the lower brackets for the Mythic Dungeon Invitational in Hall C. The Hearthstone Global Finals begin in Hall B, while the Starcraft 2 Global Finals begin with the Quarterfinal in the Arena. These events will continue throughout the weekend until the final brackets of the Overwatch World Cup on Sunday morning.

Some of the leaked “exclusive prints” from the Blizzard Website, featuring “Warcraft: Shadowlands.”

On the Mythic Stage in Hall D, where major announcements were hosted last year, are a set of secret panels. Featuring 4 panels over the course of the Friday, there’s enough for each of Blizzard’s main development games, with side-panels for Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone being hosted later in the day. With rumours of a potential new World of Warcraft expansion, featuring Bolvar Fordragon the Lich King, as well as the potential leaks of an Overwatch and Diablo sequel this will be the stage to watch all day Friday.

The first major Warcraft panel begins at 3:30 PM EDT. Quarter Century of Warcraft Audio hallmarks the anniversary of the titular game and brings the Sound Team to the stage to discuss developments throughout the series’ life cycle. Discussing not just sound effect development, but composition and scoring of tracks, the team will discuss this avidly and openly in the North Hall.

Starting up on the North Hall on the Epic Stage, players will get to enjoy a Heroes of the Storm update at 6:15 PM, one that is sorely needed after the fallout from the close of the Heroes e-sports scene this year. Blizzard Animation: The Art of Setting the Scene will follow at 7:15 PM, featuring members of the Story and Franchise Development team and how they created the Overwatch cutscenes that have earned the company critical acclaim. Hearthstone will have its own update at 8:15 PM after the Mythic Stage closes for the Cosplay Exhibition. Here, it’s been teased that the company will launch a new Expansion for the collectible card game, with advertisements across the internet pointing towards the date specifically.

Beginning Saturday at 12:30 pm, the 2019 Hearthstone Global Finals will take off in Hall B, beginning with the quarter finals decider’s matchups. The tournament will run throughout the day up until the finals at 6 PM on the stage. The World of Warcraft Arena World Championships will launch alongside it, beginning with their lower quarterfinals and ramping up to the Grand Final beginning at 9:45 PM.

The rest of the day is largely filled with a foray of very interesting developer driven panels largely centering around Diablo and Warcraft. At 1 PM begins the Voices of Azeroth: A Hero’s Journey, involving several voices behind the heroes of Azeroth. Joined by members of the developer team, they’ll discuss vital narrative moments over the years and how they were created.

Running simultaneously alongside the panel is the Watchpoint Season Preview for the 2020 Overwatch League, as well as the Artists at Work series for Diablo. This particular panel will focus about environment design, bringing the world of Sanctuary to life! An additional Art of Diablo panel will go on later during the day at 7:15 PM, featuring other members of the team.

At 2:15 PM Blizzard will begin their Update panel for World of Warcraft. Here is where, undoubtedly, we’ll see two certain things. With the announcement of a new expansion coming the day before attendees will more-than-likely be hearing details about Patch 8.3, ‘Visions of Ny’Alotha.’ Projections have 8.3 launching in early to mid-January of 2020, with a potential expansion launch perhaps a year and a half later.


In a surprising move, there are quite a multitude of Blizzard life panels throughout the weekend, featuring discussions about working on campus at Anaheim. Beginning at 6:15 PM, Artists at Work: World of Warcraft will run alongside the Warcraft 3: Reforged panel, discussing the process of art development from demonstrations and prototypes to a final finished product. The development team also takes the stage to discuss their personal stories during World of Warcraft: Developer’s Tales at 7:15 PM. New to the convention this year is CodeCraft: Exploring Blizzard Engineering. This panel, kicking off at 8:15 PM, features members of the company’s engineering team on how games and systems are coded for consumption.

On top of additional update panels and The Writers Room: Building the Worlds of Blizzard, the convention as always is set to go out with a bang. Beginning with some remarks at 9:45, every stage will come to life with the always titanic Closing Ceremonies. Featuring leagues of performers taking to the stage, this year the entertainment has been kept tightly under wraps. Even on their website, nothing has yet been announced to close out the company showcase.

Blizzard Entertainment opens its doors to the world in Anaheim this weekend, from November 1st to the 2nd.

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WoW Wednesday: Blitzchung and the Grandmaster’s Debacle

While we have covered some of the emerging news around this week’s topic here on MMOGames, this particular issue is one that requires some further discussion. To call the fallout from Blitzchung’s ban, “intense,” might be a relatively mild understatement. After the removal of the Hearthstone Grandmaster over his political statement during the tournament, the internet erupted (as it does) into a fire of righteous fury and rage. While perhaps outside the scope of what this column could, or should, cover I would be remiss to avoid talking about Blizzard’s latest sociopolitical misstep. This week, let’s discuss Hong Kong, Blitzchung, Hearthstone, Blizzard, and the idea of ‘freedom,’ when it comes to the ‘free market.’

If, much like me, you exist solely on the internet memespace without understanding, “how the world works,” you may have missed an ongoing issue in the eastern world. For the last several months, the pseudo-nation-city of Hong Kong has been in a large-scale uproar. To understand the entirety of this situation and the severity of everyone’s actions we first need to understand the Hong King protests.

To make a VERY long and complicated political story short, Hong Kong is what is referred to as a, ‘special administrative region,’ of the People’s Republic of China. After being ceded to the British Empire during the First Opium War in 1842, the island-city-state has been largely self-governing.  Even after its return to Chinese rule in 1997 it has largely remained under its own political control simply due to its distance from the mainland. In a manner somewhat similar to Canada or America before their cession from Great Britain, they operate under a “one country, two systems,” policy. Ideally, in a perfect scenario, while Hong Kong economically and nationally supports the Chinese Government, it manages its own affairs.


This is not, however, simply due to sheer distance. A large part of this independence is due to it’s two, ‘parent,’ nations. After previously (and quite famously if you’ve ever watched a modern martial arts movie) suffering in many aspects under British Rule, Hong Kong has notoriously stood independently. Featuring one of the firsts modern universities in the territory, a major airport ten years later, avoiding economic depression and generally becoming a neutral zone and political safe-haven, Hong Kong still stands. It stands far and alone above its peers even in Mainland China.

Some of that, many would argue, is for the best. With the Chinese Government’s increasingly authoritarian moves over the last decade, Hong Kong has become that safe haven once again. After the dissolution of presidential terms by now Chinese-President-For-Life Xi Jingping, the Chinese government began to turn its gaze onto other matters of securing it’s hold on the Eastern World. Some of that involves President Xi’s ambitious Silk-Road-esque project to remap world trade routes through China, others involve enforcing some of the nation’s firm rules and introducing new ones such as the Social Credit System. Performing poorly in society (such as homelessness, poor behavior, poor social intercourse) can tank your Chinese ‘Social Credit Score’ and restrict you from several high-end lifestyle services such as High-Speed Internet. There are even concerns that the Chinese Government has interfered in the succession of the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist leader of the Tibetan Religion.

Hong Kong famously, and not just recently, has been an object of resistance in the face of the Chinese Government for years. After a mass emigration of Hong Kong’s residents when the British Empire relinquished its control, fearing the dissolution of civil rights and their quality of life, China has continued to try and enforce regulation. From unsuccessfully attempting to enact their National Security Bill of 2003 to circumvent Hong Kong laws and maintenance on many things including treason, property rights, prosecution time limits and trials by jury (just to name a few), things have only gotten worse.

Recently, Hong Kong attempted to put forward an Extradition Bill in regards to the case of Chan Tong-Kai. After killing his girlfriend in Taiwan in early 2018, he returned to his Hong Kong address and informed the police of his crime. However, as no extradition programs were in place between Hong Kong and China, he could not be returned to the mainland to face for his crimes, nor be charged. Thus it was proposed that a, ‘mechanism,’ could be established on a case-by-case basis to transfer such criminals to any jurisdiction that Hong Kong didn’t possess one with. While this sounds like an excellent solution, there was one large problem.


In the creation, facilitation, and implementation of this law in Hong Kong’s government, Beijing and the Chinese Government had a very heavy hand in creating it.

Understandably, given Hong Kong’s and China’s warring history of enforcement and civil liberty, the heavy-handed influence of Xi Jinping’s did not fly well with the city’s inhabitants. Starting as early March of 2019, the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill protests began with turnouts as large 500’000 people. While these protests were largely peaceful, vandalism began to occur during early July and violence erupted between local criminal triads and protesters as the month continued. On October 1st, after most of the protests had died with the collapse of the bill, a student protester was shot by police during a demonstration after reportedly attempting to strike the officer with an improvised weapon. Things have only since intensified, with improvised explosive devices being discharged near police stations and children being shot by police forces.

Throughout this situation, the Chinese government have attempted to paint the protesters, who’s groups have risen to the multi-millions during active events, as a small grass-roots movement. In an effort to paint the situation in a better light, the government of the People’s Republic of China has painted the effort as homegrown terrorism and riots driven by separatists. In an effort to curb the western world’s reporting and politics on the matter, the Chinese Government has cut off several personal and public personas from broadcasting in the country. Most famously, China stopped broadcasting National Basketball Association matches following a pro-Hong Kong tweet by one of the team’s managers. Later, they banned the irreverent adult comedy South Park from broadcasting after the release of their episode, “Band in China.” According to a report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media platforms would later investigate and ban several pro-China ads which had ties to Chinese Governmental offices. These ads painted images and coverage of the protests as, “conspiracy theories about Western involvement in the protests.”

With all of that in mind, let’s now finally discuss Blitzchung and Blizzard.


This year, during the Asia-Pacific branch of the Hearthstone Grandmaster’s league tournament, pro player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai came out on top. Taking the tournament win, he later appeared on the official Taiwanese Hearthstone stream for a traditional post-game interview. Unlike past winners, however, he appeared on camera wearing a gas mask. Lifting it upward, he shouted in Chinese, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” – a familiar rallying cry to the protesters in Hong Kong. While the interview did continue afterward, it did not go unnoticed by Activision-Blizzard, who facilitates and funds the worldwide tournaments.

As of Tuesday, October 8th, Blizzard decided to ban Blitzchung for this moment in his interview. Citing the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules, specifically page 12 and section 6.1:

“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard(s) image will result in removal from the Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.”

Pursuant to this rule, Blitzchung had his prize money taken away and was given a full year suspension from the league. After looking through the Official Competition Rules, I can personally attest that this rule isn’t an anomaly; other rules can have players banned for FAR less.

This is where the main crux of the issue began. While section 6.1 cites issues that an action which, “brings [a competitor] into public disrepute,” the entire rule is incredibly flexible. As with any major sports star (aside from OJ, Kobe, etc.), Activision-Blizzard ideally wants their winners to be as non-controversial as possible. This happens with a number of free-market companies and e-sports competitors and has emerged to a sociopolitical high point over the years. Some proponents of rules such as this point to cancel culture and the impact of public backlash, others hint towards some current cases such as Gearbox’s CEO Randy Pitchford as the ideal situation to avoid.


In a bubble, this decision makes sense in pursuant to the rules. What did not make sense was immediately firing the two casters who interviewed Blitzchung. “Blitzchung is ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months,” the official statement reported, adding additionally that, “[Blizzard] will also immediately cease working with both casters,” who interviewed Blitzchung during his interview. This raised the concern over the interfering influence of the Chinese Government and Free Market with 5% of the company being owned by Chinese super-conglomerate Tencent. This fear was later backed up and stoked by Blizzard’s Official China presence.

Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website, is one of the largest social media platforms in China. As such, it makes sense for companies such as Activision-Blizzard to use the website to make official statements in the region, using their partner Netease to manage it. Lined up with their announcement of Blitzchung’s ban, the Weibo page eviscerated his conduct in a vicious tone previously used on the NBA’s Weibo apology. Originally reported by Rod Breslau on Twitter, “We are very angered and disappointed at what happened at the event and do not condone it in any way,” the page read. “We also highly object the spreading of personal political beliefs in this manner. Effective immediately we’ve banned the contestant from events and terminated work with the broadcasters. We will always respect and defend the pride of our country.”

Almost immediately the internet burst into flame. Rallying around the social media hashtag, ‘#BoycottBlizzard,’ fans and critics alike put the company’s feet to the fire. Just a cursory glance of the hashtag’s users show players unsubscribing from Blizzard Games en-masse including Mark Kern, one of World of Warcraft’s original game designers. Fellow Grandmasters players such as Brian Kibler stood out in solidarity with Blitzchung, quitting the league and cutting ties from the company to show their support. Blizzard employees staged mass-walkouts from work throughout last week, covering up several sites and company locations in protest. One of the more famous images features a group of Blizzard employees gathered at the famous statue out front. Holding umbrellas, the symbol of the protests in Hong Kong, the employees stand around a taped off portion of the Warcraft statue. Covered by a piece of lined paper, this section used to describe several of the company’s core values including, “Think Globally,” and “Every Voice Matters.”

Most entertainingly, or horrifically depending on if your profession is involved in marketing art, #BoycottBlizzard activists turned their gaze on Blizzard’s one Chinese character. Taking Overwatch’s Chinese climate-scientist, Mei, they’ve begun to create a legion of artwork of and about her. Citing her desire to make the world a better place for everyone, they’ve begun to draw and illustrate her as a symbol of resistance and defiance for the Hong Kong protests. Clearly, the motivation has been to have the character, if not the entire game, banned in China with artists claiming such in their work. Some, such as what we’ve featured below previously on the website, is far more tame than others on the internet.


Things reached a vital fever pitch during the Collegiate Hearthstone Championship. American University’s team during a telecasted match held up a rather familiar sign. Emblazoned with the words, “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizzard,” the clip was only on screen for little more than six seconds before Activision-Blizzard cut away from the footage. In a contrary decision to Blitzchung’s ban (though the rules for the collegiate tournament were not available for confirmation), the AU team was not penalized for the move and had their next match scheduled for the season. Choosing to stand with the protests, and to highlight the inequality of the rule-system, AU forfeited their match and departed the season, citing Blizzard’s hypocrisy over the issue.

Boycotts and protests continued throughout the week, even as Activision-Blizzard stated that they were assessing the ongoing situation. It is at this point I have to comment my own opinion. Whether or not you may share my pro-freedom opinion on the protests in Hong Kong, Blitzchung’s ban does fall within the rules. I share Brian Kibler’s notion that he overstepped his platform in the post-win interview, and that while the ban was justified the firing of the two casters was not. This decision, whether or not it was a mistake or an oversight, solidified it as one made by influences outside of the rule books. That is what spiraled this political dissonance with the event’s rules to a greater issue wholesale and is not condonable.

However, returning to the facts of the matter, Activision-Blizzard finally made a statement on the company’s website last Saturday. In the article, President J. Allen Brack discussed the company’s perspective on their ban, citing that their, “relationships in China had no influence on [their] decision.” The company, “now believe(s) [Blitzchung] should receive his prizing,” and re-awarded the $500’000 in cash rewards to the pro-player. However, the article was so rushed and poorly written that it failed to answer several vital questions; it took a Blizzard employee’s discord presence to confirm that Blitzchung was NOT removed from the Grandmaster’s league and would have the option to compete in the 2020 season.


This is one of those situations where both newspaper editorial pictures and internet memes seem to collide in a strange unification. While normally diametrically opposed, just about every single person hated everything about this politically charged situation. It exposes a large-scale issue with, even if Chinese money had no hand in the situation, the perception that it does. With several political discourses from the eastern world leaking into our own news systems, it is becoming very abundantly clear that the Economic and Political West DOES NOT want China’s involvement in their content. Problems arise however when we look at the world stage.

China since the early 2000’s has been making increased efforts to control the world’s political and entertainment stage. Possessing one of the largest populations world-wide, they are a major political and economic force. Political concerns have arisen during the Trump, Trudeau and May administrations in America, Canada and the UK respectively, where western diplomats are often being outnumbered in the dozens by politicians from Beijing. Continuing their entertainment subsidies from the turn of the century, China prioritizes homegrown Video Game, Art, and Movie companies for its economy. These government grants award land, buildings, infrastructure and money to native entertainment startups such as the infamously abusive Chengdu Ai-Shan Technology (which later rebranded as Blue Sky in 2014, SakuraGame in 2015, Paradise Project after a wave of public backlash in 2018, and has now returned to SakuraGame in 2019). Other foreign companies receive similar grants for their business and work in the country, which many are eager to jump on.

Highlighted recently by YouTube philosophy channel Wisecrack in their video entitled, “South Park on Freedom,” the ‘free market’ is not so free. China’s influence creates massive waves of change throughout the world’s economy, creating situations we are not aware of specifically to appease the foreign power. While jokingly referred to as the ‘Chinese Expansion,’ during its Mists of Pandaria era, World of Warcraft has begun to lean FAR more heavily into those markets with in-game stores, mobile-phone styled mini-games and increased random-number-generation rewards. Potentially, this change has been spurred on by Tencent’s ownership and Netease’s partnership, but such examples can be far more readily found in the works of Disney’s foreign films such as Iron Man 3. In this movie, an entire scene was concocted that cannot be found in any non-Chinese version of the film, where Tony Stark instead travels to China to have the arc-reactor magnet removed from his heart.


In an effort to appease the market, inevitably we will be either continuing to delude ourselves and them or suffer the consequences. Such is the problem with free speech in a free market. While notoriously more of an American concept, freedom of speech has been a hotly debated issue around the current political mine-field. As my neighbors to the south can tell you, the freedom to say WHAT you want to say, HOW you want to say it (provided it doesn’t infringe upon another’s rights) is a bedrock of democracy. It is not, however, a bedrock of economy. As we continue to see time and time again, we cannot say what we want to say (or what SHOULD be said) if we want to make money. While this has reached a fever-pitch in sociopolitical phenomena like cancel culture, China will and has taken firm-line stances on it. Weaponizing their impressive population to great effect, they effectively tanked the NBA’s earnings by refusing to air certain shows. Cutting off a demographic of that size can and will invariably damage company profits and forces the ‘free market’ to not-so-freely toe the line.

Inevitably, this situation became political revolving around China. However, like Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it is up to you if Activision-Blizzard is truly to blame in this case. Much like South Park’s non-apology, perhaps their Chinese influences too make them think that, “We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”

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Blizzcon Protest Now Being Organized

On Friday, after 5 when most news writers, including MMOGames had packed up and gone home for the day Blizzard made a statement that backpeddled their heavy handed ban of professional Hearthstone player Blitzchung. Now a Blizzcon protest is being organized by the non-profit organization Fight for the Future and the Protest Blizzcon subreddit. Yes, there’s now a subreddit.

The Protest Blizzcon subreddit has a GoFundMe campaign running at the moment with the plan of getting hundreds of Hong Kong flags for protesters at Blizzcon. They’ve already raised $3,285 though they were only asking for $3,000. The campaign is still running so there is still time to donate if you’re interested.

“This is not going away,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, “Blizzard, and other companies who are engaging in censorship on behalf of an authoritarian government, are not going to get away with it. They have no idea what kind of Internet shitstorm they’ve unleashed. We’re going to make an example out of them to make sure that all companies know that throwing human rights and free expression under the bus to make some extra money will not be tolerated.”

Dayton Young, Product Director at Fight for the Future, added, “Gamers deserve to know which companies are willing to engage in censorship on behalf of authoritarian regimes and which companies will defend basic freedom of expression. Blizzard has engaged in blatant censorship and should immediately reverse its decision to ban Ng Wai Chung, restore his tournament winnings, and repair its relationships with the livestream casters. No gamers should be punished for expressing their views on politics and human rights. And no game company should ever ban or penalize players for advocating for their own political freedom. We call on all game developers and publishers to make a public commitment to support the rights of their customers, employees, and fans to freely express their beliefs in America, in Hong Kong, in China, and around the globe.”

In case you missed it, on Friday Blizzard made a statement saying that Blitzchung would be receiving his tournament prizes and that his ban, along with the ban on the two casters has been reduced to six months. They also said that Blizzard’s decision to punish them had nothing to do with their business in China. But, Blizzard fans and gamers were unconvinced by this statement, especially as a social media post from Blizzard on Weibo was translated and it vows to protect the national dignity of China was being shared on Reddit, Twitter, and other English focused social media sites.

 

It’s unclear right now how many people will be attending the Blizzcon Protest but we will continue to follow the news as it comes.

 

Source: Fight for the Future, Protest Blizzcon Subreddit

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Blizzard Says They’re Assessing the Situation Surrounding the Banned Hearthstone Player

Blizzard has said in a statement to Engadget that they are “assessing the situation for now” in regards to all of the backlash they’ve received after punishing professional Hearthstone player blitzchung for showing his support for Hong Kong during a post-match interview. Since then the backlash against Blizzard has continued with the popular hashtag #BoycottBlizzard trending on social media and hundreds canceling their subscriptions and deleting Blizzard games from their PCs.

The backlash has included Blizzard employees who took part in a small but noteworthy umbrella protest at Blizzard Headquarters. US Senator Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden have also both expressed concerns. Rubio took to Twitter to say, “China [is] using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in US politics today is gone.” While Wyden said, “Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”

Caster Brian Kibler has announced that he wouldn’t be participating in the upcoming Hearthstone Grandmasters. Nathan “Admirable” Zamora, another Hearthstone caster has said that he also won’t be participating in the Masters or Grandmasters.

Gods Unchained developer Immutable is offering to donate up to $100,000 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties non-profit online, $1 for each average viewer watching Gods Unchained on Twitch. This is because the EFF has offered to reimburse blizchung’s lost prize money.

It is a strange day when US Senators from different sides of the aisle and thousands of gamers all agree on something, and that day is here. While Blizzard’s statement is underwhelming, to say the least it is at least an acknowledgment that they have noticed the boycott and all the backlash and they are listening.

 

Source: Engadget via GamesIndustry

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Blizzard Boycott Making Waves Online with Hashtag #BoycottBlizzard

Whichever social media platform it is you like you use you’re sure to find #BoycottBlizzard getting a lot of attention at the moment. Posts using the hashtag show players unsubscribing from Blizzard games and uninstalling them as well as sharing memes that are both anti-Blizzard and anti-China.

The boycott comes after Blizzard banned pro Hearthstone player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai and taking away all of his tournament money from this season after he showed support for the Hong Kong protests during an interview. They also fired the two casters who were interviewing him at the time.

A picture from Blizzard Headquarters shows part of the statue outside is covered, specifically the parts with the company’s core values that say “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters.” Later a group of Blizzard employees gathered at the statue carrying umbrellas, a symbol of the protests in Hong Kong.

One of the teams during the Collegiate Championship held up a sign supporting the Hong Kong protests and calling for a boycott of Blizzard. This little protest has been removed from Blizzard’s archives and so far there haven’t been any repercussions for their actions.

Now, Brian Kibler, a long-time pro caster has quit the Grandmasters in protest of Blizzard’s ban. In a statement made on BMKGaming, he said, “The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself. That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with. When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward.”

In response to Blizzard’s actions, Twitter has been turning Overwatch character Mei into a symbol of the Hong Kong protesters with images like the one seen below.

So far Blizzard hasn’t made any official statements about the boycott but this is unlikely to be the end of the story.

 

Source: Twitter, Rock Paper Shotgun, BMKGaming via Polygon

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BlizzCon 2019 Virtual Ticket is Available Now

Can you believe that BlizzCon 2019 is just a month away? It’s amazing how quickly this year is passing us by. The important news now is that the BlizzCon 2019 virtual ticket is available now. As is always the case the virtual ticket comes with a collection of commemorative goodies for WoW, Overwatch, Hearthstone, StarCraft II, Heroes of the Storm, and Diablo III. What are this year’s extras you might be asking, well here’s the full list straight from Blizzard themselves.

World of Warcraft: Ride the tides of war with a pair of murloc-ified faction leaders: Finduin (for Alliance heroes) and Gillvanas (for the Horde). Plus, bundle up for your next trip to the icy mountains with the whimsical Wendigo Woolies transmog outfit. Available in-game starting today!

Overwatch: Commemorate 25 years of Azeroth as you fight for future Earth with a pair of Warcraft-themed legendary Overwatch skins. Prepare to seek vengeance as Illidan Genji, and call upon the (hard-) light of Elune as Tyrande Symmetra. In-game before BlizzCon!

Hearthstone: Celebrate the excitement of BlizzCon the next time you sit down for a duel with the BlizzCon 2019 Card Back. Then prepare to claim a mysterious Golden Legendary card, to be revealed at BlizzCon. In-game after BlizzCon!*

Heroes of the Storm: Make your mark in the Nexus with a commemorative BlizzCon spray and portrait, and ride into battle on the Celestial Deepcrawler mount. It may not look dangerous, but those claws can give you a nasty pinch . . . or wipe out all life on your planet. Available in-game starting today!

StarCraft II: Equip a trio of Brood War®–era unit skins and portraits the next time you go into battle. Scout for a zerg ambush aboard the Classic Battlecruiser, hunt your prey with the sinewy Classic Ultralisk, and honor Tassadar’s sacrifice with the Classic Carrier.  Available in-game starting today!

…And more to come: More BlizzCon bonuses are in the works, including a pair of commemorative wings for Diablo III players (PC/Mac version only)*—stay tuned for more details on this year’s legendary haul.

Along with all of that you of course get access to the various presentations that will take place at Blizzcon this year. “This year’s BlizzCon is shaping up to be our best yet, and we want to make sure everyone in the Blizzard community can experience it together, whether they’re joining us in person, from home, or hanging out in-game,” said J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment. “We’re looking forward to delivering an epic experience for those watching our free broadcasts—which we’ll have more of than ever before—and for everyone tuning in for all of the extras provided with the Virtual Ticket.”

The virtual ticket costs $49.99 and can be purchased at blizzcon.com.

 

Source: Press Release

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Blizzard is Skipping Gamescom 2019

It is time once again to add to the list of “WTF is Blizzard thinking?” list that we’ve been collecting this year. This time it’s the news that Blizzard is skipping Gamescom 2019. Now, there might be a lot of people, especially those in North America who aren’t familiar with Gamescom and why Blizzard’s absence is so noteworthy. Gamescom has 370,000 visitors with 1037 exhibitors making it by far the largest gaming event in the world. In comparison, E3, which is often thought to be the biggest and most important had just 69,000 attendees in 2018.

Gamescom has, in the past, been a very important location for Blizzard themselves. It is where they’ve debuted some of Overwatch’s most beloved animated shorts and World of Warcraft expansions. They’ve also often giving players the first chance to play new content for games before they’re released.

But, with nothing big and new to show off this year it clearly isn’t worth the cost for Blizzard to attend. We can only imagine how much it costs for Blizzard to go to Gamescom. In the public area, they take up nearly if not actually half an entire hall. In the business area, the Activision-Blizzard area is half of one floor of a hall. They send a huge team of developers from California and let me tell you, the cost of hotels in Cologne during Gamescom is insane. So, on the surface, it may seem totally insane for Blizzard not to be attending…it actually makes a lot of sense.

Plus, Gamescom is in August and with such a big dry spell like Blizzard is having this year it makes sense for them to save what they do have for Blizzcon in early November. Blizzcon, in case you were curious, had more than 40,000 attendees in 2018.

So while this might be the right thing for Blizzard to do those of us who are Gamescom regulars are most certainly going to feel their absence.

 

Source: PCGamer

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Hearthstone’s New Expansion: Rastakhan’s Rumble!

Let out a Roar you Trollish fans! Hearthstone has unleashed it’s next major expansion at this year’s Blizzcon, unveiling it’s third and final expansion in the Year of the Raven. Anticipated to be the biggest digital card game this year by SuperData, raking in almost $414 Million Globally, Hearthstone releases its new expansion in varying years, rotating out older expansions at the end of the cycle so new players can jump in comfortably with the latest card packs and without needing to buy a sheaf of the older content. Its newly announced expansion, Rastakhan’s Rumble, is poised to honor this tradition with its December 4th global release on PC and Mobile.

For those of you not currently tuned into the World of Warcraft and its sizeable lore, Rastakhan is the king of the Zandalari Tribe, the greatest and most powerful troll empire to ever grace Azeroth. His importance can’t be understated, as he even features in Patch 8.1’s upcoming raid, The Battle of Dazar’alor. Rastakhan makes his mark upon Hearthstone with an event so powerful it, “only occurs once in a generation,” where every troll of every tribe across Azeroth unites in a great event to honor the Loa, their spiritual wild gods. Gathering in Stranglethorn’s Gurubashi Arena, the Loa have selected their teams and are now ready for Rastakhan’s Rumble!

The Class Champions of the Rumble.

Trolls are the name of the game in this Hearthstone expansion, and no toe has been left uncounted in that regard. Alongside a slew of new cards, every class has been drafted onto a Loa’s team and has not only received a Legendary Troll Champion card as their team captain, but the Loa themselves have joined the brawl as Legendary cards designed to act as match closers. We detail the full list below:

Druids have been brought to the forefront by Wardruid Loti and Gonk, the Raptor Loa for Gonk’s Raptors. One of the most savage teams on the battlefield, Druid cards will focus on maximizing their offensive destruction from brambly skin to razored claws of every kind.

Hunters have been summoned by the great Zul’jin of the Amani to serve Halazzi, the wily Lynx Loa. Together, Halazzi’s Lynxes are perhaps one of the most aggressive and cunning teams, building long-reaching plans of strategy to hunt and crush their enemies.

Mages must answer the call of Hex Lord Malacrass and his prayers to Jan’alai, the Dragonhawk Loa. Jan’alai’s Dragonhawks devastate the field with powerful magics and primal spell casts, often playing off of the Mage’s hero powers to weave intricate words of destruction.

Paladins have been bidden by High Priest Thekal, the immortal prophet of Shirvallah. Together, Shirvallah’s Tigers forge an army of zealots, where the most pious become truly immortal through their god’s powers, returning from the battlefield only to be summoned again.

Priests must serve Princess Talanji and the newest patron of the Zandalari, Bwonsamdi, the Loa of Death. Her future sold for the survival of her people, Bwonsamdi’s Zombies revel in the destructive powers of the shadows and necromancy, wreaking terrible destruction only to reap enemies back into their service.

Rogues head the call of the greatest pirate in the south seas, Captain Hooktusk. Bidden by the Shark Loa, Gral’s Sharks look to win the Rumble as slyly as they can, often bending the rules until they break and taken every opportunity to cheat their way to victory.

Shaman have been called to heed Zentimo, the last Witch Doctor of the might Frog Loa. Together, Krag’wa’s Frogs unleash the most potent Hexes that Shaman can weave, blasting the battlefield with one of the more magic-heavy compositions yet seen from a Shaman Hearthstone expansion.

The Warlocks are the most villainous group of the Rumble, aiming to win by any means necessary. Led by High Priestess Jeklik, Hir’eek’s Bats will throw away even the very souls of their own team members if it will secure a victory for their twisted Loa.

Last and certainly not least, Warriors will find a like and violent mind with War Master Voone. Akali’s Rhinos have only one strategy in their mind, and that is to deliver as much punishment with the heaviest armor possible. To them, if the problem can’t be solved by hitting things, its a problem not worth solving.

Rastakhan's Rumble

The Spirit of the Shark, one of the new Spirit cards for the Rogue class.

Things do not simply begin and end with the Champions of the Loa in Rastakhan’s Rumble; while they potentially offer devastating effects such as Hex Lord Malacrass’s battlecry adding your starting hand back into your current one, they are not the crux of strategy. Instead the Loa have gifted their teams with new Spirit cards to do battle with. These new Spirit Cards are based on that particular class’ Loa, and are designed to be a resilient, continuous buff for their team while on the field. Yu-Gi-Oh! players might equate them similar to Field or Continuous Spell Cards. The Warlock Spirit of the Bat card allows the player to sacrifice their creatures, giving a minion in your hand +1/+1 for each friendly minion that perishes on the battlefield.

In addition to new Spirit, Loa and Legendary cards comes a new card type: Overkill. Designed around the idea of truly humiliating an opponent in the gladiatorial combat that the Gurubashi Arena is known for, Overkill allows certain cards to re-enact their effects every time it kills a character. One of the weapons demoed at Blizzcon, Sul’thraze, also possesses Overkill, allowing it to continuously attack if it can kill a minion with a weapon attack. This new Overkill option allows players to create devastating combo effects, chaining cards like the Warlock Hellfire together with Sul’thraze to potentially wipe an entire arena clean of late-game monsters.

With the launch of Rastakhan’s Rumble will also come a new singleplayer mode. Rumble Run will allow you to choose one of the troll champions and climb the ranks of the Gurubashi Arena, slaughtering your way to fame and glory in the name of your Loa. Much like Dungeon Run from Kobolds and Catacombs, you’ll begin with a small deck of cards and receive new ones in succession through each battle. Completing all of the challenges in Rumble Run will reward players with an exclusive card back.

Rastakhan's Rumble

Sul’thraze the Lasher, one of the new Overkill cards for the Rumble.

Prior to its December 4th release, Blizzard is also offering two pre-order bundles for Rastakhan’s Rumble. The first is a 17-card pack entitled the Challenger’s Bundle, packaged with an exclusive cardback. The second, the Rumble Bundle, comes with 50 card packs and includes King Rastakhan himself as an alternate Shaman Hero for players to select.

A new expansion for Hearthstone is desperately need and fully appreciated, especially when looking at the competition Blizzard will soon be facing in the CCG market; Valve’s Artifact sets to debut just later this month and the already highly successful Magic: The Gathering Arena is in beta and quickly approaching its launch state. An expansion now is just what the Witch Doctor ordered, and looks to close out Hearthstone’s Year of the Raven with a true Shirvallan Roar.

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