Protesters descend on BlizzCon demanding human rights and free expression for all
Crowds of protesters are gathering outside Blizzard’s annual convention, BlizzCon, in Anaheim, CA today. Gamers and activists from across the political spectrum showed up to make their voices heard, calling for gaming companies to stand up for basic human rights and freedom of expression for all.
Several different groups self-organized the protests, alongside gamers and volunteers who coordinated on reddit and discord. The morning kicked off with volunteers from Freedom Hong Kong, who handed out more than 4,000 T-shirts to convention attendees.
At 12pm PST, the “official” Gamers for Freedom protest supported by digital rights group Fight for the Future, known for organizing massive online protests against SOPA and for net neutrality, began. Protesters held signs reading “You can’t control us,” “Our world is worth fighting for,” and “Every voice matters” (a Blizzard slogan). Fight for the Future opposes Blizzard’s punishment of Hong Kong gamer Blitzchung and their policy that imposes a draconian blanket ban on all political speech.
“Decisions about how to moderate online speech are some of the most important decisions of our generation, and have profound implications for the future of humanity. Companies should not be making these decisions under pressure from ANY government, whether it’s China, the US, or the UK,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), “Blizzard’s attempt to quell this controversy is cowardly and it’s only going to backfire. This is not just about Blitzchung or Hong Kong — they need to make a clear commitment to not act as the speech police on behalf of governments in general. A blanket ban on all political speech is inherently at odds with basic free expression. It’s taking sides with the status quo, and those who wish to suppress free speech. How you determine what is “political” is a political decision in and of itself.”
Inside the convention, Blizzard’s CEO briefly addressed the controversy, but failed to even mention Blitzchung’s name. To be clear, this was not an apology. The company has not changed its position, and is still enforcing a policy that enables censorship at the behest of governments.
As more and more protesters gathered, organizers held a cosplay contest. Many gamers showed up dressed as their favorite Blizzard games characters. Zephronica, a cosplayer who went viral on reddit, was in attendance and spoke out about her journey and the messages she received from family in Hong Kong.
“Believe it or not, other video game companies are watching what we are doing here today … they are all watching this protest right now. Our voices are being heard. We are already making a difference. The US Congress has already made a statement calling on Blizzard to reverse their ban. Wizards of the Coast has already allowed one of their players to publicly support Hong Kong. Also Mitsubishi dropped out of sponsoring BlizzCon. What we need to do is keep up that pressure and send Blizzard and all these other game companies the message: democracy is not negotiable.” -Zephronica
Fight for the Future made it crystal clear that the protest was about human rights and freedom for all. We oppose censorship and human rights violations regardless of which government is behind them.
Casey Chambers and Torino, two members of the American University Hearthstone team who Blizzard banned from competition for holding up a protest sign in solidarity with Blitzchung after the ban, spoke at the event.
In addition to the speakers, comedian Ron Placone helped host a cosplay contest. Many gamers showed up dressed as their favorite Blizzard games characters or as Winnie the Pooh, a character banned in China. Winners received a free 1 year VPN subscription donated by Private Internet Access, who are also a supporter of Fight for the Future.
The protests have sparked widespread media coverage and discussion on social media. Fight for the Future are encouraging all who support human rights and free speech to continue pressuring Blizzard and other gaming companies to pledge to defend their players right to free expression. You can sign the petition, tweet at gaming companies, donate, and take other actions at GamersForFreedom.com