Games from Blizzard Entertainment, including Overwatch, Starcraft, Hearthstone, and World of Warcraft, are no longer accessible in China after a protracted divorce with NetEase that lasted 14 years.
Officially, the servers in China went down at 12 a.m. on January 24. However, the connectivity was cut in November 2022, and the situation has become worse ever since. During that moment, NetEase president Simon Zhu publicly airballed his complaints about Blizzard, calling one of their nameless employees a “jerk.”
Blizzard said on January 17th that it has offered to extend the contract for a further six months while looking for a new distribution partner on the Chinese social media site Weibo. Reuters translated NetEase’s statement to mean that it disapproved of the extension because it was “commercially illogical.” The Esports Advocate reports that the business denied the extension since it had already terminated employees and closed its shared office.
In retaliation, NetEase destroyed a large monument of the Warcraft hammer outside of their headquarters and live-streamed the devastation on social media.
What’s the big deal about the nasty esports relationship? The deal’s alleged cancellation seems to be a blow for both NetEase and Activision Blizzard, the latter of which is already facing legal challenges over its planned Microsoft merger and sexual harassment claims.
Blizzard has decided that blitzchung is no longer eligible to participate in Hearthstone Grandmasters.
To sell Blizzard games in China, NetEase had a vital government license. Even if Activision Blizzard managed to recruit a new distribution partner, it may take the government months or even years to gain the needed license for the business to operate its games in the country.
According to Daniel Ahmad, a Senior Analyst at the market research firm Niko Partners, “It’s hard to say exactly who’s at fault,” In the big picture, just 3% of Blizzard’s overall income comes from China, the business claims. However, Blizzard could just be waiting for a better deal.
Since China is the largest esports market, this will cause both professional players and casual spectators to show much less interest in the affected games. For many Activision Blizzard titles, like Overwatch, the Chinese market is enormous. The Shanghai Dragons are owned by NetEase, which adds another level of complication to the scenario. The Hangzhou Spark, Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, and Shanghai Dragons are all located in China.
It’s unclear if those teams will be permitted to maintain their existing names, venues, or participation in international competition. According to Brad Crawford, Senior Director of Global Communications for Activision Blizzard Esports, who spoke with Esports Insider and confirmed that changes were coming to the Overwatch League in 2023, there will still be a full slate of teams for both East and West (China competes in the league’s East division).
The League “the League is definitely changing for the 2023 season.” according to Crawford. We have been assiduously addressing the details in the background and anticipate informing the public of further details in the next weeks. We want to see a full complement of East Coast and West Coast clubs in the sixth season of OWL.
Crawford claims that in the Community Update video that will be released the following week, all of your questions about Blizzard’s Chinese fan base will be addressed. On January 23, Chengdu Hunters tweeted, “Goodbye and see you again.”
Hearthstone’s updates may already be live at this point. Blizzard’s decision to dramatically scale up Hearthstone’s esports scene for 2023 and announce that Chinese players could no longer participate on January 20 was definitely influenced by the loss of the Chinese market.
However, there are other considerations than professional athletes. Because China forbids the livestreaming of unlicensed games, esports broadcasts of Blizzard titles are now in theory prohibited in that nation. In reality, though, things are not quite so straightforward.
Technically, formally, the game needs a license before it can be monetized, broadcast, or distributed, according to Ahmad of Niko Partners. Although it’s possible that people in China may still access games without a license, the reality is quite different. They could still appreciate unauthorized games. The law is only enforced when a game is forbidden for any reason, and only then.
Ahmad claims that even while it’s doubtful that these games would completely disappear from livestreaming platforms, it’s feasible that broadcasts of these games would become more streamer- and influencer-based without official NetEase streams.
Thanks to a multiyear agreement between Activision Blizzard and the service, Overwatch League matches will start broadcasting exclusively on Bilibili in China starting in 2021. The cooperation’s effects are yet unknown.
Exact one month after Riot’s first-person shooter (FPS) VALORANT was approved by Chinese gaming regulators, Blizzard’s titles will be taken from the Chinese market. The upcoming closure of Overwatch and the debut of the first-person shooter VALORANT, a genre that has proven to be particularly popular in China, might have a huge impact on the nation’s esports market.
Furthermore, Ahmad said, “VALORANT does have an opportunity there to reach gamers in the country.” Due to the discontinuation of Overwatch, Riot Games now has a fantastic chance to fill the void created by the lack of a similar hero shooter.
The end of the collaboration will have a big financial impact on NetEase as well; when the news first emerged, the stock price of the firm fell sharply. To discontinue providing live events for Blizzard games, NetEase has made the decision.
There were name-calling and the destruction of a monument during the bitter dissolution of the 14-year relationship, which seems to have had deeper origins than a straightforward financial decision. The day before Blizzard services were discontinued, Simon Zhu, president of NetEase, said goodbye to the defining games he grew up playing from Blizzard in a heartfelt LinkedIn post.
“Today is a dreadful day since the server went down, and there are no promises about the future. The worst impacted will be the Chinese gamers who “eat, sleep, and breathe” these genres, according to Zhou.
My sincere condolences go out to the Blizzard developers who invested all they had into making those worlds a reality. I ask God to keep those priceless memories safe forever.