On January 23, popular Blizzard games such as World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Diablo 3, and Overwatch were shut down in China, leaving many gamers in the country in shock and disappointment. The shutdown, which was first announced in November 2022, was a result of a failed renewal agreement between Blizzard and Chinese publisher NetEase. The 14-year partnership between the two companies fell apart due to "material differences on key terms," according to NetEase CEO William Ding.
The shutdown has caused a significant impact in China, where the audience for these games is huge. According to Sky News, there are an estimated three million World of Warcraft players in China alone. In 2019, Chinese Hearthstone pro Liooon (Li Xiaomeng) became the first woman to win the Hearthstone Grandmasters Global Finals.
The shutdown has caused many fans in China to express their disappointment on social media platforms such as Twitter and Weibo. Some have called it "the end" and "the memories of a whole generation," while others have criticized the two companies for "taking players hostage."
Former Hearthstone game director Ben Brode, who is now working on Marvel Snap, also shared his thoughts on Twitter.
While the current situation may seem dire for gamers in China, it's important to note that it may not be permanent. Blizzard has previously stated that it is looking for a "new partner" to handle its games in China, as all videogames in the country are required by law to have a Chinese publisher. A Blizzard China representative also told The Guardian that the shutdown is not "the end," but just a "temporary unhappy suspension." This means that there's a possibility that the games may return to the Chinese market in the future.
Furthermore, the situation is not unprecedented. Before NetEase, World of Warcraft in China was published by The9. The changeover to NetEase came amidst increased scrutiny of the game from Chinese authorities, which ultimately led to numerous changes and an extended closed beta test period that effectively closed the game for a few months. Interestingly, The9 is rumored to be in talks with Microsoft about picking up Blizzard's Chinese publishing rights again, presumably on the expectation that Microsoft will be able to complete its planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
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