In a move that makes it seem like Blizzard is literally trying to make everyone angry online, another controversy has sprung up this week for the gaming company, this time in World of Warcraft. The company already incited a pretty serious storm this week when the Taiwan branch issued a temporary ban against Grandmasters winner Blitzchung over political comments made in support of demonstrators in Hong Kong. This banning prompted a wave of backlash online and it certainly isn’t a good look for the company that they now appear to have dug the hole deeper. Personally, it seems like Blizzard is protecting their brand from blowback from China and not allowing their platform to be used for potentially controversial political statements, although this is debatable. However, this latest happening is a pretty cut and dry negative.
It appears as though a pro-LGBTQ+ guild name has been forcibly changed within the MMO and one of its members has been banned from the game. To their credit, Blizzard did eventually reinstate the name, but it has as of writing refused to respond to press inquiries on the issue. A Blizzard Customer Service agent did respond via email to the banned party, Ahmil Jilani, saying that “There isn’t a way to stop people from reporting this name, as some find the way the term is used offensive. If you get actioned again, you can appeal like this, and we can look at it once more. For now, though, you have your guild name back!”
Speaking with Ars Technica, the “GAY BOYS” guild reported that it had its name forcibly changed to a random string of letters. Now the guild operates under the name “Guild ZFXPK”.
The justification given for the name change and ban was pretty simple, but infuriating nonetheless. Blizzard claims that they responded to a series of player reports against the guild and its name, forcing the name change in an effort to curtail the backlash. According to a statement the guild creator gave to Ars Technica:
If you reviewed my chat logs, you would see multiple messages from individuals through my recruitment process of getting us to where we are today, with individuals messaging “Fuck the gays, reported,” amongst other extremely hateful and discriminating comments… These are the individuals that find our name inappropriate. Giving in to their demands only means that you are siding with them as a company, which, after a decade of playing your games, is a surprise to me.
It all seems pretty suspect. The fact that Blizzard would so readily respond to homophobic backlash is troubling, but that’s just one potential wrinkle in this story. The original name is potentially controversial in itself, as the term is often used as a homophobic insult in itself in some cases.
Blizzard does have themselves covered legally though, in theory, as the EULA for the game includes the following generalized agreement as part of its many regulations governing player behavior:
You further represent and warrant that you will not use or contribute User Content that is unlawful, tortious, defamatory, obscene, invasive of the privacy of another person, threatening, harassing, abusive, hateful, racist or otherwise objectionable or inappropriate. Blizzard may remove any User Content and any related content or elements from the Platform at its sole discretion.
So whether this will provoke wider response is as of yet unknown, but the timing could not be worse. National Coming Out Day 2019 is today, Friday, October 11th. And having this happen on this day seems like an unfortunate coincidence. The Supreme Court of the United States is also currently considering a ruling on whether a landmark 1964 civil rights law bars employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status. So this is a rather tough week for the LGBTQ+ community, and these seemingly innocuous but nonetheless insulting screwups only make it worse.