NetEase, the service provider Overwatch creator Blizzard has been using to bring its games to China for the last 14 years, is ending several licenses with the developer. Overwatch 2, Diablo III, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm will no longer receive service in mainland China on January 23, 2023, “and will not be renewed,” NetEase wrote in a November 17 statement. One NetEase employee attributed the responsibility for this to a “jerk.”
“We have put in a great deal of effort and tried with our utmost sincerity to negotiate with Activision Blizzard so that we could continue our collaboration and serve the many dedicated players in China. However, there were material differences on key terms and we could not reach an agreement,” CEO William Ding says in the statement. “We will continue our promise to serve our players well until the last minute. We will make sure our players’ data and assets are well protected in all of our games.” Chinese players will still have access to Diablo Immortal, NetEase said, since it’s “covered by a separate long-term agreement.”
In its own statement, on November 16, Blizzard wrote that Chinese players should also anticipate a sales suspension “in the coming days,” which it will elaborate on soon. But add-on releases confined to 2022, including Overwatch 2’s season two and World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, will continue as planned (though there won’t be much time to enjoy them).
Both companies opted to remain dignified in their investor-focused press releases (“The expiration of [Blizzard] licenses will have no material impact on NetEase’s financial results,” NetEase assuaged its readers), but TechCrunch spotted that NetEase president of global investment and partnership, Simon Zhu, unleashed some surprising breakup acrimony in a LinkedIn post.
“As a gamer who spent ten thousand hours in the world of Azeroth, starcraft and overwatch, I feel so heartbroken as I will not longer have the access to my account and memories next year,” he wrote. “One day, when what has happened behind the scene could be told, developers and gamers will have a whole new level understanding of how much damage a jerk can make.”
Neither Blizzard nor NetEase responded to requests for comment in time for publication, so we’re left to speculate who exactly Blizzard’s “jerk” is. There are a lot of options.
Update 5:00 p.m. ET: In an email obtained by The Washington Post, Blizzard president Mike Ybarra cited a mismatch in values leading to Blizzard’s NetEase contract terminating.
“Every few years we review our agreements with them,” he wrote to employees. “We have been working through this process in good faith to extend our existing agreements. However, their approach was not aligned with our commitment to players, employees, and our operating principles.” In addition to game servicing, Ybarra said that Chinese esports partnerships would also be impacted by Blizzard’s ended contract with NetEase.
NetEase declined to comment on what “material differences” it had with Blizzard and on Simon Zhu’s LinkedIn post, but it did provide “general added context” to its statement in an email.
This is an important development for the millions of gamers in China who will now lose access to some of their favorite games which they’ve spent countless hours playing. Simon, like many other NetEase employees, grew up playing these games with close friends throughout the Blizzard community in China. He is a passionate advocate and is naturally upset everyone in the region is affected. I hope this helps.