It’s official – with no last-minute deals or extensions, it looks like Blizzard services provided by NetEase have closed down in China after 14 years. It means that Chinese servers for most of the major Blizzard titles – including Hearthstone – are now offline. Chinese players can still play games on other servers through a VPN, but it’s not a great solution – not only they can’t carry over their progress, but the Chinese government has been cracking down on VPNs, which is another way to lose access (non-CN servers can’t be officially accessed in the country, no VPN means no playing).
It doesn’t necessarily mean that Chinese players will never have access to their accounts again. For example, in the case of World of Warcraft (I’m not sure if it was possible with Hearthstone), they were given an opportunity to back up their characters locally. It’s an unprecedented move and can lead to cheating as some might figure out a way to edit those files, but ultimately it’s most likely a good move. It means that if the servers are back in the future, players can just continue where they left off – some cheating is a better alternative to millions of people starting over from scratch. Maybe Blizzard also implemented some other backup methods and if Hearthstone goes back online in the future, Chinese players will be greeted with their previous collections – that’s my hope at least.
However, Blizzard first needs to strike a new deal with a Chinese publisher to keep operating there. And that’s likely going to be difficult since the breakup with NetEase didn’t go very smoothly. Both parties accuse each other of being at fault – NetEase says that Blizzard didn’t offer enough money, and Blizzard says that NetEase wanted bigger control of their intellectual property. I can’t really say who’s right or wrong here since there’s most likely much more happening behind the scenes that we don’t know, I’ll just say that the whole situation could have been handled much better.
This situation hurts both companies, but Blizzard probably came out worse in the end – at least until they find a new partner to distribute their games in China. Income from that country was a really big part of Blizzard’s total revenue (not so much for Activision because Call of Duty an other Activision games weren’t that big in China, but games like WoW, Hearthstone, or Overwatch absolutely were). Ultimately, the ones hurt most are regular Chinese people – some of them playing Blizzard titles for years, just to lose access to their favorite games and all of the progress for no reason. Let’s hope that the situation gets resolved.
Blizzard Hearthstone CN servers have shutdown already, Jan. 23rd. ???? pic.twitter.com/fPMHdA0d2C
— geyuan6#HS deck from CN# (@geyuan6_hs) January 23, 2023