Last week, Blizzard once again returned to Anaheim for Blizzcon 2019. But rather than welcoming Blizzard to his city for their annual convention, Rep. Lou Correa - a Democrat congressman for Anaheim, California - accused them of fostering online radicalisation in World of Warcraft. Less than a month after finding themselves in the US Government's crosshairs for their mishandling of a Hearthstone championship protest, Blizzard's handling of fraught politics may once again have landed the studio in hot water.
As Vice Gaming reports, Correa's post includes a screenshot of a player named Horrigan, dressed in white robes and hood, flanked by two darker-skin Human players on their knees. If that's not bleedin' obvious enough, the robed goon is captured saying "Next stop, Charlottesville" - the Virginia town chosen for 2017's infamous "Unite the Right rally" where anti-racist protestor Heather Heyer was killed.
Instead, I find myself asking how this can exist in one of your games.
— Rep. Lou Correa (@RepLouCorrea) October 31, 2019
From the replies to Correa's tweet it sounds like Horrigan (and his guild, Enclave) are known troublemakers, both on their home WoW server and other online games. While not openly racist in recruitment posts - limiting themselves to aggressively "tryhard" language - they've been known to spew bigotry over the server for the better part of a decade. Longer, even, if you count their time back in Planetside.
It sounds like fellow WoW-goers have frequently reported the guild and its members to Blizzard, who tend to simply slap a temporary ban of a few days. But in a Reddit thread from two months ago, one fellow server-goer wrote that Horrigan and his guild have grown too savvy for even these temporary measures.
"They know they are being reported now. So they changed to calling black people "Orcs" so they can avoid being reported for saying the N-word. I was in the guild for 2 days and spent most of it just reporting guys to Blizzard for it."
Since Congressman Correa's screenshot was taken during a server-wide Halloween event, some guild members have distanced themselves from Horrigan. Vice reports that leaked audio from a post-party voice call suggested Horrigan is claiming folk are overreacting to his ghost costume. Nobody's buying it, with one call member responding: "You keep saying that you were a ghost but we're not dumb, dude. We weren't born yesterday. We can put all those things together."
With congressional attention on them, guild members reportedly now fear doxxing (having their personal details leaked online). Enclave's site reads that the guild will be out of action until a later date.
But it's still just one guild in a community of millions. I've been around the block countless times with World of Warcraft, and I've met some brilliant mates on the plains of Azeroth. Equally, though, I've hopped into guilds only to find their group chats swimming in piss, community sites flooded with swastikas and far-right memes.
Blizzard, for their part, have yet to respond to Correa's condemnation. Rather than looking into the root of the issue, Blizzard's approach still seems to be restricted to punishing individual acts of hate speech. But even in 2019, when they're still crushing openly LGBT guilds, I can't say this stance holds much water.