The Asian Electronic Sports Federation (AESF) has announced that Blizzard Entertainment’s popular card game Hearthstone will not be featured as a medal event in the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games.
The move was made as Hearthstone servers are no longer operational in China following Blizzard’s termination of its 14-year licensing partnership with China’s second-largest gaming company NetEase.
The AESF said that it had attempted to find a solution to the issue of Hearthstone’s removal from the competition. However, discussions with the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee (HAGOC) led to the game’s removal from the event’s competition program. The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) later confirmed this decision.
The game’s operations team and servers were shut down in mainland China due to “the expiration of the business cooperation between the two parties.” As a result, the game no longer fulfills the necessary prerequisites to be included in the esports program of the Hangzhou Asian Games.
The partnership between Blizzard and NetEase ended due to disagreements between the two companies about their future cooperation. This situation was made worse by the stricter regulations on video gaming in China over the past few years.
Such regulations require foreign video games to have a Chinese distributor before officially publishing. Additionally, the gaming content must undergo more rigorous scrutiny during the licensing approval process.
As a result of the partnership termination, the publisher closed down servers for seven of Blizzard’s games in mainland China, including Hearthstone. Other popular titles like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo III and StarCraft II are also impacted by this shutdown.
The fifth Coordination Committee meeting for the 19th Asian Games held on Mar 16 announces that "Hearthstone" is cancelled as the Games' officially listed Esports medal events which is now reduced to 7 in number.#Hangzhou #AsianGames #Esports #Hearthstone @AESF_Official pic.twitter.com/JkTzj4NPys
— 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022 Official (@19thAGofficial) March 16, 2023
Hearthstone’s community reaction
Many Chinese players were disappointed by the termination of Blizzard’s partnership with NetEase, but they were not surprised by the removal of Hearthstone.
Former professional Hearthstone player IslandCat shared his thoughts on Chinese social media Weibo last Thursday, saying that the exclusion of Hearthstone from the Hangzhou Asian Games was something everyone had already anticipated. “But I still had a sense of loss the moment the final conclusion was reached,” he wrote.
AESF vice president and Esports Federation of India Lokesh Suji expressed his disappointment toward Hearthstone’s exclusion from the upcoming Asian Games.
Suji said the news was especially disappointing given that Indian gamer Tirth Mehta had won the bronze medal in the Hearthstone category in the 2018 tournament. Players Shikhar Choudhary and Karthik Varma were among the Indian representatives selected to compete in Hearthstone at this event.
“Nonetheless, we respect the OCA’s decision and remain confident that our athletes will perform at the highest level in the other titles to make the country proud,” Suji said.
Following Hearthstone’s removal, only seven games will be featured in the esports competition at Hangzhou Asian Games. These are Arena of Valor and PUBG Mobile (Asian Games Version) from Tencent Holding, Dota 2 by Valve Corp, Dream Three Kingdoms 2 from Hangzhou Electronic Soul Network Technology Co, Electronic Arts’ FIFA 23, Riot Games’ League of Legends and Street Fighter V from Japanese publisher Capcom.
The Asian Games were initially planned for September 2022 but have been rescheduled for September 23 to October 8, 2023, due to COVID-19.