In April 2023, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) chose to block Microsoft’s plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, on the grounds that any deal had the potential to stifle future competition in the cloud gaming space. In the days following this decision, Microsoft announced it would appeal the block with the UK Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), which was followed up with an appeal filing in May.
Now, a CAT judge has elected a date for the appeal hearings, which will take place from 24-31 July 2023 – much sooner than originally anticipated. Microsoft reportedly wanted the hearings to proceed as soon as possible, in an effort to get a firm result and move forward with competition cases in other regions.
It’s believed the CMA aimed for a greater pushback, in the hopes of strengthening its case.
Regardless of preparation, the appeal hearings will go ahead in July, with a judge recently announcing the review period, and what both parties should expect from proceedings.
‘The hearing of the substance of this application will take place in the fortnight commencing July 24, so the weeks commencing the 24th and 31st of July,’ judge Marcus Smith said of the hearings during a recent conference, per VGC.
‘I’m not expecting it to take the whole of those ten days but I would like the parties to err on the side of longer rather than shorter oral submissions. It seems to me that that is an excess that we can afford. There is a tendency – and it’s very much driven by the Tribunal rather than the parties – to cut submissions to shorter than they perhaps ought to be. I want to do the reverse in this case.’
‘I want to have the parties understand that we will want to give them every opportunity to unpack the difficulties of this case in oral submissions and for us to have the time to do that.’
As detailed by Smith, the CAT judges have allowed a ten-day total period to hear evidence from Microsoft, Activision Blizzard, and the CMA. The acquisition of Activision Blizzard will be pulled apart during proceedings, with every facet of the case, and the ultimate decision to block the deal, analysed from multiple angles.
Given recent comments by Microsoft, it will likely argue it has no plans to dominate the cloud gaming industry, as it’s already established a number of partnerships with ‘rival’ cloud gaming providers, in an effort to deliver its games to multiple platforms. Meanwhile, the CMA will look to reassert its case and prove Microsoft’s potential to stifle innovation in the space.
At this stage, no further movement on the case will begin until the July 2023 hearings. Following this investigation, which may take the full ten days, the CMA and CAT will hand down an updated verdict.