> News > PC

NetEase disbands Blizzard team after 14-year deal concludes

NetEase and Activision Blizzard have now officially concluded a 14-year publishing partnership.
starcraft netease blizzard games

NetEase and Activision Blizzard have concluded their 14-year partnership to bring Blizzard Entertainment games to China, with the regional publishing team now reportedly disbanded. The move follows a major financial dispute between the parties, which Activision Blizzard claimed was due to an inability to come to terms in a way that ‘[was] consistent with Blizzard’s operating principles and commitments to players and employees.’

For its part, NetEase argued it had ‘put in a great deal of effort and tried with [its] utmost sincerity to negotiate with Activision Blizzard’. Regardless, the deal collapsed – leaving a major void in the Chinese games market.

Blizzard Entertainment games will be suspended from sale in China from 23 January 2023, with support for titles including Overwatch 2, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, and Hearthstone drawing to a close. Given these games rely on always-online servers, they will become unplayable after this date.

Read: Blizzard games to be suspended in China after NetEase dispute

According to the South China Morning Post, the dissolution of NetEase’s Blizzard publishing team has taken place over several months, with some employees being reassigned, and others laid off entirely. A ‘skeleton crew’ will remain over a period of six months, to ease the transition for impacted players – but by mid-2023, service will cease entirely.

At this stage, the next steps for Activision Blizzard are unclear. Blizzard Entertainment titles remain wildly popular in China, and even a short absence is likely to create an immense commercial and cultural gap in the market. That’s not to mention flagging goodwill amongst loyal fans.

The company is reportedly looking for alternatives to ‘bring [the] games back to players in the future’ but none have been announced, months after the conclusion of the NetEase deal was first reported.

Games like Overwatch 2 and World of Warcraft likely won’t be absent for long, given the lucrative nature of the Chinese video game industry, but we’ll have to stay patient to see what Activision Blizzard has in the works. For now, the planned 23 January 2023 shutdown of Blizzard Entertainment games in China is set to go ahead.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.