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How Hong Kong’s unrest is fueling Ethereum-based Gods Unchained

Jeff Benson


If the gods were already unchained before, what are they now? 

Gods Unchained, the blockchain-based trading card game in the style of “Magic: The Gathering,” has seen a surge in its popularity among gamers since trolling rival Hearthstone for apparently bowing to Chinese censorship. 

Gods Unchained is now the fourth-most popular Ethereum application over the past seven days, with 1,700 users, according to DappRadar. Those users have done over $207,000 in transaction volume in that span, more than for all other Ethereum games combined. 

While those user numbers may not seem awe-inspiring, it represents a steep increase from where Gods Unchained was several weeks ago.

Gods Unchained hit by cyberattacks after stance against Chinese censorship

The uptick in usage comes after some clever public relations work by the company behind the game, Immutable. On October 8, Blizzard, the American company behind Hearthstone, one of the most popular online games in the world with over 100 million users, levied a year ban (later reduced to six months) on gamer Chung Ng Wai (aka Blitzchung) for supporting Hong Kong liberation in a post-game interview.

Hong Kong has been the scene of pro-democracy protests for months, pitting it against mainland China, which has been working to rein in the semi-autonomous city as well as China critics. Blizzard’s decision, which also stripped Blitzchung of $10,000 in winnings, was perceived as a move to placate Chinese gamers and powerful sponsors. Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack, disputes that view. He said in a statement, “Our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” 

Nonetheless, that same day, Gods Unchained tweeted that Blizzard valued “money more than freedom.” It said it would pay for Chung's lost winnings and provide him a ticket to upcoming tournaments. Though it’s unclear whether Chung has taken the gamemakers up on the offer, others clearly have. 

In September, the game never saw more than 251 users a day. In the last 10 days, however, it has surpassed its previous high of 440 users four times, setting a new record of 656 yesterday, October 17.

Gods Unchained levels up, hires former Magic: The Gathering executive

Overtaking Hearthstone and gaining mainstream adoption won’t come easily, however. For one thing, Immutable reported cyberattacks following its decision. When asked for comment by Decrypt about the nature of the attacks and whether the Gods Unchained team had been able to determine their origin, Immutable VP of Marketing Tyler Perkins declined to comment, saying only, “We’ve been pretty focused on hardening our infrastructure.”

For another, a huge part of the multibillion-dollar global gaming economy is viewers, not just players. In a bid to continue its PR play, Gods Unchained announced last week it would donate $1 for each viewer of the game on the Twitch streaming platform to the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protect online speech. 

While the game regularly hit over 100 viewers per hour on October 10, it has since levelled off to under 40 views per hour. (The Electronic Frontier Foundation has not yet confirmed the donation amount.) Hearthstone, meanwhile, remains the 12th-most watched game on Twitch with over 22,000 viewers at any time.

Yet as Hearthstone continues to police its own gamers for their Hong Kong views, banning three college players who held up a sign reading “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blitz” during a streamed competition on October 8, Gods Unchained is trying to siphon off users and viewers looking for an uncensored alternative. 

The strategy may be working. Casey Chambers, one of the banned American University players, tweeted on October 13 that he had played his first Gods Unchained game. When asked how it compared to Hearthstone and whether he saw himself continuing to use it, he told Decrypt, “It’s incredibly comparable to Hearthstone. I think I’ll stick with it.”