If the US president bans WeChat from Chinese Tencent, the company's many subsidiaries and investments could also be banned, including some popular games.
Is President Trump going to stop you from playing Fortnite or League of Legends? This is the fear expressed by some after the unexpected addition of Tencent Holdings to the list of Chinese companies targeted by its recent decrees. Probably, the President’s intention was not to deprive gamers of their favorite games, at least explicitly. But by including Tencent in its list, it risks affecting a large part of the companies belonging to the Chinese conglomerate or those in which it invests.
In fact, the latest decree specifically targets WeChat, a popular messaging app owned by Tencent. The grounds and restrictions are very similar to the first decree extending the previous TikTok ban. The document basically states that the United States could ban the video-sharing service altogether if an acquisition by Microsoft or another company is not made within 45 days. It is especially section 1 (a) of these two decrees, whose wording does not change much, except for the name of the targeted company, that contains the most important information. “The following actions will be prohibited 45 days after the date of this Order in Council, within the limits of applicable law: any WeChat-related transaction by any person, or property, under the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd. (alias Téngxùn Kònggǔ Yǒuxiàn Gōngsī), Shenzhen, China, or any subsidiary of such entity, as identified by the Secretary of Commerce under section 1 (c) of this order ”.
Tencent a gaming mogul
In the case of Tencent, this would mean that in the United States, customers would be prohibited from participating in games or those of affiliates owned by Tencent. But it is not clear whether the ordinance also prohibits users from engaging with companies in which Tencent has an interest.
The list of game developers owned or in which Tencent has invested is long and includes a few big names in the industry:
– Riot Games: Tencent owns Riot Games. In 2011, the company bought out a 93% stake in Riot Games, before acquiring the remaining 7% four years later. Riot Games is notably the publisher of the very popular League of Legends game. In addition, last April, Riot bought Hypixel, the company that runs Minecraft’s servers and is said to develop a Minecraft competitor.
– Tencent also owns a 40% stake in Epic Games, the developer of the Fortnite game, as well as the Epic game store. This investment was made in 2012.
– Tencent still owns up to 11.5% stake in Bluehole, the developer of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, also known as PUBG
– Tencent also owns around 80% of Grinding Gear Games, the developer of Path of Exile.
– In 2019, Tencent purchased a controlling stake in Supercell, the developer of the Clash of Clans and Clash Royale mobile games.
PCGamer also notes that Tencent has minor stakes in Frontier Developments (Elite: Dangerous, Planet Zoo) and Discord, the popular chat server. As in the case of TikTok, the Trump administration is concerned about the safety and security of US data. “Like TikTok, WeChat automatically collects a lot of information about its users,” said the decree. “This data collection could allow the Chinese Communist Party to access personal and confidential information about American users.”
Trump wouldn't do that… would he?
If, as some rumors suggest, the White House does not plan to target video game subsidiaries like Riot Games, the text of the decree is too vague to be completely sure. The decree goes on to say that “beyond 45 days after the date of the order, the Secretary of Commerce will specify which transactions are affected by the provisions of subsection (a) of this decree.” In other words, until September 20, we will not know which Tencent affiliates will be affected by the order. It seems unlikely that the Trump administration will ban some of the world’s most popular games and risk upsetting millions of people. But if that did happen, it would be the most groundbreaking event Fortnite has ever offered.