Thomas Middleditch, star of HBO comedy series Silicon Valley, hosted Friday evening’s talent competition and cosplay contest at BlizzCon 2016, opening his emceeing gig with a standup routine that poked fun at hardcore gaming fans. While Middleditch’s performance drew its share of laughs, the actor also managed to upset a few Blizzard fans who weren’t keen on being made fun of at, of all places, BlizzCon.
Some BlizzCon attendees and Blizzard fans watching the event from home criticized Middleditch’s performance, decrying his lack of familiarity with Blizzard’s games, ultimately resulting in the actor taking to Instagram to prove his nerd credentials and pleading for solidarity.
Middleditch kicked off his hosting gig with a few admissions: This was his first BlizzCon; he’s been a longtime PC gamer; and he used to host his own LAN parties.
“I dabble in the nerd dark arts myself,” Middleditch said, explaining that he started gaming on the Apple II and Amiga. He assured BlizzCon attendees that he’d both played his own share of pen and paper RPGs — GURPS, for example — and even attended Renaissance fairs “in-garb.”
Middleditch joked that his own father often disapproved of his nerdy pursuits, and occasionally resorted to jokes about gaming fans living in their parents’ basements and being shut-ins. Most of his digs were self-deprecating, and Middleditch admitted that some of his pre-written material was just plain bad, but some jokes clearly whiffed with the BlizzCon crowd.
“Is this guy seriously making fun of us?” read a tweet from one BlizzCon attendee. “You're hosting the costume contest and making fun of e-sports? Wtf...”
“That was literally the most cringe-y ‘stand up’ act I've ever seen,” read another. “You should re-evaluate your life.”
Some BlizzCon attendees and viewers blasted the actor for being “dumb and insulting” and for making (by Middleditch’s own admission) gendered, sexist jokes. Middleditch also had his share of fans, however, who praised the actor’s so-bad-they’re-good jokes and jabs at video game enthusiasts.
“The only thing funnier than Thomas Middleditch at Blizzcon are the indignant reactions #guysitsokay,” said one fan.
Most of the criticism directed at Middleditch seemed to be over his lack of expertise in all things Blizzard. During the BlizzCon costume contest, Middleditch stumbled when trying to identify and pronounce, for example, a Protoss Archon from StarCraft and Warcraft’s Greymane and Chromie. Middleditch blamed some of that on being unable to read the handwriting on his cue cards, but made it clear early on he was not a hardcore World of Warcraft or Overwatch aficionado.
“Next time Blizzard please hire someone who [is] familiar with your IPs,” tweeted one fan during the costume contest.
“[Middleditch] appears so smart on @HBO's #siliconvalley,” said one viewer, “but he goofed badly last night at #blizzcon, rehearse for shows like this dude.”
“Middleditch really doesn't get just how awkward it was to watch him on that stage,” said another. “He ruined my favorite part of blizzcon.”
For his part, Middleditch responded directly to some of his harshest critics on Twitter, saying “It was not my intention to ruffle feathers, I was clearly telling intentionally silly jokes.”
Later, Middleditch took the fight to Instagram, where he posted a photo of his own PC gaming setup and addressed being called out “for not being a ‘real gamer.’“
Got some flak for not being a "real gamer". Well, I may not play YOUR game but you probably don't play mine either. Unless you know how to cold start an A10 Warthog? Just remember, we are all on the same side and it's OK to poke fun at ourselves. It's important. When you grip your culture so tightly that it's sacrilegious to even comment on it, or mispronounce a video game character name in a slew of absurd fantasy names, you've ruined it. Part of me liked it when us nerds had to keep to the shadows, before it was all mainstream. Granted, I wouldn't have a career if that were the case but at least we'd all still be nice to each other because it was such a relief to find someone from the same tribe. Now it feels like some of us have banded together and just want to pay forward the bullying we received to someone who's not as 1337 h@x0r. I know games, pen and paper, cosplay, LARP'ing, whatever, is all really important to us...that doesn't stop you from having a sense of humor about it. Let's be fwendz d00dz.
Middleditch — who plays flight sims like IL-2 Sturmovik and name-dropped Gone Home, Total War: Attila and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons at BlizzCon — got some support from one of his Silicon Valley costars, Kumail Nanjiani, who came to the BlizzCon host’s defense.
Middleditch also got some indirect support from another comedian, Jay Mohr, who previously hosted BlizzCon’s talent contest and other gaming events like DICE. Mohr, who’s similarly poked fun at hardcore gaming enthusiasts during his stand up act, tweeted his best wishes to BlizzCon’s contest host shortly after they got underway.