The mountain of pushback against the largest acquisition in gaming history just got a fair bit steeper. On Monday, CNBC first reported that the Federal Trade Commission is close to filing an injunction to block the $68.7 billion merger between Microsoft and Activision Blizzard.
The deal is nearing its July 18 deadline, and an injunction would halt the process while the agency is working on bringing its own ongoing legal complaints to the fore. The FTC, under the leadership of big tech merger opponent Lina Khan, had already sued to block the near-$69 billion acquisition. According to CNBC based on an unnamed source familiar with the matter, the agency has brought the case before an internal administrative law judge who is supposed to hear the case in August.
Essentially, the injunction would give the FTC time to marshal resources and bring its full legal weight against the deal. That initial internal judge decision could then be brought to the commission for a full vote. If it goes the FTC’s way, Microsoft could then appeal.
In an email, an FTC spokesperson confirmed the agency’s plans to file a “restraining order,” saying:
“Microsoft and Activision Blizzard have represented in the past that they cannot close their deal due to antitrust reviews of the transaction in other jurisdictions. But Microsoft and Activision have not provided assurances that they will maintain that position. In light of that, and public reporting that Microsoft and Activision Blizzard are considering closing their deal imminently, we have filed a request for a temporary restraining order to prevent them from closing while review continues.”
The two companies trying to become one claimed this move on the FTC’s part would work in their favor. Activision shared Gizmodo an email sent to staff from CEO Bobby Kotick where he claimed “Our excellent legal team has been preparing for this move for more than a year, and we’re ready to present our case to a federal judge who can evaluate the transaction on the merits.”
In an email statement, Microsoft President Brad Smith told Gizmodo “We welcome the opportunity to present our case in federal court. We believe accelerating the legal process in the U.S. will ultimately bring more choice and competition to the market.”
The European Union has already granted its blessing to the merger, saying it accepted the concessions the companies made to facilitate cloud gaming across platforms outside Xbox. Still, the UK’s regulatory body overseeing mergers blocked the near-$69 billion acquisition, also citing issues with competition in the cloud gaming market. Microsoft and Activision Blizzard are both appealing that decision, though a decision could take place after the acquisition deadline.
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Update 05/13/23 at 9:40 p.m. ET: This post was updated to include a statement from the FTC and Activision Blizzard.