Blizzard Bans Hearthstone Pro For Hong Kong Protest Support
The esports world is finding itself embroiled in a political dispute. Blizzard has banned pro Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung (aka Blitzchung) for a year after he voiced support for Hong Kong protesters in a post-match interview. The statement allegedly violated rules forbidding players from saying something that “offends a portion or group of the public” or “otherwise damages” Blizzard’s image. The developer is also kicking Chung out of the Grandmasters, eliminating his winnings from the tournament and halting work with the casters who conducted the interview despite their attempts to distance themselves from the statement.
On Twitter, messages under the #BoycottBlizzard hashtag are proliferating, in which protesters excoriate the company for banning a Hearthstone professional after he expressed support for ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
While Blizzard become a trending topic on Twitter on Tuesday, the #BoycottBlizzard hashtag has apparently not spread widely enough to crack the top-20 trending stories today.
On Sunday, Hong Kong-based Hearthstone professional player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, gave a post-match interview at the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament. Wearing protester-style goggles and facemask, he declared “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” a leading slogan of Hong Kong’s demonstrations against the Chinese government.
Why did Blizzard ban the Hearthstone player?
Chung, a native of Hong Kong, is a professional e-sports player. During a post-match interview for the Hearthstone tournament, Chung said, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age.” Chung also wore googles and a gas mask, similar to those worn by protestors in Hong Kong.
Some have pointed out that wearing those items violates Blizzard’s rules of conduct. However, Blizzard made no mention of those rules in a release detailing Chung’s ban. Instead, the gaming company said Chung violated a rule prohibiting “engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image.”
As a result, the video game publisher rescinded Chung’s prize money and banned him from Hearthstone competitions for 12 months, through Oct. 5, 2020. The company also severed its relationship with two broadcasters who were involved in the interview.
“We’d like to re-emphasize tournament and player conduct within the Hearthstone esports community from both players and talent,” Blizzard said in its statement. “While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules.”
Why was the Hearthstone player speaking out about the Hong Kong protests?
Several months ago, protests ignited throughout Hong Kong, where Chung is originally from, after a controversial bill was proposed that would have allowed extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China. Since then, Hong Kong’s protest movement has taken on a larger life, resisting the overall control that mainland China has exercised in the semi-autonomous region.
Since the protests began, the Hong Kong International Airport has been temporarily closed, a teenage protestor was shot and killed by authorities, government offices have been stormed, and public transportation has been temporarily halted. There was also an emergency call to ban protestors from wearing gas masks, similar to the one Chung wore during his interview.
How is Activision-Blizzard involved with China?
In 2013, Tencent, a Chinese multinational holding company, purchased a 5% stake in parent company Blizzard Entertainment’s parent company Activision Blizzard for an undisclosed amount.
Since that time, Tencent has increasingly moved into the international video game space. In addition to Activision Blizzard, Tencent also has a 5% stake in Ubisoft (which publishes the Assassin’s Creed franchise), a 40% stake in Epic Games (which makes Fortnite), and it completely owns Riot Games (which publishes League of Legends).
Outside of gaming, Tencent is one of the world’s most influential companies—especially in China. It has its hands in gaming, social media, e-commerce, entertainment, and advertising. Tencent currently sits at 237 on the Fortune Global 500.
The official Hearthstone account on Chinese blogging site Weibo made a pointed remark in relation to the incident, writing (in Chinese), “We express our strong indignation and condemnation of the events in the Hearthstone Asia-Pacific competition last weekend and resolutely oppose the dissemination of personal political ideas in any event.”
“At the same time, we will, as always, resolutely safeguard national dignity,” the post continued.
Blizzard is in hot water with lawmakers
Over the weekend, Blizzard Entertainment banned a Hearthstone player from participating in tournaments after he voiced support for the Hong Kong protesters. Now, US senators are criticizing the game’s publisher for its move.
“Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said. “No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
“Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said in a tweet on Tuesday. “China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in U.S. politics today is gone.”
Blizzard Employees Protest Company’s Blitzchung Ban
Blizzard employees protested the company’s decision to ban Hearthstone player “Blitzchung” from an event for his opinions on the ongoing situation in Hong Kong SAR. Some employees covered up a portion of a floor decal in the company’s office that read “Think Globally,” and “Every Voice Matters,” in protest. Blizzard’s MMORPGs are “massively” popular in China, with Chinese Internet giant Tencent holding an equity stake. Some see the move to ban “Blitzchung” as the company “bending the knee” to China by taking a position on the situation in Hong Kong, instead of remaining neutral. The picture of a ruled piece of paper covering up the company floor decal with duct tape was tweeted by former Blizzard employee and eSports industry observer Kevin Hovdestad.
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.
Both the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6Q
— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
As for employees, the Blizzard campus saw a quiet but incisive response. A statue on the premises includes the company’s values. On Tuesday the words “Every Voice Matters” and “Think Globally” were covered up. The outcry has now extended beyond gaming and e-sports fans.