US legislators Blitzchung Ban Could Have “Chilling Effect” On Free Speech
United States Senators Ron Wyden and Tom Cotton, and Members of Congress Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski, have sent a letter to Blizzard condemning its ban on speech in favor of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and calling on it to reverse the punishment imposed on former Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai. The controversy regarding Blizzard’s decision to suspend Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai over his open support of the protests in Hong Kong has reached the U.S. Congress.
U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Rob Wyden (D-Oregon) and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin), and Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey) have written an open letter to Activision Blizzard’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, admonishing the company for its decision. The congressmen said that Blizzard claims to stand by “one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions,” yet its actions say the complete opposite.
Here’s the letter in full (Link above):
“We write to express our deep concern about Activision Blizzard’s decision to make player Ng Wai Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. This decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.
“Activision Blizzard benefits from China’s growing market for e-sports, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China’s largest technology firms. As you and your company are no doubt aware, the Chinese government uses the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions with which it disagrees. Last week alone, the Chinese government targeted Apple for hosing an app to help peaceful demonstrators evade repression and the National Basketball Association because one team’s general manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong protests.
“Your company claims to stand by “one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions,” yet many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzard’s decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values. Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms. Indeed, many gamers around the world have taken notice of your company’s actions, understandably calling for boycotts of Activision Blizzard gaming sites.
“As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values–like freedom of speech and thought–or to give in to Beijing’s demands in order to preserve market access. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it.”
We’ll see whether or not Blizzard responds to this letter, and whether they decide to do the right thing. As Dumbledore once said, “Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”
Blizzard has already reduced Blitzchung’s punishment, but it remains substantial: He remains suspended from Hearthstone competition for six months. It’s a very slight climbdown, and unlikely to satisfy the letter’s notably bipartisan authors. But anything more significant would almost certainly lead to a blowup of likely worse proportions in China. The international operations of companies like Blizzard may mean this sort of blowback will sometimes be inevitable, especially as other organizations, such as Riot Games and ESL, take similar stances.
However, criticism of Blizzard has not died down. There are currently plans to peacefully protest the upcoming Blizzcon event scheduled to be on November 1. Other protestors, including a team of collegiate Hearthstone players, were banned for six months for supporting Hong Kong during an official match live stream.
Since Brack’s letter, Blizzard has also issued a six-month ban to American University Hearthstone players who held up a sign that said “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz” during the Hearthstone Collegiate Championships in solidarity with Ng Wai.