Update: The article has now been updated to include Blizzard’s press release about relaxing the ban on the pro-player.
Blizzard has been under fire since last weekend after the game publisher issued a year-long ban to a Hearthstone player who expressed support for the Hong Kong protestors during a competition live stream. The incident occurred on Sunday when Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung voiced support for the protesters in Hong Kong in a post-game interview. Blitzchung said, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!”
The ban is effective from October 5th and forbids Blitzchung from participating in any tournaments for an entire year. Blizzard is also withholding any prize money he would have earned from competing in the tournament. Blizzard has also terminated its contract with the two casters who were interviewing the competitor.
Explaining the reason behind this ban Blizzard issued a statement, “Per the competition rule, players aren’t allowed to do anything that brings [them] into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages [Blizzard’s] image. 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.”
Game Players, US politicians, and Blizzard employees are outraged
After the ban of Hearthstone pro, Blizzard was at the end of major backlash from video game players, US politicians, and Blizzard employees.
On Tuesday, a small group of Blizzard employees walked out of work to protest the company’s actions. The demonstration featured about 12-30 employees from multiple departments, who gathered around the Orc warrior statue in the center of the company’s main campus in Irvine, California.
The Daily Beast spoke with a few employees. “The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising,” said a longtime Blizzard employee. “Blizzard makes a lot of money in China, but now the company is in this awkward position where we can’t abide by our values.”
“I’m disappointed,” another current Blizzard employee said. “We want people all over the world to play our games, but no action like this can be made with political neutrality.”
US Senators Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden also chastised the actions of Blizzard on Twitter. “Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party,” Senator Wyden tweeted. “No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
“Recognize what’s happening here,” Senator Rubio said on Twitter. “People who don’t live in #China must either self-censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to the market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in U.S. politics today is gone.”
Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions. 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. https://t.co/Cx3tkWc7r6
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 8, 2019
Blizzard’s own forums and subreddits were also bombarded with angry messages denouncing the ban. The r/Blizzard subreddit went down for a few hours on Tuesday after the board was drowned with posts calling for players to boycott Blizzard and its games like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Hearthstone.
On its Hearthstone board, a redditor Hinz97 said in a post,“ I play [Hearthstone] everyday, I climbed to Legend several times. I spent more than $10k. As a [Hong Konger], I quit [ Hearthstone] without consideration.”
“I’ve been playing since beta. Good riddance,” Redditor UltimaterializerX said. “Blizzard CLEARLY only cares about the Chinese market. The censorship of art was bad enough. The censorship of human life is indefensible. Finding videos of what’s going on in Hong Kong is easy and I suggest everyone do so. It’s Tiananmen Square all over again.”
So now Blizzard have disabled ALL FOUR authentication methods to actively stop people from deleting their accounts. This is beyond disgusting. Spread awareness of this. #BoycottBlizzard pic.twitter.com/AyUiABgMXD
— Charlotte Mather (@Espsilverfire2) October 9, 2019
Mark Kern, Team Lead for Vanilla World of Warcraft tweeted, “This hurts. But until Blizzard reverses their decision on @blitzchungHS. I am giving up playing Classic WoW, which I helped make and helped convince Blizzard to relaunch. There will be no Mark of Kern guild after all.”
Fortnite creator Epic Games released a statement stating that it will not ban players or content creators for political speech. “Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics.”
Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.https://t.co/GWxDjKVjeJ
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) October 9, 2019
Blizzard has not yet responded to this development or lifted the ban.
Hong Kong protests began in June and now the tech industry has been caught in between the China HK political tussle. In August, Chinese state-run media agencies were caught buying advertisements and promoted tweets on Twitter and Facebook to portray Hong Kong protestors and their pro-democracy demonstrations as violent. Post this revelation, Twitter banned 936 accounts managed by the Chinese state; Facebook removed seven Pages, three Groups and five Facebook accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior; Google shutdown 210 YouTube channels.
Most recently Apple, after pressure from the Chinese govt, banned a protest safety app that helps people track locations of the Hong Kong police which made people very angry. Amid the protests a day later, Apple again brought it back to the iOS Store. Yesterday, according to Quartz investigations editor John Keefe, Apple has reportedly removed the Quartz application from the App Store at the request of the Chinese government. Quartz has been covering the Hong Kong protests in detail and has been blocked across all of mainland China.
Update as on Oct 11: After four days of mounting public pressure, Blizzard Entertainment published a press release partially relaxing the ban on the professional player who expressed support for the Hong Kong protestors during a competition live stream. The one year ban on Ng “blitzchung” has since been changed to a six-month suspension. Additionally, the two Chinese broadcasters who had been fired are now put on a six-month suspension from their jobs. Blizzard President J. Allen Brack wrote also clarified that they were not under the influence of China. “The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made,” Brack wrote. “I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.”