In what many feel is a somewhat sinister turn, Activision Blizzard have banned Hearthstone professional Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for a year, plus stripped him of his earnings from playing in the current Hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament, after an incident at the aforementioned event.
Following his victory on Sunday at the tournament, Chung donned a pair of goggles and a face mask for an official interview following his win and during the interview, Chung stated “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
The phrase has become a symbol of protest in the city, which has seen a number of mass demonstrations, some violent, over the past few months, initially over laws relating to extradition.
These protests have evolved to now encompass a demand to stop China exerting undue influence and control over Hong Kong’s political system.
Blizzard’s Decisive Response
Following Chung’s comments and actions, Blizzard responded forcefully within 48 hours. In an official statement which was published on the Hearthstone blog the company announced a number of sanctions against the player which included.
- Suspending Chung for a year (until October 2020)
- Forcing him to forfeit prize money
- Firing the casters that conducted the interview with Chung on the Sunday
“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,” the blog post stated.
This draconian measure has been seen by many as an attempt by Blizzard to appease the Chinese government and echoes a similar situation in the NBA, when the organisation censured the Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, when he tweeted support for the anti-Chinese government protests in Hong Kong.
Tencent, a Chinese based company own a percentage shareholding of Blizzard and this move is seen by many as an appeasement of the Chinese government and has infuriated many.
Flurry of Fury against Blizzard
Anger at Blizzard’s stance has come from across the esports and wider community. Shortly after Blizzard made their statement, a subreddit appeared online in which many Hearthstone professional players expressed their dismay at the decision, to the point where many stated their intention to quit playing the game.
Twitter has also seen a huge amount of disapproval over the decision, with typical comments like that below:
— IGN (@IGN) October 9, 2019
I've been a consumer of Blizzard's products since 2010. But what they've done goes beyond any love I may have had for their products. I've uninstalled every game and will not pay another cent to them until they make this right. #BoycottBlizzard #BlizzardBoycott pic.twitter.com/SlvKtBo9Xj
— Exemplar Kyle (@ExemplarKyle) October 8, 2019
Additionally, Fuel Games, the developer of card game Gods Unchained tweeted on Tuesday that it supported Blitzchung and vowed to pay “all of his lost winnings” also issuing the player an invitation to their own $500,000 tournament stating “no player should be punished for their beliefs.”
Indeed, workers at Blizzard HQ have also protested the decision, covering the Think Globally and Every Voice Matters values with paper in protest at the decision.
The anger has also invoked the ire of politicians, with US senator Ron Wyden tweeting “Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate to please the Chinese Communist Party” and adding “No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
Marco Rubio, senator for Florida also tweeted:
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
With fall out from the decision still ongoing, it is going to be interesting to see how Blizzard react to what now appears to be a blanket boycott of their games by many within the esports community.