Just when you thought that the Blizzard Hong Kong protests saga was winding down, it looks like the games publisher has managed to outrage a whole new set of gamers. This is because Activision Blizzard recently banned a US college esports team for holding up a sign that supported the Hong Kong protests and called on other gamers to boycott Blizzard.
Three students from American University in Washington DC were suspended from the Hearthstone Collegiate Championships as a result of their protest. They were holding up a handwritten sign with the words ‘Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz’ during a live-streamed match in the tournament on 8 October.
As a result, Corwin Dark, Torin Wright and Casey Chambers will be unable to compete in official or third-party Blizzard esports tournaments for the next six months. All of these students are aged 19 years old and they major in International Studies at the university. It took Blizzard one week to implement the suspension.
Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition. While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules. pic.twitter.com/mZStoF0e0t
— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_GU) October 16, 2019
WHY DID THE US STUDENTS JOIN IN THE HONG KONG PROTEST?
The American college students were protesting in solidarity with the pro Hearthstone gamer Chung ‘Blitzchung’ Ng Wai. He had been banned for one year by Blizzard and was disqualified from the Hearthstone GrandMasters tournament in which he had been competing.
This was because he had shouted pro Hong Kong slogans mid-stream and wore a mask that is a common symbol of the protests. One of the three banned US students have said that:
‘We just happened to have an amazing opportunity to protest an American company bowing down to China, within the context of the Hong Kong protests.’
It’s just one of the many protests that have been made against Blizzard in the fallout of the Blitzchung scandal. Many gamers and industry figures like Mike Kern who helped design World of Warcraft have called on gaming fans to boycott Blizzard games and tournaments in the future. There was even a walkout by some of Blizzard’s staff at their California HQ just a few days ago.
HOW WILL BLIZZARD REACT TO THE FALLOUT?
Despite the waves of pressure, Blizzard have so far remained fairly consistent in their response to all of the Hong Kong protests. In regards to the protests from the American University, a press release from Blizzard welcomed individuals’ freedom of speech but said:
‘Our official broadcast needs to be about the game and the competition, and to be a place where all are welcome.’
But it’s interesting to note that Blizzard were actually fairly slow in clamping down on the US students in comparison to Blitzchung. Such delays were quickly picked up on and Blizzard was accused of having double-standards in how it treats gamers from different parts of the world.
In addition to this, the fact that Blizzard gave back Blitzchung his prize money and reduced his ban to six months suggests that the gaming company is more than aware of the controversy that it has created. Although Hearthstone isn’t a massive game in the esports betting realm, it enjoys a huge amount of popularity all over the world.