Blizzard Entertainment, a California-based video game development and publishing house is most well-known for its blockbuster titles like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Diablo and Hearthstone.
It most recently landed itself in a hot soup of headlines after banning a professional player of its popular virtual card game Hearthstone after he voiced support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. The one-year ban was accompanied by the company withholding US$10,000 prize money from the competition he had won.
Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung, a Hong Kong citizen, had appeared on competition live stream as part of an interview after he had won a Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament. Pulling aside a Hong Kong protester-styled face mask at the end of the interview, he proclaimed “光復香港，時代革命”, which translates roughly to “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times!”
Blizzard had responded initially with a one-year ban from October 5th, along with confiscation of the prize pool, citing a rule that prevents players from “bringing [Blizzard] into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages [Blizzard’s] image.”
The company broke its silence over the issue only days later, to announce a cut-back on censure over Ng’s actions. Halving the one-year suspension to six months, Blizzard had also reinstated the prize money. Blizzard also maintains that the initial decision was not influenced by its relationship with China.
“The specific views expressed by blitzchung were not a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” wrote J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment.
“If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same,” he continues.
In the video shared by Inven Global in a tweet above, it can be seen that the two Taiwanese “shoutcasters” had egged Ng on to “say the eight words, and we can end the live cast, there’s nothing more want [from you]”.
They then instruct Ng to begin the slogan whenever he’s ready, and say they should bow their heads, giggling – most likely not out of respect, but to obscure their faces from what they know is a highly controversial act. The feed then cuts to commercials.
Public figures like Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Ron Wyden joined the tirade against Blizzard, and some employees had staged a walkout just days ago.
Tencent, a Chinese-based gaming and media superpower, owns 5% of Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Entertainment’s parent company. Blizzard has also been forced to work with Chinese companies like NetEase in order to release its titles in the country, with a focus on China’s esports scene through its Overwatch League with franchises in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu.
The rest of the field is divided. Riot Games, responsible for popular esport title League of Legends and a subsidiary of Tencent, stated that broadcasters should “refrain” from discussing “sensitive topics” in lieu of Blizzard’s debacle. Epic Games of Fortnite fame, however, says they will support players’ and creators’ discussions on politics and human rights despite being 40% owned by Tencent.
This controversy could not be timed worse. It comes amidst tension between the NBA and Chinese government after Houston Rockets’ Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong protestors. The NBA had quickly backed down after supporting Morey, stating that the incident was “regrettable”.
Blizzard’s statement attempts to diffuse some of the backlash at all levels, but it seems that the damage is done – with walkouts, furore from politicians and observers, and boycotts of their products all in force.