Last week professional Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, who is from Hong Kong, said, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” following a tournament win in Taiwan. The phrase is associated with the current ongoing protests in Hong Kong, and Blitzchung wore a gas mask similar to the types of masks worn by protesters.
The live feed was swiftly cut off (with casters ducking their heads), and the video was pulled. Within days Blizzard announced that Blitzchung violated the rules. They stripped him of his tournament winnings and banned him for a year. The casters were also fired.
The following was included in Blizzard’s official statement: “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 result has been a public relations disaster for Blizzard Entertainment. Many critics view it as bowing down to the censure-happy Chinese government, and the fact that Chinese media conglomerate Tencent owns a sizable 5% stake in the company. Fans, players, and even professional casters have performed protests or severed ties with Blizzard in response.
To try and put out the fires, J. Allen Brack, President of Blizzard Entertainment, issued another statement last Friday afternoon, attempting to clarify their position. Blizzard shortened Blitzchung’s ban from one year to six months, returned his prize money, and gave the casters a six month ban.
“Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.
One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games.”
Blitzchung also put out a statement, which included the following: “Thank you for your attention in the past week […]. I’m grateful for Blizzard reconsidering their position about my ban. I told media that I knew I might have penalty or consequence for my act, because I understand that my act could take the convention away from the purpose of the event. In the future I will be more careful on that and express my opinion s or show my support to Hong Kong on my personal platforms.”
The PR fallout for Blizzard continues, as well as a wider discussion of how much the Chinese government influences many major companies around the world.