Blizzard is in the hot seat with fans this week following a controversial ban in the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament. During a post-match interview, Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung voiced his support of Hong Kong’s ongoing protests against China. His few seconds of activism were met with stiff penalties. Blizzard kicked him out of the tournament and stripped him of his prize money. They also banned him from competitive play for a year, and they even sent the two casters who were holding the interview packing.
Blizzard and Hong Kong protests
Unsurprisingly, this didn’t sit well with a lot of customers. Many see this as another example of a company silencing someone due to fear of losing money in China. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey famously apologized after voicing similar support for Hong Kong earlier this month. This was, apparently, not sufficient, as all planned NBA broadcasts for the region have been suspended.
With this in mind, an online movement has been aiming to make Overwatch‘s Mei a symbol of the Hong Kong protests. Blizzard’s critics hope that she’ll become so firmly associated with the protests that China bans the game. It’s a slightly chaotic take on “vote with your wallet,” and it’s spreading. Mei imagery is even popping up at actual protests.
The troubled company finally issued a statement today, and it looks like they’re hoping to change some minds. Here’s an excerpt that addresses fan speculation.
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.
Blizzard’s official stance is that China, and the lucrative market therein, had nothing to do with these penalties. Additionally, they claim that the specific views Chung voiced were irrelevant. The very act of “sharing his views” (about the Hong Kong protests or anything else) was deserving of a penalty.
They also reiterate that they believe he was in clear violation of the rules. The rule they previously cited was section 6.1 (o):
Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.
This rule is loosely defined in a way that gives Blizzard the freedom to suspend or financially penalize anyone for just about any statement. It’s fair to say that Chung’s brief statement could “damage Blizzard’s image” in China, but the publisher claims China has nothing to do with it. However, after seeing the severe backlash from fans, they are making some concessions.
Blizzard’s statement includes an update on the penalities for Chung and the two casters. Chung’s suspension has been reduced from a full year to a still-significant six months. The prize money will be returned to Chung, but he can’t make up any money he potentially lost by being kicked out of the tournament early. The casters will also be suspended for the next six months, even though they seemingly did everything they could to cut away from Chung as quickly as possible.
Blizzard also used this recent update to attempt to assure fans they haven’t compromised their ideals. They say their vision is still “to bring the world together through epic entertainment.” They cite their “core values” as “think globally, lead responsibly, every voice matters.”
With fans questioning if they really believe what they say, Blizzard hopes this will ease concerns. Reducing the length of the suspensions and returning the prize money is an attempted show of good faith. Frankly, I don’t anticipate that it will work.