A note from the Managing Editor: Normally we would not cover a story like this because it does not directly pertain to Nintendo. However, we, as a staff, decided that this story is too important to the industry to ignore. The potential ramifications go far beyond Hearthstone. The role the video game industry is playing in China’s attempts to silence any unflattering reporting about Hong Kong is a topic we believe is worth discussing. We’ll continue our usual Nintendo-centric coverage outside of this story.
Hearthstone player banned over Hong Kong support
Professional Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung has been hit with heavy penalties by Blizzard following a post-game interview. Following a Grandmasters match on October 6, Chung wore a mask and stated: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” You can watch the clip of the incident below.
— ? Inven Global ? (@InvenGlobal) October 6, 2019
The cost of doing business with China
For months now, Hong Kong has been in political turmoil as its inhabitants protest the Chinese government and military. China has used its economic influence to silence criticisms wherever it can. As a result, businesses that don’t want to miss out on the massive Chinese market will often go to great lengths to avoid offending the Chinese government. For instance, Houston Rockets GM was forced to apologize after showing support for Hong Kong. This seemingly wasn’t enough to satisfy China, and all NBA broadcasts have been suspended in China as a result.
In this case, Blizzard saw fit to kick Chung out of the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament, but they didn’t stop there. Not even close. They also informed Chung that his speech would cost him any prize money from the tournament. On top of that, they’ve also banned him from competitive play for the next year. He will not be allowed to play competitively until October 5, 2020. Additionally, the two casters who interviewed Chung have both been fired. This is despite the fact that they ducked out of the way and quickly cut to a commercial during the interview. Blizzard issued the following statement justifying these harsh penalties:
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.
A public image ruling
So what rule did rule did Chung break in voicing support for Hong Kong protestors? According to Blizzard, he violated the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules section 6.1 (o). This rule states:
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 is an extremely vague and ill-defined rule. Essentially, it says Blizzard can penalize you for pretty much anything you say or do if they determine it was detrimental to their image. It’s not clear how exactly that’s supposed to jive with their support of “one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions” in this case.
Despite his ban from Hearthstone, Chung is not backing down. He stands by his decision, considering it his personal duty to raise awareness about the situation in Hong Kong.
As you know there are serious protests in my country now. My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention. I put so much effort in that social movement in the past few months, that I sometimes couldn’t focus on preparing my Grandmaster match. I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue.
What does the future hold?
As companies invest more and more resources into the Chinese market, this kind of situation is becoming increasingly common. When challenges, most companies would rather back down than lose out on potential profits. Blizzard’s official Hearthstone rules are not defined in a way that makes it clear when it is or is not acceptable to voice political opinions. But one thing’s for sure: They don’t want you talking about Hong Kong.