After professional Hearthstone player Blitzchung supported Hong Kong protests in an interview, Blizzard banned him from the competitive circuit.
For those unaware, there has been a series of protests happening in Hong Kong over the past couple months. While the protests began in response to a bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents charged with a crime to be extradited to mainland China, the protesters have since shifted their demands, calling for an independent investigation into police brutality (which has intensified to levels the United Nations Human Rights Council publicly disapproved of on Tuesday) and universal suffrage for the election of the city’s chief executive, with many among the movement saying they are now fighting for outright democracy in Hong Kong. We reported on this in a Mulan article a couple months ago, in which the remake’s lead actress caused a boycott by publicly supporting Hong Kong’s police.
Earlier this week, Hong Kong player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai appeared in a Grandmasters Asia Pacific post-match interview, where he signed off with a bold statement: wearing a gas mask similar to those worn by protestors (and recently banned in Hong Kong), Blitzchung said: "Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!" The stream quickly cut to an ad break, but the damage was already done, and all three people present have now been punished by Blizzard. Yes, that includes the two casters who had nothing to do with the statement and did not show support for it.
In a post on the Hearthstone website, Blizzard claimed Blitzchung violated section 6.1 of its competition rules, which state that players cannot engage in any act that "brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image". The punishment for this is removal from Grandmasters and the total loss of the player's prize money, which is exactly what happened here. Additionally, despite the two hosts covering their faces and quickly cutting to a commercial, Blizzard says it will "immediately cease working with both casters".
"Effective immediately, Blitzchung is removed from Grandmasters and will receive no prizing for Grandmasters Season 2,'' the statement reads. "Additionally, Blitzchung is ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months beginning from Oct. 5th, 2019 and extending to Oct. 5th, 2020."
To call the backlash against Blizzard severe would be an understatement. Players, internet-goers, the Hong Kong public, American politicians, and even Blizzard’s own employees have been criticizing, protesting, and boycotting Blizzard thanks to their handling of the situation. To start, the #BoycottBlizzard hashtag rapidly picked up steam on Twitter, and Blizzard had to privatize their primary subreddit (and the posts on some of their other subreddits have not been kind). The Blizzard campus in Irvine California is decorated with an Orc statue, which is surrounded by mottos such as "think globally" and "every voice matters". An image has now emerged showing these have been covered up with paper, apparently by disgruntled Blizzard employees - which says something about how contentious this issue is.
Towards the end of an officially streamed Hearthstone match between Worcester Polytechnic Institute and American University, the latter team held up a banner reading "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz". Once again, the stream quickly cut away to show the other team, but not fast enough to avoid the image being screencapped and immortalized. It is as yet unknown if American University will face repercussions for the protest.
Both Republican and Democratic politicians have called Blizzard out on their decision to censor free speech, and things may be about to get even worse for Blizzard in China. General consensus is that corporate Blizzard is acting this way to preserve their games’ strong presence in China and Asia, and to avoid the trigger-happy Chinese censors. Well, the Hong Kong protestors are aware of this, and have decided to turn Overwatch’s Mei into an icon for the protests. As for the controversial player Blitzchung himself, he’s since stated that although he could get in a lot of trouble, even have his safety compromised, he’s still passionate about the issue and doesn’t regret his protest. There’s plenty of trouble floating in the air right now, and it’s hard to say what it’s going to coalesce into - only that it’s probably going to, and fast.
Between this and the discussions happening right now around statements from the NBA and South Park, the Hong Kong protest discussion seems to have reached all corners of society and culture. No one can say for sure how this is all gonna’ turn out, but this mess will doubtlessly get bigger before everyone agrees to clean it up. If anything else in CGMagazine’s wheelhouse touches the topic, we’ll let you know.