- Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind video games like "World of Warcraft" and "Overwatch," is currently under fire for its decision to punish an esports player who voiced support for protesters in Hong Kong.
- Chung Ng Wai, the esports athlete better known as Blitzchung, shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age" in Chinese amid a post-match interview at a Blizzard-sponsored "Hearthstone" tournament in Taiwan.
- Blizzard responded by stripping Blitzchung of his prize money, and banning him from "Hearthstone" competitions for one year. Blizzard said Blitzchung's comments had violated the competition rules by damaging the company's image.
- Upset fans and supporters of the Hong Kong protests have blasted Blizzard's decision to punish Blitzchung, and many have vowed to stop supporting Blizzard entirely.
- Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) also weighed in: "Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party."
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A single act of protest during a video game competition in Taiwan has garnered international attention and a massive backlash against one of America's largest and highest-profile video game companies.
Blizzard Entertainment is facing major criticism after punishing Blitzchung, a Hong Kong-based esports competitor who voiced support for Hong Kong's protestors during a Blizzard-run event on October 5. Blitzchung, whose real name is Chung Ng Wai, is a grandmaster level player in "Hearthstone," Blizzard's very popular digital card game.
During Blizzard's official broadcast of the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters competition, Blitzchung appeared in a post-match interview wearing a gas mask. As the broadcast ended, Blitzchung shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age," with the apparent support of the two tournament broadcasters.
—🎃 Inven Global 🎃 (@InvenGlobal) October 6, 2019
Hong Kong has been under a condition of civil unrest for more than four months. Millions of people have marched to demand sovereignty from mainland China, and to protest increasingly poor socio-economic conditions. The ongoing protests have already garnered international attention, with the territory's increasingly complex relationship with China's communist government as a core issue.
Tencent, one of China's biggest companies and the largest video game publisher in the world, also owns a 5% stake in parent company Activision Blizzard.
Blizzard responds with a one-year ban, withholding Blitzchung's prize money
Blizzard responded to Blitzchung's comments by stripping him of any prize money he would have earned for the tournament, and banned him from "Hearthstone" competitions for one year. Blizzard also said it will not longer work with the two broadcasters who were interviewing Blitzchung during his comments. The company deleted the match and interview footage from its official channels as well.
"Hearthstone" has an international tour offering $1 million in prizes for top level players this year. Blitzchung had earned at least $3,000 from his wins so far, with the potential to earn more in the competition's playoff rounds.
In the blog post announcing Blitzchung's ban, Blizzard said "we stand by one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions," but Blitzchung's comments were apparently deemed to be harmful to the company.
Blitzchung himself seems to be standing by his comments: "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," he said, according to a statement shared on Twitter by Victims of Communism, a human rights group.
Fans pledge to boycott Blizzard, as critics suggest a bias towards China
Blizzard's decision has sparked outrage from Americans, who say Blitzchung's comments should be protected as free speech — especially given that Blizzard is an American company. Supporters of the protests in Hong Kong accused Blizzard of compromising its principles to protect its business interests in China.
US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was one of the many voices that came to Blitzchung's defense, accusing Blizzard of censorship.
"Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party," Wyden tweeted. "No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck."
—Sarfaraz (@LacesNjoysticks) October 8, 2019
Upset fans have flooded Reddit message boards for Blizzard's most popular games with posts calling for boycotts of Blizzard. The main subreddit dedicated to Blizzard titles, "r/Blizzard," was set to private mode by the moderators due to the intense backlash.
—Sam Sykes (@SamSykesSwears) October 8, 2019
Kevin Hovdestad, a former Blizzard employee, said on Twitter that a backlash seems to be brewing internally: Someone covered up two of the company's key values — "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" — as enshrined on a statue at the company's headquarters.
—Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
Blizzard is the latest American company to face criticism for its relationship to China. The NBA is also embroiled in its own controversy involving Hong Kong and China after Houston Rockets GM Darryl Morey shared a tweet in support of the protests. Morey later apologized and deleted the tweet, but the situation has strained the league's relationship with China.