- About 30 Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout to protest the company's punishment of a Hong Kong-based esports competitor who made a political statement during a Blizzard event in Taiwan, according to a report from The Daily Beast.
- Blizzard has faced harsh criticism from fans and U.S. lawmakers for its decision to ban "Hearthstone" player Chung Ng Wai, better known as Blitzchung, from competition for one year and withhold the prize money he had earned.
- 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 barring him from "Hearthstone" competitions for one year. Blizzard said Blitzchung's comments had violated the competition rules by damaging the company's image.
- Critics have accused Blizzard of censoring free speech to appease the Chinese government.
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A group of some 30 Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout to protest the company's punishment of a Hong Kong-based esports competitor who made a political statement during a Blizzard event in Taiwan, according to a report from Blake Montgomery of The Daily Beast.
A photo shared with The Daily Beast and posted on Imgur showed several employees holding umbrellas — an object that has become symbolic of the protests in Hong Kong.
Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment.
Blizzard has faced harsh criticism for its decision to ban "Hearthstone" player Chung Ng Wai, better known as Blitzchung, from competition for one year and withhold the approximately $3,000 of prize mone. Blitzchung shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age" in Chinese while wearing a gas mask during a post-match interview at a Blizzard-sponsored "Hearthstone" tournament in Taiwan on October 5.
In the blog post announcing Blitzchung's ban, Blizzard said he had violated the rules of the competition by making statements that were harmful to the company.
Hours after Blizzard announced Blitzchung's ban, a former Blizzard employee, tweeted that some backlash seemed to be brewing internally: Someone had covered up two of the company's key values — "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" — enshrined on a statue at the company's headquarters.
A day later, a group of about 30 Blizzard employees gathered near the center of the the company's campus to protest the ban and show support for protesters in Hong Kong.
"The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising," one Blizzard employee told The Daily Beast. "Blizzard makes a lot of money in China, but now the company is in this awkward position where we can't abide by our values."
The significance of the umbrella
The original Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong began in 2014, when protesters took to the streets calling for universal suffrage. The protesters in Hong Kong began carrying umbrellas to guard against the use of pepper spray by riot police.
Over the last four months, millions of people in Hong Kong have marched to demand sovereignty from mainland China and protest increasingly poor socioeconomic 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.
Even as Blizzard employees gathered in protest, "Hearthstone" commentator Brian Kipler announced that he would decline working with the company for the finals of its Grandmasters competition. Though Kipler agreed that Blitzchung had violated the company's policies, he said the punishment seemed too harsh for the situation.
"The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself," Kipler wrote. "That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with."
Blizzard's response has also garnered attention from US. lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Both senators implied that Blizzard's decision was an act 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."