The reaction to Blizzard’s decision this week to ban competitive Hearthstone player Chung ‘blitzchung‘ Ng Wai for his demonstrated support for protestors in Hong Kong has been extremely negative, with outspoken objection from fans of Blizzard’s game franchises, Blizzard employees, and United States Senators. According to Inven Global, Ng Wai wore a gas mask and said “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution for our age!” during a video interview after participating in the Hearthstone Grandmasters.
Inven Global’s report explains that both casters “hid behind the desk”in order to distance themselves from Ng Wai’s statement before cutting to advertisements, and the report says that the VOD of the third day of Hearthstone Grandmasters “seems to no longer exist.” Blizzard responded to Ng Wai’s actions by banning him from all future competitive Hearthstone events for one year, citing competition rules and ostensibly protecting themselves from a negative response from the Chinese government and by extension the Chinese gaming economy.
Breaking: Effective immediately, Blizzard has removed Hong Kong Hearthstone player blitzchung from Hearthstone Grand Masters, rescinded all his prize money, and have suspended him from pro play for one year for his recent interview.
The Hearthstone Competition rule used to ban Ng Wai is in Section 6.1 and reads: “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 bars Ng Wai from receiving any prize money for his participation this season.
They ceased working with the casters too, who literally hid behind the desk. I don’t agree with that at all. https://t.co/b02m5blhQJ
— Jocelyn Kearney (@JocePlays) October 8, 2019
Despite the efforts of the Taiwanese casters to separate themselves from Ng Wai’s on-air statements of support for the protests currently underway in Hong Kong, Blizzard also chose to “will also immediately cease working with both casters” according to their ruling. The ruling from Blizzard ends with an assurance that “while [Blizzard] stand[s] 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.”
I certainly never expected that my position in the Hearthstone community would lead to me making a statement on sensitive topics regarding international relations.
The backlash over Blizzard’s decision to ban Ng Wai for his political statement was nearly immediate, with people eager to voice their disagreement with Ng Wai’s punishment. Well-known collectible card game caster Brian Kibler issued a statement following Blizzard’s decision to ban Ng Wai that he will no longer be participating in Hearthstone Grandmasters, calling the decision “incredibly harsh,” adding that he has “always viewed my strange place as a public figure in gaming as an opportunity to try to make the world a better place in whatever way I can.” In his statement, Kibler explains that he feels Blizzard is aiming to “make an example” of Ng Wai to “appease those upset by the outburst.”
Cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft. I support young people proactively advocating for their freedom and democracy; They are shaping a better tomorrow. Punishing them for their activism is shameful. #BoycottBlizzard pic.twitter.com/LcPG48Axbl
— ᑭᕼᗩYᒪEᑎ (@phaylen) October 8, 2019
As first reported by Eurogamer, Blizzard shut down their r/Blizzard subreddit, making their Reddit forum private after the subreddit was overwhelmed by posts criticizing the company for their decision against Ng Wai. On Twitter, the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard is trending with over 20,000 tweets that show people expressing their disappointment in the decision by choosing to boycott Blizzard games including World of Warcraft and Overwatch. Overwatch fans have also been creating fan art that depicts Chinese Overwatch hero Mei as a symbol for freedom for Hong Kong.
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.
Both the “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6Q
— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
PC Gamer has also reported that employees at Blizzard staged a walkout to protest the banning of Ng Wai over his pro-Hong Kong statements during Hearthstone Grandmasters, saying that between a dozen and thirty employees participated in a walkout to show their dissent against the decision. “The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising,” a Blizzard employee told PC Gamer. “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.” Plaques that read “Think globally” and “Every Voice Matters” near the Orc Statue at the entrance of the company’s HQ in Irvine, California had been covered, presumably by unhappy employees who feel that Blizzard’s recent actions are not in alignment with the company’s core values.
Across the political divide, the Republican Senator for Florida Marco Rubio and the Democratic Senator for Oregon Ron Wyden both expressed concern and disappointment over the decision on Twitter. Senator Rubio posted: “China [is] using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in US politics today is gone.” Senator Wyden’s tweet reads: “Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
Protests have been ongoing in Hong Kong since June, following a proposed law that would allow the extradition of people suspected of crimes to mainland China for trial. Many feel this proposed law undermines the judicial independence of the former British colony of Hong Kong that was granted during the 1997 passing of the territory to China. The bill was withdrawn in September, but alleged incidents of police brutality against the protestors remain high and tensions show few signs of dying down.
General Manager of the Houston Rockets NBA team Darly Morey was forced to issue an apology this week after posting a tweet that read: “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong,” which he has since deleted. The apology came after the Chinese government, the Chinese Basketball Association, and two major NBA sponsors–Li-Ning and Shanghai Pudong Development Bank–announced they would end their relationships with the Houston Rockets and the NBA. Chinese company Tencent holds the digital rights to the NBA in China. It’s also important to note that Tencent owns a 4.9% share of Activision Blizzard.
My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention.
Despite the ramifications, Ng Wai is firm in his decision to use his voice and his platform to bring attention to the developing situation in Hong Kong. Ng Wai told Inven Global: “As you know there are serious protests in my country now […] 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.”