In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Blizzard Vice President and Director of Overwatch Jeff Kaplan shared a difference of opinion with Blizzard’s official decisions and statements on the banning and later suspension of professional Hearthstone player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai. The initial decision to ban Ng Wai came in response to statements Ng Wai made during an official Hearthstone Grandmaster stream in support of the civilian protestors in Hong Kong.
“I was relieved when they reduced his suspension,” Kaplan told The Washington Post. “And I think the suspension should be reduced more or eliminated. But that’s just me.”
Kaplan added: “I’m obviously a huge supporter of free speech; it’s something that’s very important to me. It got to me personally. I think the punishment was too harsh and I was greatly relieved when they gave his money back. I think that was extremely important.”
In the interview, Kaplan is clear that he is offering an individual opinion; Blizzard employees at all levels ostensibly have the right to hold and share their own opinions. Kaplan did share that Blizzard’s esports endeavor, the Overwatch League, has different processes when determining when and how to disciple professional players, emphasizing that there is more time taken to weigh the decision.
“We had to deal with a few of them in season one in particular, and that process usually takes about four or five days to make the decision,” Kaplan explained. “There was always a group of us involved in deciding what the punishment should be, and we would heavily devil’s-advocate every part of the decision. So I was actually shocked that such a harsh penalty was levied.”
Kaplan joins fellow Blizzard employee Ben Lee, Hearthstone’s game director, in his opinion that the punishments given to Ng Wai were “too harsh” when asked for a comment by Kotaku at BlizzCon 2019. Ben Thompson ultimately sided with Blizzard’s decision, arguing that while free speech should be encouraged on private platforms, “Doing so from a platform very much not your own and done from a voice not your own to take control, so to speak, or on behalf of another is not free speech. That is on behalf of something that’s not yours to do with.”
BlizzCon 2019’s Opening Ceremony started with an emotional and carefully worded statement from President J. Allen Brack, addressing both the initial decision to ban Ng Wai and the delay in releasing an official statement on what led to the choice. Brack also “accepted accountability” for the choices, but did not rescind the penalties on Ng Wai.
The initial decision to ban Ng Wai for 12 months and revoke his Hearthstone Grandmasters prize money was met with enormous backlash that included a bipartisan letter from the United States Congress and protests in support of the democratic ideal of free speech outside the Anaheim Convention Center during BlizzCon on November 1st and 2nd. Blizzard has since reinstated Ng Wai’s prize money and altered the punishment to a suspension of six months.