I suppose it was just a matter of time before the current Chinese political mess spilled over into gaming, but it’s done so now: A successful pro Hearthstone player has been booted from a tournament, had his prize money clawed back by Blizzard, and been banned for a year of pro play for his vocal and visual support of Hong Kong following tournament play.
As first reported by Inven Global, Hong Kong Hearthstone player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung wore a gas mask to a post-match interview with two casters on Blizzard’s official Taiwanese stream. He also shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” as the casters literally ducked behind their desks. Blizzard then cut the stream and wiped the videos as the story started to spread like wildfire and fury at Blizzard began raging. (A clip is still online and embedded through Twitter below; Polygon says the clips were never shown on the English broadcast.)
Lest you think this was Blizzard’s Chinese branch cracking down, know that in fact the decision was published on the official US website for Hearthstone, so this is on the current Blizzard leadership in California. The company cited p. 12 section 6.1 (o) of the official rules for the Grandmasters competition that forbids “[e]ngaging 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.” Which is basically broad enough to allow it to do anything or nothing for any reason whatsoever. Apparently, not only did Blizz action Blitzchung, but it also fired the two commentators on the Taiwanese stream too (“We will also immediately cease working with both casters”).
“As you know there are serious protests in my country now,” Blitzchung told Inven Global in a statement. “My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention. 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.”
In his statement to Polygon, Blitzchung said he understood himself to be contributing to the protests during his stunt: “Not only to grab more attention, but also telling some of the protesters who were watching the stream that I’m on their side. I have got a lot of supportive messages from my local community, so I’m glad that my statements became a kind of energy for them. There will definitely be negative consequences. For example, some netizen from China has been requesting Blizzard to punish me for my speech. But this is what I expected to happen. There are always people who disagree with your view.”
Some backstory for folks who don’t follow the news: Hong Kong is a former British colony that the UK transferred back to China in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” promise. Earlier this year the HK parliament considered an extradition bill that would allow China significantly more authority over extraditing suspects out of Hong Kong, which sparked the latest round of mass protests in the region this year over what opponents characterized as “legalized kidnapping” by China. The demonstrations soon turned into a broader push for democracy against the not-directly-elected pro-Chinese Hong Kong government; the bill has since been suspended but not withdrawn as the international spotlight has focused on police abuses and bans on things like face masks during the extended protests. Just this week, a professional basketball manager in the US tweeted support for the people of Hong Kong and was broadly criticized by the NBA and NBA owners with a clear stake in Chinese business and finance, though of course not everyone has bent the knee.
in a post-match Hearthstone Grandmasters winning interview, Hong Kong HS player @blitzchungHS said "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!"
in response, Blizzard Taiwan has now deleted the VOD from their official Twitch channel https://t.co/l5lcMu4ULR
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 7, 2019
Thank you, I really appreciate it :)
— Ng Wai Chung (@blitzchungHS) October 8, 2019
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
“For some reason, one of our recent mods set the subreddit to private then deleted his account. It was an odd event, but rest assured, us remaining mods have restored it to public. No, we were not contacted by Blizzard, nor are we employees to any extent. We are committed to supporting this community.”
“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,” Wyden tweeted, while Rubio said, “Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in U.S. politics today is gone.”
“The director only told me I have an interview,” he told PC Gamer. “He didn’t talk about how he’s wearing a mask, so when the interview started, I wasn’t sure what the situation was. So I thought that Chung could just say what he wanted to say.” Ducking behind the desk, he says, was the commentators’ way of indicating Blitzchung wasn’t speaking for them.
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