The furor over Blizzard’s ban of a Hong Kong Hearthstone pro player and apparent firing of two Taiwanese commentators has only increased since its widespread coverage yesterday.
As we’ve covered at length, Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung wore a gas mask to a post-match interview on Blizzard’s official Taiwanese stream. He then 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, announcing that it’d be banning him for a year under a vague competition rule that allows Blizzard to ban pretty much anyone for anything. It also clawed back his competition winnings and booted him from the tournament, while apparently then firing the two Taiwanese commentators, one of whom told journalists he was completely blindsided by both the segment on which Ng appeared and the dismissal.
As Vice put it, Blizzard’s move quickly became an “international incident” as first gaming websites and then major US and EU news organizations like CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, and the BBC picked it up. Even politicians weighed in; US Senators Marco Rubio (R) and Ron Wyden (D) both denounced Blizzard’s decision as caving to censors.
And players made their voices heard. The #boycottblizzard hashtag is still a flurry even this morning. The Hearthstone subreddit has been on fire; scroll on through and every post is about the incident, and a prominent moderator left in disgust over Blizzard’s actions too. The WoW sub has shunted all commentary on the topic into a single massive thread full of people declaring they’re canceling their WoW subs. A solidarity thread on the official Hearthstone forums has been allowed to stand so far. (The equivalent World News thread on Reddit, note, was bizarrely removed from the sub once it began trending under the “Misleading Title / Not Appropriate Subreddit” rationale. Yeah.)
Overwatch fans have expressed their own anger at Blizzard by transforming the cutesy scientist character Mei, who is depicted as Chinese in the game, into a “symbol of the resistance” in an effort to get the game outright banned in China. A massively upvoted Overwatch play-of-the-game spoof gif on the HighQualityGifs subreddit mocks Blizzard as “China’s Lil Bitch.”
I for one welcome our new Chinese Overwatch… from HighQualityGifs
Blitzchung’s even gotten support from fellow Hearthstone pros: The American University Hearthstone team held up a “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizzard” sign during a championship yesterday. Apparently, Blizzard cut the feed on their broadcast, and it’s not clear whether they’ll be similarly punished, though they’re surely aware of the risks. Esports journalist Rod Breslau, who helped break the original story in the west, tweeted that Blizzard had “notified Collegiate Hearthstone teams that there will be no more interviews” in the evening following this protest.
Blitzchung himself, and to a lesser extent the commentators, are being hailed as heroes, as Blitzchung told multiple publications that he knew he’d suffer harm and threats to his personal safety but considered his protest the right thing to do to bring attention to the plight of Hong Kong, whose citizens have been in full-fledged protest this year (among other years) over what they characterize as Chinese encroachment on their rights. “I spent 4 years on Hearthstone so I only lost 4 years of my life, but if HK loses it will be forever,” he said on a stream.
Blizzard has still not actually issued any additional responses, nor have we seen any sort of organized walkout of employees; in fact, there doesn’t seem to have been much protest from inside Blizzard apart from someone (heroically) covering up the “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” values symbols on the studio’s Irvine campus. RPS did report this morning on a Reddit thread purporting to show Blizzard staff holding an “umbrella” protest on campus.
Activision-Blizzard stock is down only slightly.
We’ll have an early WoW Factor later today with more of an editorial response to the situation. [Edit: That’s now live too.]
Our full coverage is here:
BlizzCon commentator and past Hearthstone champ Brian Kibler announced he’s withdrawing from BlizzCon this year, calling the punishment meted out by Blizzard “incredibly harsh” and heavy-handed. “That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with. When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward.” He also encourages players not to direct their anger at the “rank-and-file” who are likely “just as angry as you are.” (via systemd)
Epic’s Tim Sweeney has rebuked Blizzard’s move, in spite of the fact that Tencent has a large amount of money invested into Epic. “That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO and controlling shareholder.”
Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.https://t.co/GWxDjKVjeJ
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) October 9, 2019
This afternoon, our WoW Factor column has issued thoughts on the whole situation.
“About seven hours after Immutable announced its offer, it was hit with the cyber attack that blocked players from logging into Gods Unchained. Mr Ferguson said the attack was continuing but Immutable had managed to ward off the damage after about four hours with the help of external security experts. While Mr Ferguson said he had not analysed the attack in detail, he believed it most likely originated in China.”
“The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising […] 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.”
“I’m disappointed. […] We want people all over the world to play our games, but no action like this can be made with political neutrality.”
Blizzard has reportedly not taken any action against those who walked out. Employees are also apparently circulating a petition against Blizzard’s actions that’ll be handed to execs.
Fox News (I know, sorry) ran a segment on the fiasco as well, bringing in esports consultant Rod Breslau to recap the whole mess.
Also, yes, former Blizz Team Lead Mark Kern (aka Firefall esports bus guy, aka WoW vanilla petition guy) apparently made a big public show of canceling his WoW Classic account.