Blizzard finally addresses Hong Kong esports fiasco, reducing bans and reinstating prize money

In his non-apology, Brack claims the decision had nothing to do with China, but the evidence says otherwise.

    
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great googly moogly

All week, we’ve been covering the absolute chaos surrounding the punishment of pro Hearthstone esports player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung, whom Blizzard banned along with two Taiwanese commentators earlier this week over a pro-Hong Kong protest during a post-match interview in Taiwan. Blizzard also clawed back $10K in tournament winnings from Ng, citing vague tournament rules that essentially allow the studio to bar anyone from competition for any reason. The move sparked new protests and resignations from other pro teams and casters, condemnation from politicians left and right, coverage from mainstream news, account deletions and de-subs boycotts from players, and anguish from its own employees, who said the company’s internal policy all week has been as absent as any message to its players around the globe.

Now, Blizzard has finally broken its silence.

Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack posted a missive tonight (yes, very late on a Friday night, which is when you post news you want to bury, not news you’re proud of) arguing that Blizzard still stands by its values and insisting that in fact the company was merely enforcing its rules, that “the specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision [Blizzard] made,” and that “relationships in China had no influence on [that] decision.” However, he admits, “In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.”

“In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention. But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast. With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well. Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.”

“One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games,” Brack concludes. It is not clear how Ng’s protest did otherwise.

We recommend everyone read the whole letter, as Brack – or whoever actually wrote this – spends quite a bit of effort defending Blizzard’s original decisions, and he doesn’t actually apologize to Ng, the casters, or the playerbase.

The #boycottblizzard hashtag on Twitter, which had slowed down by this afternoon, has now taken off again.

Source: Blizzard
Our complete coverage of this week’s mess is here:
Update 9:00 PM EDT
As unimpressed Hearthstone Redditors point out, Brack didn’t address the Weibo post made by Blizzard in China earlier this week, which stated the company’s “strong indignation and condemnation of the events in the Hearthstone Asia-Pacific competition” and vowed to “as always, resolutely safeguard national dignity” – or “firmly defend China’s honor,” depending on the translation. (Rod Breslau has a really good one if you want to read the whole thing.)

The letter also doesn’t address the bizarre circumstances under which the casters were allegedly originally dismissed or even explain what it is they did to violate their contracts.

And of course, as we reported earlier, an American University Hearthstone esports team protested against Blizzard with pro-Hong Kong signs during a match earlier this week and was not punished in accordance with the policies Brack just told everyone had nothing to do with China and everything to do with rule-abiding, leading the entire team to forfeit the rest of the season over Blizzard’s hypocrisy.

Update 11:50 PM EDT
For clarity’s sake:

Update 10/12/2019 12:00 PM EDT
Ng himself posted a response this morning – here is his English version:

Thank you for your attention in the past one week, this is a personal statement and my view on Blizzard’s latest decision. First of all, I’m grateful for Blizzard reconsidering their position about my ban. Earlier this week, I told media that I knew I might have penalty or consequence for my act, because I understand that my act could take the conversation away from the purpose of the event. In the future, I will be more careful on that and express my opinions or show my support to Hong Kong on my personal platforms.

Many people has been asking me if I accept the latest decision of Blizzard, I will discuss that on two parts. Tournament prizing and suspension. For tournament prizing, I quoted what Blizzard said on the official website, they mention that I played fair in the tournament and they believe I should receive my prizing. This is the part I really appreciate, Blizzard also said they understand for some this is not about the prize, but perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. People
from Blizzard had explained this to me through a phone call and I really appreciate that and I accept their decision on this part.

For second part about the suspension, Blizzard had changed their suspension on me from a year to six months. Once again, I appreciate for their reconsideration on this. To be honest, I think six
months is still quite a lot to me. But I also being told that I can continue to compete in the hearthstone pro circuit which they mean the grandmaster tournament. I appreciate for this decision
they made because grandmaster is currently the highest level tournament in competitive
hearthstone. However, I wish Blizzard can reconsider about their penalty on the two casters involved.

Lastly, many people wants to know if i would be competing in hearthstone in the future. Honestly, I have no idea on that yet. Since my next tournament is very likely to be the grandmaster tournament of next season, it’s probably at least a few months from now on. I will take this time to relax myself to decide if I am staying in competitive hearthstone scene or not.

Hearthstone changed my the way I live, I really love this community. Blessing to all the players out there, and blessing to Blizzard.

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rafael12104

Ok. So, they are getting this out there to decompress the pressure cooker before Blizzcon. A good strategy. There will be some outrage again, but the concessions will allow them to move into Blizzcon with some confidence that their messages around their games will be heard.

BUT, the damage isn’t going away. This statement, which you can tell was meticulously crafted, falls short. An “our fault” message was needed. An apology was required. And that is why the words sound hollow.

Further, the message proves that Brack is a lackey. A footman to a much bigger corporate entity. Many CEOs while fully grasping the financials would not bow to marketing, legal, or any partnerships in cases like this. They would take the reins, tell everyone to fuck off and do what needs to be done in the best long term interest of the company and its employees. Saying you’re sorry and admitting the mistake was the Blizz CEO’s duty here. Brack may come to understand this later, but it will be too late for him.

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Terry Shull

You guys know me. I’m very reluctant to remove myself from any game I love. I loved Hearthstone. I have friends who work for Blizzard and I don’t want them to suffer from potential issues – BUT I canceled my account with Blizzard the moment I read this a couple of days ago. This was a hard thing for me to do. Really – it was. But this response and supposed “solution” was incredibly troubling for me. This is about something deeper. This is about China imposing its will. We need to take back the narrative – I’m not “anti-China” but I’m sure as hell “pro-democracy”. The people of Hong Kong lost that the day Britain abandoned them. We knew then that China would water down, and water down, and water down the rights of those in HK until they would pull a string and rope them into the communist oppression the people are balking against now. Blizzard is an American company and their weak-kneed response to this is repugnant. It was the only message I could send.

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rafael12104

I tip my hat to you and all of those like you who’s beliefs and judgment are much more important than your fave pastime.

It is hard to do. And maybe there will be cause to return, who knows? But your integrity shows in your actions.

For me, it is easy at the moment. I sit here in the cheap seats not having played any Blizz games recently. But what will I do if they finally announce Diablo IV or something similar? I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, but I will remember the example set by you and others like you.

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Armsbend

I don’t think the word “abandonment” is the right one in Britain’s case. I am quite sure they wanted nothing more than to keep Hong Kong forever.

You could say the US ‘abandoned’ the Panama Canal – but there were large global issues at stake when that deal was cut. Not to mention the clear fact that all of those territories were born out of the colonial era – a sticky one in the modern age.

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Utakata

I believe it was along standing agreement between the UK and China. And likely one if the UK did anything else could of likely lead to war that nobody wants. So I agree, “abandonment” was the wrong word here. /monkaS

flatline4400
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flatline4400

Long story: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Handover_of_Hong_Kong

Short story: Yeah basically allowing a 150-ish year old “deal” (which was never going to get renewed in any way) expire in an at least not-total disaster for HK. Sucks, but what was the UK going to do in this era?

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donvweel

Interesting that a game has brought this issue to light. The mainstream media has been skating around the Hong Kong issue but the gaming community is speaking very loudly on it.

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Kherova

I started writing a very long comment here on my iPhone. But I guess I’ll just write a lengthy email to the podcast about my thoughts.

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Sarah Cushaway

Yeah, no. This is a half-assed attempt and I’m still never buying any more Blizzard games. Oh well, too bad so sad. If they want to support a communist dictatorship, they can move to China, because I don’t support companies that are willfully silencing those who are currently fighting oppression.

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drew who

I think the current reduced 6 months ban (with the return of most of his prize money ) is what Blizzard should have done in the first place . Blitzchung was not in the right here but neither were Blizzard in their heavy handed response .

The problem is that most of the people you have playing in these tournaments are youths and youths have always said and done inappropriate things at times . Perhaps in the future they should do what some radio stations do and have a delay in the broadcast of a couple of minutes ?

The wider concern for me however is how western countries capitulate with the Chinese authorities and tacitly support a totalitarian regime for access to their market .

As for Blitzchung I think he would have just been a blip on the radar of the Chinese authorities whereas now he has not only woken the sleeping dragon he has kicked it right up the backside . I think a six month ban could about to be the least of his worries .

I suspect they might see him as a prime candidate for one of those Chinese boot camps for young people with gaming or internet addictions .

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Just noticed my comment was deleted with what I linked, does that mean you guys already determined it is false or does it mean you’re still verifying the info?

kjempff
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kjempff

What if the winner had issued another political statement ? would that be ok ?
I am sure we can all think of other political opinion we do not agree with; that we do not want to hear voiced out in the context of a game tournament.

You can’t just allow one statement and not another, because then you would be political – And the whole point of all of this is that Blizzard do not want to take sides in any political issues, and therefore have to apply the rules they make, equally.

The player had been warning that what he was about to do was in violation of the rules and there would be consequence. The commentators “sentences” were out of hand in my opinion, they got a job to do and can’t just walk away.

But since it is hip to hate ActiBlizzard, any incident is a good opportunity to ignore all sense and grab the nearest pitchfork and torch. I guess this has really not much to do with this incident; had it been another company or sport game, it is likely not to have caused such a shitstorm.

flatline4400
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flatline4400

Corporations are made up of people (indeed, they *are* “people” but that’s a whole other thing), so therefore they are political, because all people are political. Blizzard is an American company and can be reasonably expected to uphold the rights and morals of typical Americans, which include free speech and equality. These corps don’t live in a vacuum and they have a responsibility to the larger community where they exist and to support that community. And as far as the ideals at play here, this is not a two sides thing. We hold these truths to be self evident.

It’s fine to not want to have politics injected into some tournament you own… it’s even understandable. What’s not cool is being hypocritical about applying vague rules in different ways to different people. Clearly Blizzard is guilty of this.

The player didnt have a warning… he said he thought he might see some consequences. Pretty reasonable. Why are the commentators being punished? Blizzards reaction was unreasonable to all of them. It still is.

And *all* the evidence is damning, showing that Blizzard (or Activision, or whoever it was that made the call) did so to appease the totalitarian and repressive Chinese government. With any luck it might bring some attention to the countless other corps and companies that do exactly the same thing in their quest, as Jim Sterling says, to have *all* of the money.

This is failure on every level. Couldn’t happen to a more worthy company, imho, and it’s been a long time coming.

kjempff
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kjempff

Too much nonsense, I wouldn’t know which of it to reply to.

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Kay

What if the winner had issued another political statement ? would that be ok ?

Well, then blizzard would of ignored it. So, yes that would have been okay. See the American Pros disrupting the game with politics with no consequences, as compared to this were it was out of the game and people getting fired just for being near by.

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Robert Mann

There’s been plenty, and Blizz did nada… so yeah, Blizz saying that is just an excuse. In fact, Blizz itself is guilty.

kjempff
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kjempff

Links to back that up?

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Here’s something to look into, supposedly a Native Chinese speakers determined that Brack’s statement was written by a native Chinese speaker according to the grammar and syntax.

Blizzard President’s Apology Was Written By A Chinese Person, Say Bilingual Chinese-English Speakers

Smithwicks
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Smithwicks

While the breakdown can definitely be seen, it also reeks of leagalese which can change the syntax of expression in its own way.

Perhaps more gasoline for the dumpster fire..

Mordyjuice
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Mordyjuice

Proud to do my part, burn baby burn.

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Armsbend

I have never heard someone ever say “prizing” either in conversational or written English before this.

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zuldar

This isn’t good enough. The reason people are angry goes far beyond the ban and the lack of prize money. They failed to address the actual problem.