Another year, another furor involving Blizzard, boycotts, China, and livestream remarks. Sounds familiar, eh? Well, the situation is a little bit different this time around, as it’s some of the Overwatch league teams themselves that are in a tizzy over a fellow competitor.
In this situation, it started last month when South Korean Overwatch pro Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, who plays for Seoul Dynasty, made several critical and mocking remarks against the Chinese government on livestreams. Park was critical of the country’s lack of free speech and referred to the sovereignty of Hong Kong and Taiwan, which triggered a wild backlash from Chinese players in his division. Now, several Chinese Overwatch teams are threatening a boycott of any tournaments that put Park on the roster.
“I can’t say Taiwan and [Hong Kong],” Park said in the original videos (as translated by the OWL translator). “At all. They [China] don’t recognize them as countries. I got into so much trouble for saying their names.”
“Make it make sense. What are you talking about, ‘One China?’ So I objected to that and all the managers said, ‘If you want to earn Chinese money, you have to become a Chinese dog.’ […] So that’s what I’m doing right now. I can even say, ‘Thanks for subscribing’ in Chinese. Aren’t I good at Chinese?”
He has since recanted his statements and apologized for voicing his opinions, but this does not seem to be affecting the proposed boycott.
Van Yang, the manager of Chinese team Shanghai Dragons, complained about both the existence and content of the comments while rebuffing the apology, insisting that, “As a well-treated and loved public figure in China, [Park] should understand his public position, assume his own social responsibilities, focus on competition instead of arbitrarily making bad statements that challenge the sovereignty of other countries.”
As Foreign Policy notes, “This sort of backlash will be an increasing problem for any sport with a significant Chinese presence, as it was for the NBA two years ago after a tweet by an association executive. Domestic pressures in China mean that Chinese teams can’t afford to neglect these ultra-nationalist performative gestures, out of fear of being attacked as unpatriotic themselves.”
English-language players on the Overwatch Reddit are broadly supportive of Park. OWL hasn’t made a comment yet.