Last weekend, Hearthstone Grandmaster champion Ng Wai Chung or "Blitzchung" made things pretty awkward for Blizzard. In his post-win interview, the professional Taiwanese Hearthstone player said, "Liberate Hong Kong," on live stream. This was referring to the widespread human rights protests that have been ongoing in Hong Kong since March 2019 in an attempt to keep Chinese mainland law from influencing Hong Kong's independence. While many have come out in favor of Blitzchung, Blizzard chose to ban the Hearthstone player from competing. This whole situation has been a whirlwind, so here's the breakdown of everything that's happened so far.
Blitzchung showed up on camera to his post-win interview wearing a face covering; this was in reference to Hong Kong's banning of face masks on October 4th, 2019. He yells, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age," over his mic. Both interviewers were fired on October 7th.
After that interview, on October 8th, Blizzard decided to ban Blitzchung from Hearthstone for one year and also take back that $10,000 grand prize. Blizzard cited its Grandmaster rules for the banning:
2019 HEARTHSTONE® GRANDMASTERS OFFICIAL COMPETITION RULES v1.4 p.12, Section 6.1 (o)
Engaging 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 will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.
It's no surprise that Blizzard is wary of any political statements in regards to China; the gaming giant is owned in part by the company Tencent, a Chinese holding company that responsible for the recent Call of Duty mobile game.
Almost immediately after the ban was announced, the backlash could be heard far and wide on social media. The hashtag #boycottBlizzard started trending almost immediately. People from all over the world began to talk about the banning and what it meant for both them and Hong Kong. Many American fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths after this decision.
Memes ranged from a recreation of the Tank Man standing in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square in Lodereon in World of Warcraft. Several trending memes also involved Mei, the Overwatch hero of Chinese decent, with her backstory changed to be a protestor in Hong Kong. #BoycottBlizzard continued to spread, leading to many cancelling their Blizzard accounts.
On October 10th, 2019, Blizzard once again cut off live interviews with the American University Hearthstone Team for using a sign to protest the on-going events, but the team was not banned.
An Update on Blitzchung
The Grandmaster winner Blitzchung changed his title on Twitter to say "APAC Grandmaster(Banned) | Top 4 HCT Taichung | Top 8 HCT Singapore | 5-6th HGG 2018 Team Hong Kong Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong." It really says a lot about how strongly he feels about supporting the protests. He also released a statement about his interview and banning, saying:
"The protests in Hong Kong have lasted for almost four months. I love Hong Kong, this is my home where I live and grow up. I can't just sit there doing nothing and watching our freedom being destroyed bit by bit."
“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.”
Blizzard Employees Aren't Happy
Through social media, several Blizzard employees have made it pretty clear that they are unhappy with the banning. After staging a protest at Blizzard headquarters, many went to social media. Twitter user Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) Tweeted a photo of sheets of graph paper taped over the "Every Voice Matters" engraving on the statue outside of the Blizzard building.
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
Both the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6Q
Not only that, but Hearthstone lost a caster who is well known to many who play the game. On October 9th, Brian Kibler announced he would be resigning from his position immediately, unhappy with the way that Blizzard has been handling the situation.
Other Public Comment Issues on the Matter
Following the incident, Epic Games declared its stance on having a political opinion while playing Fortnite. "Epic supports everyone’s right to speak freely," said Tim Sweeney of Epic Games, "China players of Fortnite are free to criticize the US or criticize Epic just as equally as all others."
Others who have voiced opinions against Blizzard include Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). The Republican Senator 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.
A group of gamers led by the Fight for the Future digital rights group are also planning a Hong Kong protest at Blizzcon 2019.
Users Go to Delete Their Accounts
Recently, users who went to delete their Blizzard accounts found a nasty surprise; all of the steps in the authentication process to delete accounts were gone. It seemed like, in an effort to save its numbers, Blizzard disabled the ability to delete accounts. While stopping players from editing their subscriptions is illegal in the United States, the law says nothing about keeping people from deleting their accounts. Players who were unable to delete their accounts went to the Reddit page devoted to Blizzard, only to find that it had shut down.
The Latest From Blizzard
The most recent development for this situation is a statement issued by Blizzard itself. Essentially, it insisted that its relationship with China was not involved in the decision-making process and that it overreacted. Although the company doesn't completely correct its course on the matter, Blizzard has reduced Blitzchung's ban to 6 months and reinstated the prize money.