The Hearthstone Grandmasters has gotten more mainstream attention than perhaps any Blizzard esports event in history, and that's thanks to Ng Wai "blitzchung" Chung. Chung was being interviewed by a pair of shoutcasters after a Hearthstone match, where he appeared in a gas mask and spoke out against China in favor of Hong Kong's liberation. Blizzard then made the decision to ban Chung from Hearthstone esports for an entire year and rescind his prize money. The shoutcasters involved in the interview were also reportedly fired.
Blizzard's decision to ban Chung from Hearthstone and punish him for his political statement has sparked significant backlash against the company. Many feel as though Blizzard only made the decision to appease the Chinese government, and while Chung may have technically broken Blizzard's rules, they think he shouldn't be punished for using his platform to stand up to China. The controversy surrounding Blizzard's decision has seen the Blizzard subreddit temporarily shutdown, and the company criticized all over social media, including by prominent US politicians.
Florida senator Marco Rubio, a Republican who competed with Donald Trump for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, has spoken out against Blizzard's decision. "Recognize what's happening here. People who don't live in China must either self censor or face dismissal and 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."
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. https://t.co/Cx3tkWc7r6— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 8, 2019
Rubio's criticism of Blizzard's decision is important because it shows that members of the United States government are aware of it and paying attention. It also demonstrates the mainstream attention that Blizzard's decision to ban Chung is getting, and just how severe the backlash really is.
Blizzard's decision to ban Chung for speaking out against China has sparked a movement against the community, with many agreeing to stop playing Hearthstone completely. Others have started a campaign to boycott Blizzard as a way to protest its decision. Blizzard has remained mostly quiet about the whole situation beyond the statement about its decision to ban Chung, and it will be interesting to see if it issues another response to the controversy.