A couple days ago, Blizzard Entertainment (the company behind World of Warcraft) faced intense backlash after banning a player and rescinding his winnings over pro-Hong Kong comments in a post game interview. Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung, a Hong Kong native, violated Blizzard’s rules about appropriate interview content by supporting the protests in his hometown:
Blitzchung made the comment on an official Hearthstone broadcast on Twitch, the video streaming platform, after his last game in the 2019 Hearthstone Asia-Pacific Grandmasters Tournament.
Blitzchung wore a gas mask and dark goggles during that interview last Sunday, evoking the gear activists have worn during months of street protests. Toward the end of the segment, he shouted the popular protest chant, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times!”
Blitzchung broke the rules, and he received the designated punishment: A one-year banishment from Blizzard esports and the rescinding of his roughly $10,000 in tournament winnings.
As you can probably imagine, though, this did not go over well in the esports-verse, and the community was sufficiently outraged to prompt Blizzard to roll back its punishment of the gamer. They announced on Friday that the suspension would be reduced to six months and blitzchung’s winnings would be reinstated.
In a statement to the Blizzard community, President J. Allen Brack explained,
We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.
Over the weekend, blitzchung used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong—in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action.
Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.
But aside from explaining why the decisions were made to suspend blitzchung (and the two casters interviewing him), Brack offered little insight on why they reduced the suspension, except to say that “our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” So, in other words, bowing to the mob instead of bowing to China.
I’ll be honest, I’m personally of a split mind here. On the one hand, blitzchung did break the rules that, as Brack emphasized, he was well aware of. He can’t have been surprised, and he seemed well aware of the stakes. In a video from his personal Twitch account, blitzchung said, “Today I lost Hearthstone, it’s only a matter of four years. But if Hong Kong lost, it’s a matter of a lifetime.”
And that’s why I think blitzchung is brave. Following American news and watching the absolute crazy-go-round that has been the Democratic primary, we are bombarded from all sides of people crying “victim” when, in reality, they’re drowning in privilege. The protests in Hong Kong are over something real– the extradition bill that sparked the protests (and which has been withdrawn) was a very real danger to human rights, and they continue to demonstrate against infringements on liberty. All those things that we as Americans are blessed to be able to take for granted.
So while I tend to shake my head at companies and individuals who are all too eager to apologize to the mob, I think Blizzard made the right call this time. It’s right to support protesters who actually have something to protest.