#BoycottBlizzard has been trending on Twitter this week following the controversial decision by Blizzard Entertainment to discipline one of its professional esports competitors for making a political statement during a post-match interview. Ng Wai Chung, known in the Hearthstone esports community as Blitzchung, used his time during an interview to don ski goggles and a respirator mask and state, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!”
Blizzard’s reaction was to ban the player for a year from competing in its game, rescind all earnings made in the Grandmasters Tour accumulated during the past seven weeks of competition, and fire the two men interviewing Chung from a remote location. The reaction from fans was swift, massive, and attracted the attention of larger media outlets. It even elicited comments from American Senators, as Blizzard is an American company and the move is seen as placating the interests of the Chinese Government.
This is a complex matter, and it is important to consider the issues that have led to this outpouring of negative reaction to the actions by Blizzard Entertainment.
The History Between China And The British
The important historical facts to consider are that the British held Hong Kong island as a part of their colonial holdings for over 150 years, and the place became a powerful trading port with a strong manufacturing hub. Hong Kong and the New Territories were later leased to the British for a period of 99 years.
As the conclusion of that agreement neared, questions loomed over the future of Hong Kong. China argued that all of Hong Kong should be consolidated under Chinese rule. In 1984, an agreement was reached under the principle of “one country, two systems” that combined reunification of Hong Kong to China but allowed for the former to maintain its own legal system, borders, and rights for 50 years.
Bit By Bit, Pushed Too Far
Over time, critics have claimed that China has been interfering in core aspects of Hong Kong’s systems that go against the agreement made by China and the British. Certain influential Hong Kong citizens have disappeared and later reappeared in Chinese custody. Bit by bit, cases have sprung up that have sparked conversation about China’s interference with Hong Kong in direct violation of the agreed upon terms.
In April, everything came to a crash when China proposed a bill that would allow criminal systems to be extradited to mainland China. The sentiment in Hong Kong was that people there would be subjected to a broad range of unfair trials and would give China even greater control over the area. As Malcolm Gladwell would describe, this was the tipping point that launched hundreds of thousands of people towards active demonstration.
Protesting occurred in varying levels of participation, and finally the bill was withdrawn in September. By then, however, the demands of the protesters had grown in the scope of democratic development. During that time protesters had a range of creative methods for communicating en masse, such as using the mobile game Pokemon Go, the dating app Tinder, and Apple’s AirDrop to pass out virtual flyers.
These incidents have also highlighted how technology is being used in an attempt to counter protesting, in some cases with facial recognition software. A video posted by freelance journalist Alessandrra Bocchi showed that protestors would then use laser points to avoid recognition cameras. Protestors in Hong Kong proved to be pioneers of protesting in a digital age.
Hong Kong protestors are on another level. Here they’re using lasers to avoid facial recognition cameras. A cyber war against Chinese artificial intelligence. pic.twitter.com/t1hIczr5Go— Alessandra (@alessabocchi) July 31, 2019
An Escalating Matter May Have Prompted Chung To Make His Statement
As the protesting shows no signs of decline, police force has become increasingly more violent against the protesters. Media suppression and police brutality are spiking in frequency and new records appear online of the escalating situation. Shortly over a week ago, Hong Kong police shot a teenage protester at close range.
This was a significant incident as the first live round of ammunition to cause injury to a person. Until now, shots fired have been to indicate warning and not aimed at protesters, though there have been plenty of images showing police with weapons pointed at protesters and journalists.
Recently the government also prohibited the use of masks to cover one’s face through the use of sweeping colonial-era powers aimed at ending the protests, only to agitate problems further.
The ongoing protests show no sign of stopping, and like the protesters, Hearthstone player Chung may have also reached a tipping point that pushed him towards making his statement in support of Hong Kong.
Blizzard Responds And Incites The Fury Of The Internet
Blizzard’s response to the incident has been criticized for several reasons. Some are upset and consider the punishment against Chung to be too harsh, while others point to the collateral damage in firing the two commentators who were tasked with interviewing the player remotely.
Blizzard at first stated that the discipline was the result of a political statement made. Not wanting their game to become a platform for every player to make political statements is perfectly understandable, however Blizzard has since contradicted themselves by issuing two statements, one meant for English speaking countries, and the other for China.
A rough translation of Blizzard’s Chinese statement says that “We will always respect and defend the pride of our country,” which alludes to Chung’s call for Hong Kong liberation. The same reference to the pride of China is omitted from the English version of the statement. At first some could might have been persuaded to believe that Blizzard only wanted to avoid political statements, but this recent announcement must cement in the minds of many a need to placate the Chinese government to maintain their market presence.
Players of World of Warcraft have also pointed out that Blizzard has its profanity filter set up to flag references to the Hong Kong protest. In the image below, a user points to the strangeness of seeing “NoExtraditionToChina” as profanity within the English localization files, which would only be problematic in China.
Hearthstone players have mentioned that Blizzard was fast to act in this case when it meant appeasing China, while it has taken them months at a time to crack down on known cheaters in the game.
In sum, Blizzard appears to be trying to have the best of both worlds. By placating the Chinese market, they maintain access to a massive potential revenue stream. They seem to be wishing for all other markets, particularly in North America and Europe, to simply follow along.
Blizzard is going to have to choose between its core values and its pursuit of profit. The more time that passes, the more difficult it will be for players to ever trust the company again. We may be witnessing the event that dooms Blizzard in the West to boost it in the East.