After a turbulent week, Blizzard Entertainment finally responded to global backlash against its decision to suspend Hearthstone player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai and pull his Grandmasters tournament earnings. Blizzard originally made the call to suspend the player for one year and to rescind his winnings after he made a politically-charged statement in support of Hong Kong during a livestreamed interview. Blizzard's actions ignited a firestorm within the worldwide gaming community as the harsh punishment was seen as an act of censorship. Many gamers perceived the company as bowing to Chinese interests and favoring profits over freedom of speech, which led to an outpouring of support for blitzchung with the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard.
In the statement, Blizzard explains that it has backtracked on the decision to pull blitzchung's Grandmasters earnings and now plans to reinstate the reward. The company will also reduce blitzchung's Hearthstone pro circuit suspension from one year to six months. Additionally, the Taiwanese casters who were punished due to their response to blitzchung's statement during the broadcast will have their suspensions limited to six months as well.
"Every Voice Matters," the statement says, a reference to one of Blizzard's core values, "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."
Blizzard notes that blitzchung knew the rules and chose not to abide by them. The company claims that alone was the main driver of the suspension.
"The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made," the statement says. "I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision."
Blizzard then concedes that it could have handled the situation differently.
"Over the past few days, many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties," the statement says. "We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly."
It then goes on to say that the company recognizes that blitzchung played fairly during the actual tournament, in spite of failing to abide by its rules by making the political statement.
"When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast."
It then addresses the casters.
"With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament," the statement says. "That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well."
The message concludes by saying Blizzard endeavors to make sure players always feel safe and welcome when playing in its tournaments.
Twitter users immediately responded with their thoughts.
Blizzard probably spent $100,000 on crisis PR to write this statement and it’s still only going to make things worse https://t.co/9krFi1klln— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) October 12, 2019
J. Allen Brack says China had 'no influence' on Activision Blizzard's initial decision— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 12, 2019
this is either totally bullshit or Blizzard is entirely inept at the top, Brack pic.twitter.com/EFAuYXPD9o
Blizzard: “We believe everyone should have a voice, and this has nothing to do with China, which is why we’re happy to announce we’re still punishing people who used their voice to criticize China”— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) October 12, 2019
NEW: Blizzard can't read the room, publishes one of the worst corporate statements I've ever seen https://t.co/lfYBNXG16l— Jason Koebler (@jason_koebler) October 12, 2019
Blizzard finally responded to the shitshow they caused. This is all you need to know. pic.twitter.com/Qc3XBoMOXM— Punished Slacker (@AmericanSlack3r) October 12, 2019
While Blizzard seemingly wants to move past the incident, it's clear that the company has its work cut out for it if it hopes to renew its tarnished reputation among the gaming community.