Blizzard Entertainment, developer of the popular online card game Hearthstone, is feeling the fury of the internet today after its harsh treatment of Ng Wai Chung, known in the Hearthstone esports community as Blitzchung, following a pro-Hong Kong statement. Right now #BoycottBlizzard is trending on Twitter and Reddit is ablaze with posts of long-time players who consider this to be the straw that broke the camels back. Many are quitting the game as a means of standing in solidarity with Blitzchung.
The facts of the story are straightforward. In a post-match interview of the Grandmasters Tour, Blitzchung wore ski goggles and a face mask, and then stated, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!”. Both commentators hid beneath their desks as Blitzchung made the statement, not aware of what was going to happen since they are not at the same location and the interview is done remotely. Blizzard worked fast to ban Blitzchung for a year from Hearthstone esports, confiscated his competitive earnings, and fired both casters for good measure.
The official explanation for the ban is that the player violated the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules section 6.1 (o), which reads:
“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.”
In closing, Blizzard stated, “While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules” which apparently pertains to statements that could in any way be considered anti-Chinese.
Players React With Fury
Reaction online has been nothing short of a downpour of disapproval on all fronts. Commentary on Twitter, Reddit, and Hearthstone related forums like Hearthpwn and others, all show dismay at how easily Blizzard cowed in order to appease its Chinese interests. Shortly after news of the story broke, the forum post “Blizzard suspends hearthstone [sic] player for supporting Hong Kong” reached 55 thousand upvotes before being removed from the top of World News, which is another issue relating to censorship in its own right by Reddit. The top posts for r/Hearthstone right now are all related to players quitting or voicing their concerns over Blizzard’s action.
As stated, Blitzchung made the announcement unprompted, from his home, and the casters could do nothing but watch. As soon as it began, they literally hid their faces down on their desks because of what they must have perceived as an inappropriate, anti-Chinese message. For simply being present and doing their jobs as casters, merely within a digital proximity while interviewing a player following a match, Blizzard has cut them out entirely. They did not make any anti-Chinese statements and are simply collateral damage in Blizzard’s sweeping move to attempt and appease their target market.
In the aftermath of the ban, the developers of Gods Unchained have tweeted not only their support for Blitzchung, they have also offered to pay his confiscated earnings in full and invited him to their own tournament. Gods Unchained is another online competitive card game with a unique twist. Its library of cards is decentralized as a blockchain-based game, with the ability for players to trade and sell their cards as though they were real, tangible objects.
.@Blizzard_Ent just banned @blitzchungHS and stripped his Hearthstone winnings because they care about money more than freedom. We will pay for ALL his lost winnings and a ticket to our $500k tournament: no player should be punished for their beliefs. #freegaming https://t.co/ONvtkG4x9G— Gods Unchained (@GodsUnchained) October 8, 2019
Blizzard Shows A Willingness To Act Fast When It Suits Them
Some are pointing not only to the appeasement by Blizzard in this matter, but in the swift punishment carried out for something as simple as speaking one’s mind. Last year it took Blizzard a full three months to deal with Luo "Roger" Shengyuan for cheating in a competitive match despite having video evidence of the violation on hand. Players were frustrated to know that a known cheater could continue for long after the offense, and before his punishment took effect, he was allowed to participate in a World Championship event.
To see Blizzard come down so hard on Blitzchung in so little time only reaffirms the idea that the company is more interested in in financial gain, and not in servicing their community of players.
One image making the rounds on various forums can be seen in this tweet below, bringing under scrutiny Blizzard's stated core values.
Gaming company @Blizzard_Ent, which banned a prominent player this week for speaking out in support of Hong Kong demonstrators, has this statue and accompanying plaque outside its Irvine, CA, campus pic.twitter.com/LxIqBA4H2L— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) October 8, 2019
In a comment made to Inven Global, Blitzchung reiterated his support for the movement in Hong Kong, stating, “I put so much effort in that social movement in the past few months, that I sometimes couldn't focus on preparing my Grandmaster match.”
Will Blizzard Change Their Decision?
While many are wondering if Blizzard will shift in their decision, it would be unlikely. Blizzard is a publicly traded company, and Tencent, a Chinese conglomerate, owns a little under 5% of Activision stock. The controversial incident could not be more poetic in its timing. In the past few days we have seen the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver back down in response to a Chinese threat of censorship, and the popular show South Park was censored in the country as well for satirical yet relevant episode titled, “Band in China”.
There is no reason to expect Blizzard to change course on their decision, because this seems to be the way the company now operates. Consumers in response may follow through on their promises and abandon the company for this decision if it is not reversed.