Activision Blizzard, the developer of World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and StarCraft has banned professional Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai.
During an interview conducted after the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters event, Blitzchung wore a mask similar to those worn by protesters in Hong Kong and used the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age.”
Blitzchung has been banned from competitive Hearthstone for 12 months as of October 5, 2019, and been stripped of his prize money for Grandmasters Season 2. He will be eligible to return in October 2020.
Activision Blizzard already has deep financial interests in the Chinese market through both game sales and Overwatch League franchises. The protests in China have been an incredibly sensitive topic in the country, which prompted the publisher to quickly disavow Blitzchung. Blizzard cited breaking rules of the competition in a post outlining the decision.
Section 6.1 of the rules 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”
Blizzard has also said they will no longer be working with the two casters who were live at the time, despite them both visibly ducking below the desk during the interview to not be associated with the politically charged message.
This comes at a time when the Chinese government is aggressively attacking western sports and media companies for voicing support of the Hong Kong protests.
Many people are protesting in Hong Kong over a proposed bill that would allow the extradition of citizens to mainland China, a decision many feel would violate their freedom. Unrest and protests have been a regular occurrence since June of this year, with the Chinese government trying harder and harder to shut them down.
In the announcement, Blizzard said they were not against players expressing their views. “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,” the company said.
The rationale is a clear stretch of the rulebook, a fact that didn’t sit well with fans. Blizzard was hit with a tidal wave of backlash across social media with Blitzchung receiving overwhelming support from those both in and out of competitive Hearthstone.
Blizzard likely anticipated this reaction, as they locked down the comments section for the announcement immediately after it went live. Blizzard seemingly went a step further by completely locking down its subreddit, which was flooded with posts discussing the topic.
The backlash was stoked on by what has been a major push by Beijing to squash support of the Hong Kong protesters internationally. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey came under intense fire for speaking out on the issue on Twitter, which saw the entire NBA punished by Chinese state media.
Long-running comedy series South Park also recently aired an episode that was critical of businesses that bow to the demands of the Chinese government, which saw all traces of the show scrubbed from Chinese internet.
With no end in sight to the Hong Kong protests, this story likely isn’t over.