Why Blizzard Banned Hong Kong Hearthstone Player But Is Now Backpedaling
It has been an interesting week for Blizzard Activision, to say the least. The developer-slash-publisher found itself in the midst of a viral hellstorm after deciding to issue a one-year suspension to professional Hearthstone player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai, in apparent reaction to him voicing support for Hong Kong protestors during an official tournament livestream. According to Blizzard, however, its relationship with China had nothing to do with the penalty.
In addition to the one-year suspension, Blizzard also initially decided Blitzchung was not eligible for the $10,000 tournament prize he had won. What sparked all this was Blitzchung saying, "LIberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times," while wearing a gas mask and goggles in a post-game interview.
The reaction to Blizzard's punishment, which also included terminating its relationship with the two casters on the broadcast, has largely been negative. As a result, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack stamped his name to a news announcement addressing the situation, in hopes of quieting the uproar.
"The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision. We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took. If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same," Brack said.
Blizzard's stance is that esports players should be free to express their views in places where it is appropriate, but "the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome." As such, those broadcasts should stay focused on the game, Blizzard feels.
Nevertheless, Brack admits Blizzard "reacted too quickly" and too harshly. After listening to the feedback, Blizzard has decided to cut Blitzchung's suspension in half, to six months, and award him the $10,000 in prize money he earned.
"In the tournament itself Blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention," Brack said.
"But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. 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," Brack added.
Additionally, Blizzard is subjecting the two casters to the same six-month suspension rather than severing ties altogether.
It's nice to see Blizzard backpedaling on its knee-jerk punishments, but it remains to be seen if it's partial about-face will quell the criticism.