October 10 Update: A number of Blizzard employees are protesting the suspension of Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai and have even staged a walk out. Epic Games has also weighed in on the issue, saying it supports free speech.
A professional Hearthstone player from Hong Kong, Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, was suspended from the Grandmasters tournament by Blizzard for sharing a statement of support for people currently engaged in protests against the local police and government in Hong Kong.
Blizzard bans Blitzchung
Blitzchung shared his support during a stream that's part of the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters. He wore a mask that the protesters used and said “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!”
[BREAKING] Hong Kong Hearthstone player @blitzchungHS calls for liberation of his country in post-game interview:https://t.co/3AgQAaPioj @Matthieist #Hearthstone pic.twitter.com/DnaMSEaM4gOctober 6, 2019
Apparently, fighting for democracy in your own country violates one of Blizzard's rules in the Grandmasters competition. It states in 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules v1.4 p.12, Section 6.1 (o):
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.
Thus, Blizzard has removed Blitzchung from the Grandmasters, withheld any prize money for participating and banned him from Hearthstone esports for 12 months, starting Oct. 5, 2019 until Oct. 5, 2020.
Breaking: Effective immediately, Blizzard has removed Hong Kong Hearthstone player blitzchung from Hearthstone Grand Masters, rescinded all his prize money, and have suspended him from pro play for one year for his recent interview. Statement below https://t.co/ByI8vrZk1a pic.twitter.com/3h6jKYezMQOctober 8, 2019
Not only that, but Blizzard also fired both of its casters that did nothing but their jobs on the stream. The announcers ducked under their desk, and according to Inven Global, said "OK, that’s it, Blitz bro" and cut to commercial break. Should they have jumped off camera, too?
Blitzchung issued the following statement to Inven Global:
"As you know there are serious protests in my country now. My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention. 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. I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue."
Despite that, Blizzard finished its ruling by stating "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."
Blizzard employees walk out
People who work at Blizzard have shown their anger and support by covering up the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values circling the giant orc statue in the middle of Blizzard's campus.
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.Both the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6QOctober 8, 2019
Not long after, a number of employees, up to 30 people, walked out of the office. Someone who claims to be Blizzard employee posted a photo of the workers on the Hearthstone subreddit.
A longtime Blizzard employee told the Daily Beast that "The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising. Blizzard makes a lot of money in China, but now the company is in this awkward position where we can’t abide by our values."
What the employee is referencing is that Blizzard gained 12% of its revenue from the Asia-Pacific region last quarter. Not to mention that Tencent, a Chinese tech company, owns a 5% stake in Blizzard.
"I’m disappointed," another employee told the Daily Beast. "We want people all over the world to play our games, but no action like this can be made with political neutrality."
Epic Games dunks on Blizzard
In an interview with the Verge, an Epic Games spokesperson said “Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics."
Of course, in response to Blizzard's actions, fans have taken to Reddit and calling for a boycott by posting several images and memes of Mei showing support for Hong Kong protesters.
While this news may not impact the average gamer, it's worth keeping Blizzard's stance in mind if you're someone who consumes their popular titles such as Overwatch, Diablo, Hearthstone and World of Warcraft.