Activision Blizzard cut ties with a professional Hearthstone player Tuesday morning after he made an on-air statement supporting the protests in Hong Kong.
In a post-match interview during the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament, Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai appeared in a mask and said “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!”
Blizzard removed Blitzchung from the tournament, rescinded his prize money and imposed a year-long ban on playing competitive Hearthstone.
The company also cut ties with two professional casters who covered Blitzchung’s on-stream interview. The casters physically ducked under the desk when Blitzchung began his statement.
Blitzchung’s comments come after months of unrest in Hong Kong. Protests broke out in June over a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. Since demonstrations began, protestors have raised five demands: including asking for Hong Kong to withdraw the bill, for an official inquiry into police brutality and for greater democratic freedoms-- specifically, universal suffrage.
The Hong Kong government officially withdrew the bill in early September, though protests are ongoing and have become more violent over time.
Blizzard issued a statement on Blitzchung’s punishment on Tuesday.
“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 statement said.
The official competition rule in question states that “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.”
Blizzard determined that Blitzchung broke this rule, and he was subsequently disqualified from competition.
“I’m surprised they didn’t ban him for life,” said Kevin Eun, a senior at USC studying economics and math who enjoys gaming.
“With the trade war and everything going on, [the Chinese Communist Party] can take vengeance on Blizzard as a scapegoat,” Eun said.
China makes up 13% of Blizzard’s profits, according to Statista. If China were to boycott the company, it could amount to a devastating loss for Blizzard. This conflict comes a day after the Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, faced backlash from China after tweeting pro-Hong Kong comments.
In response, after NBA commissioner Adam Silver supported Morey’s freedom of speech, China’s national broadcast service announced NBA that it would not air the NBA preseason games taking place in China later this week.
The internet reacted intensely to the news of Blitzchung’s punishment. Since Blizzard’s announcement of Blitzchung’s ban, thousands have taken to Twitter to voice their opinions using the trending hashtags #BlizzardBoycott and #BoycottBlizzard.
Mark Kern, a video game designer best known for his lead role in the creation of Blizzard’s magnum opus World of Warcraft responded to the situation on Twitter.
“I just saw the penalties Blizzard levied on the player. There is keeping politics out of games, then there is grand standing to appease the Chinese Communist Party. F*** Blizzard. You screwed up and traded your players in for dollars," he wrote.
In a later tweet, Kern expressed interest in how other streamers would respond, and if any will “covet their Blizzard access over freedom and human rights.”
Kern is not the only Blizzard employee to express their dismay, a tweet showcasing a piece of paper covering plaque outside Blizzard HQ went viral. The plaque reads “Every voice matters.” The phrase is one of Blizzard’s eight tenants of their mission statement.
The Blizzard mission statement also says that “Every employee is encouraged to speak up, listen, be respectful of other opinions, and embrace criticism as just another avenue for great ideas.” Critics say that this move is hypocritical of Blizzard, as it runs counter to their purported values.
Blizzard has not yet issued a statement addressing the public backlash. USC Annenberg Media reached out to Activision Blizzard and did not receive a response at the time of publishing.