As Blizzard decided to reduce Blitzchung’s sentence on Friday, the controversy continues in the esports community. Several Hearthstone streamers have already voiced their opinions and stated they would not participate in future Hearthstone events. The player community has also protested about Blizzard’s violation to freedom of speech in the gaming industry, in ways such as deleting their accounts and framing ‘Mei’, an Overwatch character, as a figure of the Hong Kong protests.
Chinese influence in America’s esports industry is not news to the public. In 2015, Tencent, a large Chinese firm, acquired the remaining 7% of the stake of Riot Games on top of the 93% stake that Tencent already owned. American companies also sought to expand their markets to China in recent years so they could make money from the huge Chinese young population. The process has been successful, as games like League of Legends, Overwatch and Hearthstone have become widely popular in China.
However, the recent story about Blitzchung revealed the unnoticed risk of doing business in China. Expressing personal opinions against the government, an act that seems nothing more than normal in the US, proved to be hugely unacceptable under the Communist Party of China. While America encourages people to voice their thoughts out in the democratic system, any speech against the ruling party in China would been seen as inciting subversion of the country. This huge difference in ideology is a time bomb planted in the American companies at the exact moment they decided to expand their business to the East. The time bomb was detonated by Bliztchung.
Blizzard is facing an extremely frustrating dilemma now: should they stand by its country’s belief of embracing freedom of speech and give up the gold in China, or should they conform to the China’s way of thinking and continue making a killing there? Keep in mind that since China’s idea of not allowing people to voice against the government directly contradicts America’s idea, Blizzard will inevitably face criticism from its domestic audience as they continue to cooperate with China, as the recent opposition to Blizzard from the players community shows.
American companies should understand that criticizing the government in China is equal to committing racism/hate speech in America. Imagine an esports player in America voices out his support to white supremacists’ ideas, and what actions the corresponding gaming company would take. Though China’s ideas hugely contradict the universal value of human rights, freedom of speech and democracy, American entrepreneurs will need to conform to such ideas if they want their products to be sold in China.
The National Basketball Association response to the Houston Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey’s Twitter comments on Hong Kong, a somewhat similar situation to Blizzard’s, is a good reference to huge American esports corporates. The time has come for these companies to make a decision on which side they will be on, and it will be interesting to see whether these companies are truly ‘American-based’.