Eric Warner Staff Writer
When does the line between financial stability and moral obliquity get drawn? This has been the question among many sports activists this past weekend when multiple sports athletes began to speak out in support of Chinese protestors in Hong Kong.
On Oct. 6, 2019, Hong Kong Hearthstone Esports player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai expressed liberation for his home country by stating, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” during a Grandmasters Asia Pacific post-match interview. He also wore a gas mask just as many of the protestors fighting for human rights over an extradition bill have been during the interview to express his views on the matter. The interview was quickly sent to an ad break and Blitzchung, along with the two interviewers, were punished by Hearthstone’s publisher, Blizzard Entertainment. Blitzchung was stripped of his $10,000 prize money that he rightfully earned in the competition and was banned from continuing to compete in the Grandmasters league for one year. The interviewers were subsequently fired from working at the event despite the casters ducking underneath their desk when Blitzchung stated his opinions. Blizzard then disabled comments on their site on news of the matter, a first for the company.
An uproar ensued rather quickly with many fans of Blizzard claiming that the company is another puppet of China, like the Houston Rockets of the NBA, and started the hashtag “BoycottBlizzard” in response. It should be noted that Blizzard Entertainment is a subsidiary of Tencent, a company that is also a major partner to the NBA, which is a Chinese multinational conglomerate holding company and is the world’s largest gaming company. Blizzard is trying to steer clear of controversy relating to the Chinese protests to ensure financial stability with its parent company despite the moral quandaries that will occur with doing so. On Oct. 9th, 2019, during the American Collegiate Hearthstone Championship, athletes from American University held up a banner stating, “FREE HONG KONG, BOYCOTT BLIZZ”. Unlike Blitzchung however, the three athletes who held up the sign were not punished so they decided to forfeit the next match and stop participating in future tournaments hosted by Blizzard. The three were then interviewed by USgamer and stated, “We feel it’s hypocritical for Blizzard to punish Blitzchung but not us. The response from Blizzard shows that as soon as the messaging is out of the view of China they don’t care about ‘political’ messaging”
Appalled by these actions, numerous commentators, athletes, fans, and even Blizzard staff members have begun to combat Blizzard’s hypocritical actions. People went to social media and began to use Mei, a Chinese character in Blizzard’s team-based multiplayer first-person shooter, Overwatch, as a symbol of the Hong Kong resistance depicting her wearing masks, using umbrellas, and so on just as the protestors are in Hong Kong. Blizzard staff members have also begun to protest by covering the “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” value plaques on the World of Warcraft orc statue in front of Blizzard’s Irvine, California headquarters, seeing that these values are no longer being met at the company. They then staged a walkout, gathering at the statue while holding umbrellas in clear view to executive offices with one employee anonymously stating to The Daily Beast, “I’m disappointed. We want people all over the world to play our games, but no action like this can be made with political neutrality”
On Oct. 12th, 2019, J. Allen Brack, the President of Blizzard Entertainment, released a statement regarding all of this controversy. In his statement, he reduced Blitzchung’s and the interviewer’s punishment to being suspended from Blizzard affiliates for six months and Blitzchung would receive the prize money he rightfully earned. However, the damage to Blizzard’s credibility has already been done and the community is continuing to protest against the company at the upcoming BlizzCon event, Blizzard’s biggest annual conference, on November 1st and 2nd. Fight for the Future, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding the transformative power of online media by creating civic campaigns to defend human rights is organizing the protest, which is called GamersForFreedom.com. This protest will try and motivate other companies to join the cause and ensure that they won’t censor players as Blizzard has. These events have truly shown what lengths companies will take to ensure their financial stability alongside what length people will go to defend their rights as human beings. It will be interesting to see how Blizzard and the Esports community responds to the upcoming protests.