On Oct. 8, pro Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai was banned from the game after voicing support for Hong Kong during a post-game interview. During the interview Chung wore a mask similar to those worn by protesters and exclaimed “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” Blizzard has since removed the VOD replay, but clips from the stream are still available.
— Inven Global (@InvenGlobal) October 6, 2019
In the clip, the casters are seen physically ducking under their desks after saying, “Say the eight words, then we’ll end the interview immediately.” Both casters were also let go by Blizzard, even though they cut immediately to a break after Blitzchung’s comments.
Blizzard stated in a post that the incident violated the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules in Section 6.1 (o). The rule states the following:
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.
Blizzard also stated that they “are taking the necessary actions to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.”
For Blitzchung, Blizzard’s decision has him removed from the Grandmasters tournament and losing all prizes earned from Grandmasters Season 2. He will also be unable to participate in Hearthstone esport events until Oct. 5, 2020.
Blizzard claims that while players are allowed to express their thoughts and opinions, “players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules.”
The community’s response
This event has ignited the Hearthstone community, the news rapidly spreading to other Blizzard forums and subreddits. The original blog post that Blizzard released has had comments disabled, and the official Hearthstone subreddit is covered in pro-Hong Kong posts with at least one mod stepping down. On Twitter the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard is trending, with thousands of users talking about the decision.
Other digital games have commented on the situation. Digital trading card game Gods Unchained offered to replace Blitzchung’s lost winnings. They also offered to give him an entry into their $500K tournament.
.@Blizzard_Ent just banned @blitzchungHS and stripped his Hearthstone winnings because they care about money more than freedom. We will pay for ALL his lost winnings and a ticket to our $500k tournament: no player should be punished for their beliefs. #freegaming https://t.co/ONvtkG4x9G
— Gods Unchained (@GodsUnchained) October 8, 2019
Even Blizzard employees are unhappy with the company’s actions. An employee covered up the “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” core values on display outside the building courtyard. One unnamed Blizzard employee posted an image in the Hearthstone subreddit of the protest. The image shows approximately two dozen employees standing around the iconic orc statue with the covered core values.
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/I7nAYUes6Q
— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
“Heroes Never Die”
Other Hearthstone players are showing solidarity for Blitzchung after his banning. After losing a match in the official 2019 Hearthstone Collegiate Champs, the American University team held up a sign that read “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz.” The stream cut away and Blizzard notified all Collegiate teams that there would be no more interviews performed during the stream.
Hearthstone caster Brian Kibler released a statement explaining why he chose to step down from casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. Kibler stated that while he understands the need to separate personal views from event coverage, the punishment is unjustly harsh. “The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung,” Kibler continued. “Not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself.”
Blizzard, Hong Kong, and what happens next
While Blizzard has been silent since their banning of Chung, what they do moving forward will be extremely important. If they stand by their decision to ban Chung, they risk losing even more of their player base to boycotts. If they reverse their decision, they risk upsetting Tencent, the Chinese investment conglomerate that holds a 5% stock investment in Activision Blizzard. Regardless of the decision Blizzard makes, the damage to Chung and the wider community will not go away.
With BlizzCon just a few weeks away, Blizzard will be facing heavy criticism for its actions. Follow Daily Esports for more as the story develops.