Shortly after winning the Hearthstone world championship professional gamer Ng Wai Chung, who goes by the screen name Blitzchung, interviewed with Taiwanese esports streamers. It looked like any other post-game stream until Chung put on a gas mask. As the interviewers ducked their heads to avoid association with Chung, a Hong Kong resident, said “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times.” Two days later Activision Blizzard, creators of Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and others banned him.
Chung’s statement referred to the ongoing pro-democracy protests after a Chinese investigation involving a Taiwan native who murdered his girlfriend and then fled to Hong Kong prompted the government to propose a bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. Many protesters, whom the government has currently classified as “rioters” wear surgical or gas masks in defiance of a governmental ban on them to minimize the effect of tear gas being used by police and to hide their identities from widespread facial recognition software.
The legislation would allow anyone in Hong Kong who spoke ill of the communist Chinese government, particularly journalists and activists, to be extradited to China where their “crime” carries a death sentence.
In a delayed response, Blizzard stripped Chung of his Grandmaster title, banned him from the league for a year and revoked $10,000 in prize earnings after the incident.
The American University pro-Hearthstone team showed their support for Chung by holding up a sign during their post-game stream that read “Free Hong Kong Boycott Blizz” and as a result, they received a 6-month ban. ” I could care less about a video game over people’s freedom, right?” said Brian Kibler, one of the players for the university.
Blizzcon, which took place in early November, commenced with a group of roughly 60 protesters gathered in front of the Anaheim Convention Center. Lead organizer Dayton Young of Gamers for Freedom led the crowd in chants of “freedom over profits”, “you will not control us” and “you made us leave our couch” as a display of solidarity for fellow gamers.
Blizzard claimed that it had nothing to do with business ties, and cited a pre-existing rule that states, “engaging in any act that … otherwise damage’s Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD.”
Although the statement Irvine-based Blizzard posted on their Twitter claims that the decision to punish Chung had nothing to do with his specific statements, their Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) says they are “very angered and disappointed at what happened … and will always respect and defend our country.”
Blizzard didn’t escape scrutiny from the U.S government either. A bipartisan group of Congress members including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Marco Rubio penned a letter to Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick urging him to preserve free speech and reverse Chung’s punishment.
Young acknowledges that with how interconnected our economy is with China, boycotting all goods from the country would be impractical if not impossible.
“Email the CEOs, the presidents of companies, call them, blow up their social media. Let them know that you’re holding them accountable,” Young said.