In a lengthy statement, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack stated “our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.”
It has been a time of reckoning for a number of American corporations, as their ties to China have been under scrutiny by their fans and followers. The ripple effects of the protests in Hong Kong finally reached the competitive gaming sphere when Hong Kong Hearthstone player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung made a political statement in support of Hong Kong in a livestream, receiving a year-long ban from competitive Hearthstone. Days later, late on a Friday night, publisher Blizzard Entertainment would finally make a statement.
The letter on Blizzard’s website was credited to President of Blizzard Entertainment J. Allen Brack, with Brack spending a chunk of the statement outlining what he believed to be Blizzard’s ideals in the gaming and competitive spaces.
At Blizzard, our vision is “to bring the world together through epic entertainment.” And we have core values that apply here: Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and importantly, Every Voice Matters, encouraging everybody to share their point of view. The actions that we took over the weekend are causing people to question if we are still committed to these values. We absolutely are and I will explain.
In fleshing out the “Every Voice Matters” point, Brack goes on to explain that the post-game interviews are meant to convey “excitement” and “an opportunity for competitors to share how they feel.” According to Brack, blitzchung’s declaration of support for Hong Kong liberation was a violation of the rules, saying ” the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.” Evidently, “sharing how they feel” can’t extend to anything outside of Hearthstone.
The main pressure point from the statement from readers was the following: “The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” Several replies to Blizzard’s tweet sharing the statement expressed incredulity towards the last sentence in particular. Brack attempts to clarify:
“We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took. If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.“
The current situation in Hong Kong is indeed complex, but the wording from the statement implies that stated support for human rights is “divisive.” Even with Brack’s framing, such doubt towards Blizzard can be justified after translated official posts from the Hearthstone page on Chinese social media website Weibo condemned blitzchung—one particular post spoke of “respect[ing] and defend[ing] the pride” of China while referring to the player’s suspension.
just as the NBA’s original Chinese Weibo statement was pretty harsh on Daryl Morey compared to the English statement, Blizzard’s official Hearthstone Weibo post made an additional comment condemning blitzchung and defending ‘the pride of China’https://t.co/uG6fjpcYhB pic.twitter.com/HBGdjDlwVm
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 9, 2019
Continuing the statement, Brack concedes that the company’s “process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.” As such, Blizzard used the statement to announce that the year-long suspension for blitzchung will be reduced to only six months. Breck ends by emphasizing the importance of an inclusive and safe community, which in their view is by ensuring that the company’s official broadcasts “remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.”
This portion of the statement echoes one from Riot Games, the League of Legends developer that is also a subsidiary of Chinese tech behemoth Tencent.
A message from John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports pic.twitter.com/5Au9rE7T86
— lolesports (@lolesports) October 11, 2019
In contrast, Fortnite studio Epic Games, a company that Tencent also has a minority stake in, stated that the company “supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.”
Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.https://t.co/GWxDjKVjeJ
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) October 9, 2019
Blizzard has also dealt with protests internally, with some employees participating in a walkout (per The Daily Beast) over the company’s decision. A movement to boycott Blizzard and its games has been represented by the #boycottblizzard hashtag, and a number of fan artists have moved to utilize Overwatch character Mei as a symbol for the Hong Kong protests in an attempt to get the hero-based shooter banned from China.
With the effects of the Hong Kong protests also reaching organizations such as the NBA, the blitzchung situation has even reached high-profile American politicians, with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Senator Marco Rubio both putting out tweets that condemned Blizzard.
How Blizzard will continue to enforce their stated policies, what constitutes as “divisive social or political views,” and how competitive players will respond is yet to be seen. With seemingly unanimous dissent against Blizzard even reaching mainstream news, this is undoubtedly not the last we’ll hear from this story.