The reaction to yesterday’s news that Blizzard suspended Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Waifor expressing pro-Hong Kong views has been, well, pretty severe. Posts criticising Blizzard have been all over Reddit and Twitter, while the incident has even broken into mainstream consciousness, with Republican and Democratic politicians alike calling out the decision.
On r/HongKong, meanwhile, things have taken a rather more proactive turn, as multiple posts have appeared seeking to turn Overwatch’s Mei into a Hong Kong protest symbol.
“It would be such a shame if Mei from Overwatch became a pro-democracy symbol and got Blizzard’s games banned in China,” reads one such post. “Let’s get back at Blizzard by making Mei a pro-democracy symbol!”, says a popular tweet.
In a very short space of time, multiple posters and pieces of artwork have appeared on the sub (and the newly reopened r/Blizzard), along with slogans and supportive messages. Many present Mei in Hong Kong colours or wearing a gas mask in the style of the protestors, while one Reddit user has even edited an official Overwatch cinematic to include Hong Kong references. The movement has also spilled onto Twitter, with the hashtag #meiwithhongkong being used to share artwork and protest slogans.
In Overwatch lore, Mei’s character is actually from Xi’an in China, but Hong Kong protesters clearly see her potential as an anti-Communist Party icon – and, of course, anyone can be pro-democracy. Many view Blizzard’s suspension of the Hearthstone player as financially motivated: so turning Mei into a protest symbol is also a retaliatory move intended to get Overwatch banned (or at least censored) in China, potentially damaging Blizzard’s business interests.
Meanwhile, back in the world of Hearthstone esports, some college Hearthstone players have echoed Blitzchung’s on-stream protest with one of their own. Towards the end of a match between Worcester Polytechnic Institute and American University, the latter team held up a banner reading “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz”. Once again, the stream quickly cut away to show the other team, but not fast enough to avoid that precious airtime. It is as yet unknown if American University will face repercussions for the protest.
Blizzard, of course, isn’t a totally united front – and many employees clearly disagree with the company’s decision. The Blizzard campus in Irvine California is decorated with an Orc statue, which is surrounded by mottos such as “think globally” and “every voice matters”. An image has now emerged showing these have been covered up with paper, apparently by disgruntled Blizzard employees.
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
As #BoycottBlizzard continues to trend on Twitter, it seems this issue isn’t simply going to go away. Thanks to the timing of this alongside similar controversies (the NBA and South Park), Blizzard’s Hearthstone suspension has become part of something much bigger: a wider ideological battle between American democratic values and financial interests, centred on Hong Kong and China. I suspect this is a conversation that will continue for some time.