Blizzard has released an official statement concerning the controversial decision to suspend a professional Hearthstone player and strip him of his prize money for calling out “liberate Hong Kong” during a Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament livestream earlier this week. In it, the company explains its choices, while also restoring the player’s prize money and reducing the suspensions of both they and the shoutcasters involved down from one year to six months.
On Monday, Hearthstone pro Chung ‘blitzchung’ Ng Wai was suspended from the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament and had his prize money stripped when, during a post-match interview, he appeared wearing a mask similar to those involved in the Hong Kong protests and expressed solidarity with their cause. Immediately following the incident, Blizzard decided to suspend blitzchung for a year and take away his current Hearthstone Grandmaster earnings, as well as suspending the two shoutcasters that were hosting the stream at the time.
On the whole, these actions have been received poorly by the community and many in the industry, and as such the publisher has put out a blog to shed some light on the decision-making that went on. In it, J. Allen Brack, President of Blizzard Entertainment, outlines the philosophies that underpinned the choices, stating that while Ng Wai played fine in-game, hence getting his purse back, he violated the over-arching rules of conduct. “Playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast,” Brack writes. “When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.”
Brack states that although all players are encouraged to express their opinions and viewpoints, tournaments and surrounding events are for gameplay only. The two shout-casters have been likewise given six month suspensions because “their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well.”
The post addresses allegations that the initial punishments were politically motivated. The Hong Kong protests are against a proposed bill which, if enacted, would allow local authorities to extradite citizens to mainland China if wanted for crimes there, prompting concerns for Hong Kong’s autonomy and that its people would effectively be brought under Chinese jurisdiction. The vast Chinese media conglomerate Tencent has a 5% stake in Activision-Blizzard, as well as close ties to the governing Chinese Communist Party, which supports the bill. According to Brack, “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.”
The statement has not been received well, many believing it to be too little, too late, and skeptical of the idea this was about rule enforcement over company politics. At the very least, it’s done little to slow a boycott of Blizzard’s products that began soon after the news first broke.