As fans push back against Blizzard’s action against a Hearthstone pro’s comments in support of the protests in Hong Kong, players are starting to put increased scrutiny on other companies with big interests in China. (Which, admittedly, is most major publishers in 2019.) Now, Riot Games has had to assure fans that it is not directing broadcasters to avoid mentions of Hong Kong during the League of Legends World Championships.
Fans noted a number of instances during the Worlds broadcast where casters appeared to avoid saying the name of the team Hong Kong Attitude, instead referring to the group by its initials, HKA. In one clip posted to Reddit, a caster starts to say the full name of the team before correcting himself to HKA.
While many players quickly took this as another example of Hong Kong protest censorship, Riot itself says otherwise – though the company does note that it’s playing cautiously around the topic in some respects. LoL communications lead Ryan Rigney posted an official statement to Twitter yesterday.
“We want to correct some confusion that we are seeing regarding our coverage of Hong Kong Attitude,” Rigney writes. “As you can see from our official @lolesports twitter account, we refer to their team interchangeably by both their full name and their tricode abbreviation HKA, as we routinely do with all the teams in our ecosystem.”
Rigney follows up to say “To make this as explicit as possible, we aren’t telling anyone to avoid saying ‘Hong Kong.’ We’d just rather the team be referred to by its full name. There’s been some confusion internally about this as well and we’re working to correct it.” He adds that “We should have better prepped our casters and we’re reiterating this policy to them today.”
He also confirms that “a majority of our interviews on any given broadcast day are pre-recorded.” That’s often just for convenience, but can be because “we want to be thoughtful about the message we’re broadcasting (like in this case).”
Riot is wholly owned by Chinese conglomerate Tencent, which has added to some fans’ concerns about their actions here. Tencent owns 5% Activision Blizzard, which is still facing ‘boycott Blizzard’ threats and employee walkouts after it punished Hearthstone pro Blitzchung for supporting the protests in an interview. Tencent also owns 40% of Epic Games, which says in the wake of the controversy that it “supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics.”