On October 6, professional Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai won a match in the Hearthstone Grandmasters competition and used a postgame interview to voice his support for protestors currently voicing their frustration with Hong Kong and the Chinese government. Shortly thereafter, Blizzard removed him from the competition, revoked his winnings, and suspended him from all Hearthstone esports competitions for a year. The broadcasters who interviewed him were also fired.
It was an immensely controversial punishment that doesn’t seem to fit the crime — if you can even call it that. If anything, it only shows how Blizzard’s current rules can be manipulated to suit the needs of those with their own agenda in the company.
Blizzard cited a line in its official Grandmasters competition rules for the decision:
“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages [the] Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters competition and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0, in addition to other remedies which may be provided under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.”
The vagueness of this rule means “offending” someone could mean coming into conflict with a government. Blizzard has immense support in China that include professional esports teams. Suspending Chung Ng Wai appears to be a step to appease potential government or regulatory bodies in China than it is to avoid offending anyone. After all, nothing offensive toward a particular person or group was said in the statement.
Hong Kong’s protests are largely driven by people who believe their civil rights are being violated by an increasing police state and assimilation into the rest of China. It has resulted in beatings, deaths, and arrests, and shows no signs of stopping.
Blizzard’s opposition to words condemning the protestors’ mistreatment doesn’t fall in line with the values of its characters, particularly in the game Overwatch — where freedom and the defense of those who cannot defend themselves are key themes.
Should Blizzard move down this path further in the future, it points to a company that does not embrace its own values, and whose games designed with themes that are nothing more than window dressing. It is a depressing prospect and one that could ultimately be the downfall of a company that appears to be struggling internally.
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