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Last week, Hearthstone pro player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai appeared during a post-game livestream and came out in support of the ongoing Hong Kong protests. You're no doubt familiar with Blizzard's response and the week-long backlash that ensued.
On the off-chance you're fresh to this story, Blizzard opted to ban Blitzchung from 2019's Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition and all subsequent Hearthstone esports competitions for 12 months, while also taking the prize money he earned during Grandmasters Season 2.
Blizzard argued at the time that Blitzchung was in violation of the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters competition rules, which state that "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 Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player's prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard's Website Terms."
Suffice to say, a large chunk of gamers, politicians, and industry folk did not see Blitzchung's punishment the same way as Blizzard clearly did, with many suggesting that the company only responded the way it did to protect its business interests in China. It's worth noting that Chinese company Tencent owns a five percent stake in Activision Blizzard.
The backlash was swift and wide-reaching, with Blizzard employees threatening walkouts, gamers planning protests, and other high-profile players and casters on the Hearthstone pro scene either refusing to play or stepping away from the game outright. There's even a spirited campaign to turn Overwatch character Mei into a Hong Kong protest symbol, in an effort to damage Blizzard's prospects in China.
Blizzard banned pro Hearthstone winner for supporting free Hong Kong and took away his prize money. It would be SUCH A SHAME if Mei became a symbol of Hong Kong democracy and got #Overwatch banned in China like Pooh did
#FreeHongKong #MeiWithHongKong #MeiSupportsHongKong pic.twitter.com/yPum1ZTQqH
- Wenqing Yan (@Yuumei_Art) October 9, 2019
Following the week-long controversy, Blizzard now appears to have caved (to an extent).The company has finally issued a statement on the matter, in which it confirms it plans to allow Blitzchung to collect his previously-earned prize money and reduce his suspension to six months.
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack explained in the statement that the company wants to keep esports events focused on games, and that the sentiment behind Blitzchung's comments wasn't the issue, it was that he commented on an issue that had nothing to do with Hearthstone. Nor, claims Brack, did the ruling have anything to do with Blizzard's business interests in China.
"The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made," Brack wrote. "I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision."
"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."
"One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games."
Blitzchung has since responded to Blizzard's statement, noting that he's grateful to the company for reconsidering, but that he also has "no idea" if he'll return to the game in a competitive capacity. "I will take this time to relax myself to decide if I am staying in competitive Hearthstone scene or not," he wrote.
[中/ENG] Personal statement, view on Blizzard's decision and future planning
- Ng Wai Chung (@blitzchungHS) October 12, 2019
It's unlikely that Blizzard's statement is going to win back too many of the fans who came out against the company's original ruling, but if nothing else, Blitzchung getting the prize money he originally earned can only be seen as a good thing.
The only thing that's certain at this stage is that last week's events are bound to leave a mark on the Hearthstone community for quite some time to come.
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