Blizzard relaxes punishment on pro-Hong Kong Hearthstone player

October 14, 2019 | 11:32

Tags: #censorship #esports #hearthstone #j-allen-brack #ng-wai-blitzchung-chung #ng-wai-chung #pro-gaming #protests

Companies: #blizzard #chinese-government

Blizzard's president J. Allen Brack has penned a missive which aims to clarify the company's stance on political speech during its competitive gaming events, while reducing the penalty applied to a player who used a post-match interview to voice his support for the pro-democracy protests currently taking place in Hong Kong.

Blizzard riled its fan base last week when the company banned a pro-gamer and refused to pay around $10,000 in match winnings after the player, Ng Wai Chung, used a post-match interview to voice his support for protestors in Hong Kong, stating in Chinese that viewers should 'liberate Hong Kong, [the] revolution of our age!'

Blizzard's response was swift and, its critics claim, heavy-handed: The stream was cut and Chung was ejected from the competition, made to forfeit around $10,000 in winnings, and banned from competitive play in Blizzard games for 12 months. The two hosts of the stream, who did not appear to know what Chung was planning and who hid under their desk as soon as it became clear, were also told they would no longer be working with Blizzard.

The company claimed that Chung's actions breached a competition rule stating '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.'

Critics, however, claimed that the overly-broad rule - which, effectively, gives Blizzard the right to eject anyone for any reason at any time - was being used to cover political censorship either at the behest of or in a desire to please the Chinese government, which through Tencent has a stake in Activision Blizzard.

Now, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack has broken his silence on the matter. 'At Blizzard, our vision is "to bring the world together through epic entertainment." And we have core values that apply here: Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and importantly, Every Voice Matters, encouraging everybody to share their point of view,' Brack writes in an blog post 'The actions that we took over the weekend are causing people to question if we are still committed to these values. We absolutely are and I will explain.

'Over the weekend, blitzchung [Chung's gaming handle] used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong—in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action. Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.

'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,' Brack goes on to state. '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.'

Brack has, however, admitted that the company's initial response 'wasn't adequate, and we reacted too quickly'. Accordingly, and in the face of calls for boycotts against its products, Blizzard has altered Chung's punishment: He will now receive the full prize money he had already earned, and his ban is reduced to six months. The two stream hosts have also been invited to work with Blizzard again following a six-month suspension.

Chung has published a statement via Twitter voicing his acceptance of Brack's statement - which, it must be noted, does not contain any wording suggestive of an apology or even a hard admission of any wrongdoing. 'Many people has been asking me if I accept the latest decision of Blizzard,' he writes. 'For tournament prizing, I quoted what Blizzard said on the official website, they mention that I played fair in the tournament and they believe I should receive my prizing. This is the part I really appreciate, Blizzard also said they understand for some this is not about the prize, but perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. People from Blizzard had explained this to me through a phone call and I really appreciate that and I accept their decision on this part.

'For second part about the suspension, Blizzard had changed their suspension on me from a year to six months. Once again, I appreciate for their reconsideration on this. To be honest, I think six months is still quite a lot to me. But I also being told that I can continue to compete in the hearthstone pro circuit which they mean the grandmaster tournament. I appreciate for this decision they made because grandmaster is currently the highest level tournament in competitive Hearthstone. However, I wish Blizzard can reconsider about their penalty on the two casters involved.'

Chung has not decided whether he will return to the competitive Hearthstone circuit following the expiration of his ban.

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