Maik Boenisch | Pacific Press | LightRocket | Getty Images
In a post-match interview on the Taiwanese stream of Blizzard Entertainment game “Hearthstone,” player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai wore a gas mask and goggles and appeared to shout a slogan often associated with Hong Kong protesters: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
Very shortly after, Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Activision Blizzard running the “Hearthstone” tournament, announced Blitzchung would be suspended for 12 months and be stripped of his prize money.
Anti-Blizzard sentiment spread across the internet with the front page of Reddit dominated by the topic on Wednesday and the hashtag “#Blizzardboycott” doing the rounds on Twitter.
But on Saturday, Blizzard announced it would reduce Blitzchung’s suspension to six months and give him the prize money back, admitting that it “reacted too quickly” in the first place.
Blizzard is one of the companies, along with Apple, that has been criticized for appearing to bend over backwards to China’s demands.
Anti-government protests have rocked Hong Kong for four months now. They first erupted over a now withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed fugitives to be transferred to mainland China for trial, but are being seen as protests against Beijing’s growing influence in the semi-autonomous city.
Blizzard insisted that its relationships in China did not influence its decision to punish Blitzchung.
“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,” J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment, said in a statement.
Brack said Blizzard has rules around its official broadcasts and that Blitzchung was in violation of those.
“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,” he said. “If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.”
Brack also said that the official broadcasts need to be focused on the game:
Over the weekend, blitzchung 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.
American organizations’ relationships in China are under intense scrutiny and several have come under fire for appearing to give in to Beijing’s censorship demands.
The NBA furor sparked the debate after Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets team, tweeted a message in Hong Kong, which was quickly deleted. The NBA first appeared to apologize for Morey’s remarks which was . But later, the league’s commissioner Adam Silver came out in support of Morey’s right to express his opinion. Silver’s remarks drew strong criticism from Chinese state media.
Meanwhile, Apple was in hot water with Beijing for allowing an app, which let Hong Kong protesters see the location of police, onto its App Store. Following , Apple .