Blizzard Entertainment released a statement on Friday regarding the suspension of a Hong Kong Hearthstone player known as Blitzchung after he made pro-democracy statements on a live stream.
The pro player Blitzchung was suspended from tournaments for one year and had his Grandmaster prize money revoked after he made pro-Hong Kong protester statements in a live stream. Blizzard cited Section 6.1 of the tournament’s rules, which prohibits players from making statements that “offends a portion or group of the public.” It’s just vague enough that it can be used for almost anything. In this case, his statements would offend China, I suppose.
Fans were quick to react, with many cancelling their subscriptions to certain games, making Overwatch’s Mei into a pro-democracy symbol, and planning protests around the upcoming Blizzcon. Employees of the company also staged a walk out, and one of the founding team leads of World of Warcraft publicly cancelled his subscription. Things escalated incredibly quickly and all eyes were on Blizzard to respond.
On Friday they tweeted out a link to a ‘statement,’ which at first gave fans a 404 error. This snafu is par for the course in this incredibly frustrating comedy of errors. Nothing about how they handled this situation has been executed with any degree of competence. But eventually we got the real statement from Blizzard Entertainment President J Allen Brack, which was largely a PR puff piece that does very little to correct the situation.
The statement says the following (edited for length):
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. 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.
Our esports programs are an expression of our vision and our values. Esports exist to create opportunities for players from around the world, from different cultures, and from different backgrounds, to come together to compete and share their passion for gaming. It is extremely important to us to protect these channels and the purpose they serve: to bring the world together through epic entertainment, celebrate our players, and build diverse and inclusive communities.
He’s absolutely right that these actions have caused fans to question if they hold true to their core values. How can you say that “Every Voice Matters” when you silence a voice from a community that is currently in an incredibly volatile situation? Yes, we question if you’re holding up to these values. Because it certainly doesn’t seem like it.
That’s basically the only part of the statement that’s spot on. The rest of the statement goes on to double down on their decision and does little to alleviate the fear that they caved to China.
[Our] official esports tournament broadcast was used as a platform for a winner of this event to share his views with the world.
We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.
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.
This implies that if Blitzchung hadn’t used an official Blizzard stream to make these statements, he would have been okay. I’m doubting this. A coach for Overwatch was forced to remove a tweet on his own Twitter account, and then avoided talking about who forced him to remove it. As he won’t discuss it, we can’t confirm that it was Blizzard that made him do it, but a lot of us strongly suspect that’s the case. Could it have been another party who forced him to remove it? Maybe. But who?
Secondly, another group also promoted the same message just a couple days later on a stream and went unpunished, so at the very least this rule is applied inconsistently. Maybe the backlash from Blitzchung’s suspension scared them, and they didn’t want to cause more controversy. Or maybe they just wanted to shift their controversy focus over to the Gay Boys WoW guild instead? Because I’m starting to think they intentionally enjoy causing drama. They just can’t help themselves. It’s like a compulsion.
But still, why punish Blitzchung and not the American University team? It’s a weird inconsistency that has yet to be explained. The American University team has since quit the tournament anyway, but they were scheduled for another match even after making the statement.
Part of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters is recognizing that we have players and fans in almost every country in the world. Our goal is to help players connect in areas of commonality, like their passion for our games, and create a sense of shared community.
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.
Gonna call bull on that last part. Come on.
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.
Over the past few days, many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties. We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.
Oh good, we’re making some progress….
We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value—Play Nice; Play Fair.
In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention.
At the very least, Blitzchung gets his money. He deserves it, so that’s good. He’s incredibly talented and won the tournament fairly. And I must confess I get a certain amount of glee thinking about the fact that some of that money will almost certainly be used to support the protests. Even if he only spends it on himself, he’s proven himself to be a part of the movement and I’m happy that he’s going to have that cash on hand while his city goes through this ordeal.
But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.
And there is the double down. He’s still suspended, but they cut his time in half. This feels like an attempt to have their cake and eat it, too. They still please China by discouraging players from speaking up about the Hong Kong protests, but cut down his suspension in the hopes that’ll satisfy the mob. Judging by the Twitter reaction to the statement, the mob is not at all satisfied. And who can blame them?
They then conclude their statement in a a typical PR fluffy way in the hopes that this will all blow over.
Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.
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.
At Blizzard, we are always listening and finding ways to improve—it is part of our culture. Thank you for your patience with us as we continue to learn.
This is a clear attempt to save face while still bending to China’s demands on censoring pro Hong Kong sentiments. No amount of fluffy PR prose is going to change that. You cannot PR your way out of this mess, Blizzard. You screwed up here. And instead of owning that screw up, you are making excuses for it and hoping that giving him his money and cutting his suspension in half will make make it all go away.
It’s not going to work.
Their statements regarding the context of the suspension are also doubtful and contradict the other actions they’ve taken the past few days. Saying this wasn’t about China specifically when there is a growing list of companies who are very specifically censoring this type of speech is laughable. It’s China and you can’t pretend that it’s not because we all see what’s going on all around us. From the NBA forcing a team manager to remove a tweet to Apple removing the flag of Taiwan for people in Hong Kong and Macau, we see what’s happening. You are not fooling us by saying that you are somehow immune to this trend.
If any of us were expecting Blizzard to make a decision based on morals and not the financial bottom line, we were clearly deluding ourselves. For a brief moment I had some hope. I’ve been inspired by the protesters and thought just maybe the scales would be tipped in favor of the people for a change. Forgoing punishment for the American University team also gave me hope, and I thought just maybe that Blizzard would reverse the whole thing and make an apology. I was wrong.
There is one certainty, however. Blizzcon is going to be interesting. I suspect there will be a sea of pro-Democracy Mei’s, perhaps some real protesters, and maybe even an arbitrary set of rules thrown together by Blizzard to try to squash what is surely going to be a unique and lively con experience. With how Blizzard has handled the situation so far, I feel like any attempt to stop it will be hilariously futile and clumsy.
If you’re going to Blizzcon, contact us. We’d love to know what’s happening on the ground as it happens. None of our reporters are scheduled to be there at this time, but we’d love to have a proxy that can send us information and photos of any protest activity at the con.
But back to the protest in Hong Kong itself and the situation with Blitzchung, what can we do to help with this situation?
Keep speaking out just as we have been. Keep pushing back against corporations when they make these types of decisions. Keep supporting the protesters on the ground and listen to what they are saying about what is and is not helpful (it’s complicated, read about it here). And don’t let the corporations who are supporting censorship get away with pushing out fluffy PR pieces that don’t do anything to actually fix the situation. Blitzchung got his money, thank goodness, but the censorship problem is still ongoing.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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