On October 4th, Taiwanese Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung, otherwise known as his gamertag Blitzchung, yelled “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age” over his microphone during a post-win interview. The two interviewers were fired on October 7th, and on October 8th, Blizzard banned Blitzchung from Hearthstone for one year and revoked the $10,000 prize that he earned from winning the Grandmasters Tournament.
Blizzard is a subsidiary of Activision. Asia makes up about 12% of Activision’s revenue, or around $800 million, and about two-thirds of that revenue comes from China. Activision and Blizzard are already working with Tencent and NetEase, two of China’s biggest gaming companies. Tencent has a 4.9% stake in Activision Blizzard, while Blizzard is renewing its partnership with NetEase until 2023. Activision Blizzard and NetEase worked together to release World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and other Blizzard games in China. Considering that China is such a big source of Activision Blizzard’s revenue and business, the company had to choose sides,and Blizzard decided to side with China and ban Blitzchung.
The gaming community was outraged by this incident. On Oct 9, #BoycottBlizzard was trending on twitter. Another Hearthstone team from American University displayed a sign which said “Free Hong Kong Boycott Blizz” which in turn got them banned as well. The outrage grew: many gamers cancelled their subscriptions to World Of Warcraft, one of Blizzard’s most popular games, and hundreds deleted their Blizzard accounts in protest. Hearthstone has been bombarded with negative reviews saying “Free Hong Kong.” A character from Blizzard’s game Overwatch, Mei, was made the symbol of the Hong Kong protests by the outraged Blizzard community. There were hopes that China would respond by banning Overwatch and therefore punishing Blizzard. Mitsubishi has also terminated their sponsorship of Blizzard’s gaming competition events.
On October 11th, Blizzard reduced Blitzchung’s ban from 12 months to 6 while also giving him back the prize money he won. However, they did not issue an apology. This failed to appease the gaming community and protests continue.
I asked the gamers of Washington what they thought about the situation. One student agreed to an interview but preferred to remain anonymous. “I think Blizzard handled the situation well from an economic standpoint,” the student said. “The Asia-Pacific market accounts for 12% of Blizzard’s quarterly revenues, or about $692 million annually.” However, the student also noted that “From a consumer standpoint they messed up. They are a company based in a country where free speech is one of the most valued ideals.” When asked if the backlash from the gaming community was fair, he said, “I think it’s warranted. Again, they can’t please both parties, so there will be backlash from whichever group they didn’t side with. And in this case it just happens to be their customers and free speech.”
Jack ten Bosch thinks differently. “ I think they handled it horribly,” he said. “Freedom of speech should always be enforced, not silenced. I don’t care about what you think or what you say, you have a right to say it.” He added that the backlash from the gaming community was fair. “Sure, Blizzard doesn’t have to agree with Blitzchung, but just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean you have to silence them.”
Aansh Sharma, President of the WHS Gaming Club, agrees with Jack. “I really don’t like the Chinese government’s censorship, since they have abused a lot of human rights,” he said. “Now, companies outside of China have to deal with this [censorship].”