“Every voice matters” and “think globally” are two of the tenets Blizzard Entertainment proclaims to adhere to. Just last week however, Blizzard violated those tenets and abandoned its morality by punishing professional Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung, known online as "Blitzchung," due to a political statement made in an interview after his victory in a recent match.
After his win in the Hearthstone Grandmaster series, Blitzchung appeared live on the official Hearthstone stream for an interview about his success that was hosted by two other streamers. During this interview, Blitzchung was seen wearing goggles and a gas mask in the style of Hong Kong protesters, who wear them as a symbol of rebellion, as well as for protection. He then took off the gas mask to speak briefly, saying what translates to, “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.” Blitzchung's statement prompted the other streamers to duck their heads under a desk, and the stream was cut to an ad break.
The announcement stated that engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into "public disrepute," offends the public or otherwise damages Blizzard's image will result in removal from the Grandmasters competition and a revocation of prize money.
In addition to pulling his prize money, Blizzard also suspended Blitzchung from competitive Hearthstone play for a year. It was later announced that Blizzard had fired both streamers involved in the interview, because they had allegedly encouraged Blitzchung to make his statement.
Something that needs to be understood is that on paper, Blizzard made the correct move. Blitzchung did break the rules, and a punishment was warranted. It should also be considered that the company, by meting out a punishment the way it did, can maintain its relationship with China and stay in their market.
Blizzard’s initial decision has resulted in massive domestic backlash, both inside and out of the company. Just one day after the announcement, Blizzard employees held a walkout at their headquarters in Irvine, California. The gaming community at large responded with criticisms of Blizzard, and according to Dot Esports, many users started deleting their Blizzard accounts.
One of Blizzard’s most notable casters for Hearthstone, Brian Kibler, released a statement saying he would no longer work with Blizzard unless changes were made. Outside the gaming industry, Senators Marco Rubio and Ron Wyden both weighed in to condemn the company’s actions.
I imagine there are many who sit in the same boat as myself. I wasn’t one of those who deleted their accounts. In fact, I didn’t even consider removing my World of Warcraft subscription.
I am irrefutably and emotionally attached to Blizzard. I can remember nights where I would sit on my dad’s lap and watch him play World of Warcraft, when my grandfather let me make my first character, when I got my own account and even when I was able to create the death knight I play as to this day.
Blizzard has since retreated to a halfway point in their decision, cutting Blitzchung’s suspension in half, returning his prize money and continuing to work with the casters who were on stream with him. That’s nice and all, but they’re a day late and a dollar short, or more accurately four days late and $3,000 short.
On one hand, it is considerate that Blizzard listened to the community. However, it is inexcusable that they took such heavy-handed action in the first place. Rules were broken and punishment was warranted, but in the announcement rescinding their earlier decision, there is one line in particular that stands out, and another that it lacks.
“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," the announcement said.
I can only see this as a blatant lie. No company would go this far in an attempt to shove an incident like this under the rug unless there was some other factor influencing their decision.
This announcement also lacks an apology, making it seem like damage control. Of course Blizzard isn’t sorry, so there's really no point to an apology.
As the situation stands, I won’t be deleting my Blizzard account, because I have too much to lose, personally. However, there could be similar instances that change my point of view in the future. Blizzard should prioritize its consumers from every market and not backtrack their decisions with insincere apologies.