Game company Activision Blizzard – the company behind World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and many popular games – have landed in a lot of hot water following their banning of professional Hearthstone player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai. Blitzchung made a political statement supporting the Hong Protests during a stream of the Hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament.
The stream was quickly taken down, and Blizzard responded by saying that the actions violated a rule against "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."
Before going into more detail, it's worth noting that the Chinese market is huge for video games. Activision Blizzard has a massive investment in the region, and the Chinese company Tencent owns 5% of the shares in the American company.
Blizzard responded by removing Blitzchung from the competition. His prize money was also taken from him and he was given a 12-month ban against participating in official Hearthstone esports. Blizzard also punished the casters that were involved with the stream, saying that they would cut ties with them.
Most people didn't argue against the fact that Blizzard's regulation was technically violated. Even Blitzchung himself has admitted that he knew what he did went against the rules. The problem for many is that the punishment was way too severe. For Blitzchung to lose all of his winnings and receive a year-long ban – not to mention the two casters who just happened to be there were fired – was way too harsh.
Following this action came a week of upheaval against Blizzard from players, employees, and even news corporations and political figures. Blizzard finally responded to everything with an official statement on Friday.
The statement amounted to a defense of Blizzard's actions against Blitzchung and a minor step-back from what they had done. The suspension against Blitzchung was shortened to six months, and the casters who were initially fired were instead given their own six-month suspensions.
The statement didn't do much to put out the fires though. It was criticized for drawing attention to Blizzard's core values of "think globally; lead responsibly" and "every voice matters" during a statement that effectively argued against free speech and the player's right to speak their own political thoughts.
Another part of the statement that drew ire was the claim that the company's relationship with China had nothing to do with the decision.
"The specific views exposed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made," the statement reads. "I want to be clear; our relationships in China had no influence on the decision."
Nobody is buying that idea though. It doesn't help that the statement doesn't offer any further details that support this claim, and the evidence appears to suggest it is a lie. It's plausible to believe that Tencent didn't directly tell them to hand down the punishment they did. The relationship didn't influence the decision. However, it belies believability to suggest that the financial concerns of angering China weren't behind the decision.