Until yesterday, Hong Kong Hearthstone player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung was member of the very exclusive, very hard-to-qualify-for Hearthstone Grandmasters club — the pinnacle of modern-day Hearthstone esports. But after an ill-fated post-match interview last Sunday, Blitzchung has now been banned for a year by Blizzard and removed from the Grandmasters program. His crime? Calling for the liberation of Hong Kong and drawing attention to the complex political issues in his city.
“Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!”
In a post-game interview on Sunday, Oct. 6, Blitzchung donned a gas mask and shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” — a clear protest against China’s political actions in the player’s home city. According to community member Chua Zhihong, Blitzchung was also encouraged by the casters on the desk to speak out, before hiding under their desks.
The fallout for Blitzchung and the casters was swift. The video of the interview was immediately removed and today, Blizzard came out with the harsh decision to punish everyone involved, Blitzchung most severely of all.
The player has been removed from the Grandmasters program and has been issued a year-long ban. He will also receive $0 prize money from Grandmasters. The two casters have been fired, effective immediately.
Although one can argue that a card game tournament is no place for shouting political statements, it’s hard to justify Blizzard’s decision. Blitzchung was given no warning, and no chance to appeal. His career was ended in one motion and with Hearthstone being a very closed circuit nowadays, the ban likely means that Blitzchung won’t ever make another high Hearthstone podium.
Blizzard explain their decision by citing a very open clause in their rulebook, which states that:
“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 will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.”
If this reads vague, it’s because it was meant this way, giving Blizzard full and unopposable control of their circuit. Since it’s up to Blizzard’s sole discretion to determine that’s offensive or not, a player can be thrown into exile for basically anything they say.
It’s not hard to see where Blizzard’s decision is coming from, given the company’s strong ties to China. Apart from the fact that the Chinese gaming market is one of the most lucrative ones to pursue due to its size and interest in mobile gaming (which Blizzard are gunning for with Diablo: Immortal), Chinese gaming behemoths like Tencent own 5% of Blizzard, while others like NetEase are the official distributor Blizzard titles in China. Connecting the dots and calling out Blizzard for bending to China’s interest is therefore not a difficult task.
Blizzard aren’t the only company that’s taking a knee to China, however. Apart from recent incidents with Houston Rockets owner Daryl Morey getting censored for supporting Hong Kong, other game publishers like Valve has also broken their own principles to operate on Chinese soil, allowing China’s government to police and control what games are available on the Chinese Steam client — a platform that infamously allows all sorts of products.
As for Blizzard, this is another case that will shake the community trust in the company.