On Tuesday, October 8th, professional Hearthstone player and Hong Kong resident Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung was expelled from Grandmasters (the professional Hearthstone league), had his prize money revoked and was banned from professional Hearthstone tournaments for one year.
This occurred due to his post-match interview, in which he lifted the gas mask he was wearing and shouted “reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” which is the slogan used by the Hong Kong protesters while the commentators hid behind their screens.
In addition to Blitzchug’s punishment, both of the broadcasters who did the interview were fired. This series of events has sparked a backlash from multiple gaming communities and has made other non-video game organizations reconsider their stance in this situation as a whole.
Hearthstone is a game made by Blizzard, one of the most successful game companies in the world. The game is loosely based off of World of Warcraft, but in the form of a card game, with the end goal: reducing your opponent to zero life points. Many people on social media have been using #boycottblizzard to voice their anger towards the company’s handling of this tricky situation.
Many people are citing Tencent, a Chinese gaming and tech giant who own 5% of Blizzard, as the reason for this swift punishment. Tencent is a big investor into American gaming companies (such as Blizzard) and they also dominate a lot of the media market in China. People are citing Tencent because they own 5% of Blizzard and if Tencent were to pull out of the company huge money problems and playerbase issues would unfold.
Tweets and statements have been made by Blizzard employees that are against the actions taken by the company. Workers have staged walkouts and taped signs in Blizzard’s main office showing there thoughts on this issue.
Blitzchung’s expulsion from Grandmasters hasn’t just affected the Hearthstone community, it has been a topic for gaming communities across the board. Fans and players alike ask the companies of their favorite games to stand with Hong Kong and to ensure that players can say what they want and not feel in danger due to their beliefs.
This thought process is subject to consequences, with companies wanting to ensure players are using their professional platform to play the game rather than voice their political beliefs. Blizzard has rolled back there punishment on blitzchung, announcing that he will receive his prize money and only have a 6 month ban, which means he will be able to play in the next Grandmasters season. While this is a good step from blizzard, they still have a huge hole to climb out of.
Even with blitzchung making a statement on his twitter saying he understands the choice blizzard made, some people still worry that it wasn’t enough. It will be very interesting to see how Blizzard gets out of this situation, especially with their flagship event Blizzcon coming up soon.
Blizzard needs to make a choice and it’s a choice that has the chance to send shockwaves throughout the esports community. Do they side with the Chinese market or do they listen to the people who say China is at fault.
That debate is still to be had, both on twitter and in meetings across the world.