Video gaming company Blizzard suspends eSports player after he showed support for Hong Kong protests

Video gaming company Blizzard banned a Hong Kong player “Blitzchung” from Hearthstone eSports for one year and withdrew all the tournament prize money he had won after he showed support for the protests in Hong Kong during a live-streamed post-match interview. Blizzard claimed that the player’s behaviour violated its rules that bar players from conduct that “offends a portion or group of the public”.

Blizzard’s decision was criticized and many players began boycotting the game. Access Now, an international non-profit group that defends the digital rights of users at risk, issued an open letter to Blizzard, urging the company to demonstrate respect for human rights and reverse the penalties imposed on the player. Blizzard then partly reversed its decision and reduced the suspension placed on Blitzchung to six months and decided that the player should still receive his prize money. Blizzard’s president J Allen Brack insisted that "the specific views expressed by Blitzchung were not a factor in the decision we made".

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4 November 2019

Mitsubishi pulls sponsorship of Blizzard e-sports events after gaming company bans Hong Kong player for supporting protests

Author: Nick Statt, The Verge

“Blizzard lost a big sponsor after the Hong Kong outcry: Mitsubishi”, 29 October 2019

Blizzard Entertainment may be feeling the effects of its controversial ban of Hong Kong Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung for quite some time. The company not only faced a widespread player boycott, condemnations from US lawmakers, and numerous employee walkouts over the decision, but it also lost a key sponsor of its international gaming competitions.

According to The Daily Beast, Mitsubishi decided to pull sponsorships of Blizzard e-sports events after the company banned Wai Chung for voicing support for the Hong Kong protesters in a televised post-game interview... Reddit users first noticed the disappearance of the Mitsubishi logo during a recent Asia Pacific Hearthstone tournament, and the company confirmed its decision to pull its sponsorship to The Daily Beast.

The arm of Mitsubishi that pulled its sponsorship support was Mitsubishi Motors Taiwan, the Taiwanese branch of the Japanese auto company. Taiwan is often the subject of contentious disputes between the Chinese government and businesses around the world who risk losing the opportunity to do business in the country’s mainland if they defy in any way the government’s position on Chinese sovereignty of Hong Kong, Taiwan and other territories…

After initially announcing a year-long ban of Wai Chung and the tournament announcers who were interviewing him live… Blizzard has since shortened the ban to six months in response to the fan and public outcry… 

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29 October 2019

Access Now urges Blizzard to demonstrate respect for human rights in open letter

Author: Access Now

11 October 2019

... in light of the recent reports of the suspension and penalization of a Hearthstone player for expressing support for the protesters in Hong Kong. We ask you to reverse the penalties and clarify Blizzard’s policies and practices that affect your users’ right to freedom of expression and to clarify how your policies were implemented in this incident.

... As a major online gaming and user communications platform, Blizzard has a duty to respect human rights in its operations. As the U.N.’s Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recently reiterated, in reference to its call to the Hong Kong Government, it is crucial to protect the right to freedom of expression and “ensure that the right of those who are expressing their views peacefully are respected and protected.”...

In support of the right to freedom of expression, we urge you to reverse the penalties Blizzard imposed on the player and stream casters, and to provide restitution. In addition, and in the understanding that our civil society organization and others support your ongoing efforts to meet your corporate responsibility, we ask you to clarify Blizzard’s policies... 

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23 October 2019

Blizzard issues statement to explain decision to suspend Hong Kong player

Author: Blizzard Entertainment

“Regarding Last Weekend's hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament”, 12 October 2019

… we made the decision to take action against a player named blitzchung and two shoutcasters after the player shared his views on what’s happening in Hong Kong on our official broadcast channel… Esports exist to create opportunities for players from around the world, from different cultures, and from different backgrounds, to come together to compete and share their passion for gaming. It is extremely important to us to protect these channels and the purpose they serve: to bring the world together through epic entertainment, celebrate our players, and build diverse and inclusive communities... blitzchung used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong—in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action... 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…If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same… many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties… our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly… In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing…

But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate… There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast… Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views…

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23 October 2019

Blizzard partly reverses punishment on Hong Kong Esports player by reducing suspension in half and reinstating winnings

Author: The Telegraph

“Pro gamer punished for supporting Hong Kong protests has prize money restored after international uproar”, 14 October 2019

Blizzard has partly reversed its punishment of an Esports player who spoke out in support of the Hong Kong protesters after a fierce backlash from fans, politicians and its own employees. Ng Wai Chung, known as Blitzchung, had been banned from competing in Blizzard's Hearthstone game for one year and stripped of all his winnings after shouting the protest slogan "Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!" during a live-streamed post-match interview.

But the company, which has "Every Voice Matters" as part of its motto, said… that it would cut Chung's suspension in half and reinstate his winnings following an international uproar which led many players of its games to cancel their subscriptions…[A]fter consideration, the company had decided that six months was a "more appropriate" punishment and that he should still receive his prize money because his behaviour had taken place outside the game itself. Responding to the decision, Chung, who lives in Hong Kong and has previously declared that he has "no regrets" about the incident, said he was "grateful" to Blizzard for "reconsidering their position", but urged it to also completely rescind its punishment of two live stream Esports presenters who had hosted the broadcast… Blizzard's initial decision touched a nerve among video game fans, who began boycotting the game and launched a campaign to reappropriate one of Overwatch's characters, a Chinese woman named Mei, as a symbol of resistance. Some Blizzard employees also staged a walk-out.

An official Hearthstone social media account run by Blizzard's Chinese partner NetEase, which operates Blizzard's online games in China under licence, expressed "strong indignation and condemnation of the events" and promised to "protect our national dignity". Rival companies have taken differing stances. Riot Games, the creators of League of Legends, ordered its own players to "keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious or otherwise) separate" from their conduct in tournaments… By contrast, Epic Games, the makers of Fortnite, declared that it would not ban or punish any players for speaking on the same topics… [Also refers to Tencent, NBA, Tiffany]

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11 October 2019

Australia: Online gaming business supports Hong Kong Protest by covering prize money of pro-Hong Kong gamer & allegedly suffers China-originated cyberattack

Author: Nick Bonyhady, The Sydney Morning Herald

"Sydney startup faces cyber attack after supporting pro-Hong Kong gamer", 9 October 2019

A Sydney gaming startup has been hit by a concerted cyber attack after it offered to support a professional gamer banned from his sport for endorsing Hong Kong democracy protests... Immutable was an attack preventing players from logging into its online card game Gods Unchained for about four hours. It came after Immutable announced it would cover prize money worth about $US10,000 ($15,000) that had been withdrawn from a Hong Kong gamer by a competitor.

"The stance we were taking was that we don't think your financial assets should be taken away from you for expressing a belief," Immutable co-founder Robbie Ferguson said.

The online attack shows the risks run by the few companies who take a stance in conflict with China's geopolitical sensitivities, but it also demonstrates the rewards: players angry at Immutable's competitor Blizzard flocked to Gods Unchained... Mr Ferguson said Mr Chung had privately responded on Twitter, saying he appreciated Immutable's offer but did not say whether he would take it up... About seven hours after Immutable announced its offer, it was hit with the cyber attack that blocked players from logging into Gods Unchained. Mr Ferguson said the attaas continuing but Immutable had managed to ward off the damage after about four hours with the help of external security experts.

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