If there’s one thing that could be considered apolitical in 2019, it’s likely video games. Yet earlier this week, politics somehow found its way into that sphere when the esports publisher and developer Blizzard banned gamer Ng Wai Chung (known in the gaming world as Blitzchung) from a major tournament for speaking out in favor of the protests in Hong Kong, who is from there.
On Sunday, Blitzchung, who is best known for playing the Warcraft spinoff game Hearthstone, made a comment in favor of the protesters during a live post-game interview, pulling down his mask and saying, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age,” before the stream cut to commercial. The protests, which have been raging since June, were prompted by a (now suspended) bill that would have extradited criminal suspects to China, which protesters argued compromised Hong Kong’s autonomy and put journalists and dissidents at increased risk.
In a statement to the website InvenGlobal prior to Blizzard’s ban, Blitzchung defended vocalizing his support for the protests, saying, “As you know there are serious protests in my country now. My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention.” He added that he was aware that his statement could have a negative impact on his career, but “I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue.”
In response to Blitzchung’s comments, Blizzard announced that it would be banning Blitzchung for one year and taking back his winnings from the Grandmaster Tournament thus far. In a statement, Blizzard claimed that while it didn’t want to suppress free speech, Blitzchung had violated official competition rules preventing players from making statements that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages” the company’s reputation.
Many gamers were outraged by Blizzard’s decision, accusing the company of kowtowing to Chinese interests due to the fact that the Chinese tech company Tencent has a 4.9% stake in the company. The outcry prompted the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard, which started trending on Twitter on Tuesday morning.
Cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft. I support young people proactively advocating for their freedom and democracy; They are shaping a better tomorrow. Punishing them for their activism is shameful. #BoycottBlizzard pic.twitter.com/LcPG48Axbl
— ᑭᕼᗩYᒪEᑎ (@phaylen) October 8, 2019
— Rachel Aaron/Bach (@Rachel_Aaron) October 8, 2019
Blizzard is just one of a number of companies that has actively penalized people for speaking out in favor of the protesters in Hong Kong. Last Friday, the NBA quickly disavowed Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey when he tweeted in favor of the protesters in Hong Kong, referring to Morey’s statement as “regrettable.” The move was largely interpreted as a way to protect the NBA’s business relationships in China, where the government stands in staunch opposition to the protests. (NBA commissioner Adam Silver later backtracked somewhat on this stance, writing in a statement on Tuesday morning, “The NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”)
The Morey scandal unfolded shortly after news broke that the Chinese government had scrubbed episodes of South Park from the internet in light of a recent episode called “Band in China,” which pokes fun at U.S. corporations’ willingness to bend to Chinese censors’ demands. “Like the N.B.A., we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts,” the show’s creators said in a statement issued on Monday. “We too love money more than freedom and democracy.”