During the week a major controversy engulfed Blizzard Entertainment after the company made the decision to suspend Heartstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai, withhold his prize money, and fire two presenters following the player’s statement supporting the Hong Kong protestors. Blitzchung is a Hong Kong native himself, so this would be an issue close to his heart. In response to the initial backlash Blizzard stated he had broken competition rules stating he engaged in an act that bought himself and the company into disrepute, offended a portion of the public, and damaged Blizzard’s image.
Since that day there has been a growing sentiment in Hong Kong and in western markets that Blizzard bowed down to pressure from the Chinese authorities, and put the interests of China in front of the people of Hong Kong. Players have called for boycotts against Blizzard and have attempted to make Overwatch character Mei, a Chinese character, one of the mascots for the Hong Kong protestors.
Now Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Beck has published a statement addressing the issue, and you can read it in its entirety below.
Hello Blizzard Community . . .
I want to take a few minutes to talk to all of you about the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament this past weekend. On Monday, 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.
At Blizzard, our vision is “to bring the world together through epic entertainment.” And we have core values that apply here: Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and importantly, Every Voice Matters, encouraging everybody to share their point of view. The actions that we took over the weekend are causing people to question if we are still committed to these values. We absolutely are and I will explain.
Our esports programs are an expression of our vision and our values. 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.
As to how those values apply in this case:
First, our official esports tournament broadcast was used as a platform for a winner of this event to share his views with the world.
We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.
Over the weekend, 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.
Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.
Second, what is the role of shoutcasters for these broadcasts?
We hire shoutcasters to amplify the excitement of the game. They elevate the watchability and help the esports viewing experience stay focused on the tournament and our amazing players.
Third, were our actions based on the content of the message?
Part of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters is recognizing that we have players and fans in almost every country in the world. Our goal is to help players connect in areas of commonality, like their passion for our games, and create a sense of shared community.
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.
We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.
If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.
OK, what could Blizzard have done better, and where do we go from here?
Over the past few days, many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties. We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.
We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value—Play Nice; Play Fair.
In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention.
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, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.
With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well.
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.
One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games.
At Blizzard, we are always listening and finding ways to improve—it is part of our culture. Thank you for your patience with us as we continue to learn.
J. Allen Brack
President of Blizzard Entertainment
As you can imagine the statement has not gone down well in a lot of circles. People have pointed out that stated the ban had nothing to do with China is contradictory to what the official Hearthstone Weibo account in China posted, which very much stated it had to do with the nation’s image. As translated by IGN the Weibo post stated:
“We express our strong indignation [or resentment] and condemnation of the events that occurred in the Hearthstone Asia Pacific competition last weekend and absolutely oppose the dissemination of personal political ideas during any events [or games]. The players involved will be banned, and the commentators involved will be immediately terminated from any official business. Also, we will protect [or safeguard] our national dignity [or honor].”
It’s quite clear that the company is molding its message to fit the different audiences, and in this case gives hypocritical stances. There’s also been some hit back at how Blizzard is applying the values of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters. The company states that the rules were in place to solely make sure the broadcast focused on the games, but people have called it out as punishment wasn’t handed out to members of American University for also supporting Hong Kong, and that Blizzard itself has used its broadcasts to promote issues that some of the audience may disagree with, such as its support for Pride which is a very important cause but again doesn’t play into the rule that the sole reason for the broadcasts is to focus on the games.
While Blizzard has reduced the ban from to six months for both Blitzchung and the presenters, plus now awarded the prize money the statement itself is a non-apology to those involved. It also feels like Blizzard really needs to work out what its values actually mean instead of being empty platitudes.