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Blizzard Games Caught Up In Free Speech Question Over Hong Kong Protests, Bans Gamer Over Remarks

Blizzard Games Caught Up In Free Speech Question Over Hong Kong Protests, Bans Gamer Over Remarks

Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ: ATVI)'s Blizzard Entertainment banned a professional esports gamer and withheld his prize money after he expressed solidarity with anti-government protesters in Hong Kong during a Taiwanese live stream of a Hearthstone tournament.

The controversy follows a similar firestorm involving the National Basketball League over how much individuals can criticize Chinese government actions as the organizations they represent chase financial rewards in the enormous Chinese market.

What Happened

The esports player, Chung Ng Wai, who plays under the name “Blitzchung,” was wearing a mask, like those being worn by some Hong Kong protesters, in an interview after winning his match in the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters Tournament on Sunday.

Chung, who is based in Hong Kong, then removed the mask, and said “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our age.”

The live stream then cut to an advertisement, according to Inven Global, which was among the first to report on the incident. The video-on-demand replay of the match was then made unavailable.

See Also: Houston Rockets, NBA Face Backlash In China After GM Tweets About Hong Kong Protests

The Fallout

The company said Chung violated a rule that players who engage in any act that, according to Blizzard, “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard’s image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total.”

“Grandmasters is the highest tier of Hearthstone Esports and we take tournament rule violations very seriously,” the Irvine, Calif.-based company said on its website. "We are taking the necessary actions to prevent similar incidents.”

Negative Consequences

Chung said he has supported the protesters and understood his actions could “cause me a lot of trouble.

“But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue,” Chung said in a statement to Inven Global. In another statement to Polygon, Chung said he hoped his action would give protesters energy.

“There will definitely be negative consequences,” Chung said in the statement, issued before the Blizzard ban.

Blizzard said Chung will be ineligible from playing Hearthstone esports for a year. It also banned the two "casters" who were live streaming the interview.

“While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules,” Blizzard said.

On Tuesday, Immutable Games, makers of digital card game “Gods Unchained,” said it would pay Chung’s winnings and offer him a ticket to its $500,000 tournament.

The controversy comes after the NBA, and its Houston Rockets franchise, were caught up in a tense maelstrom after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for the protesters. China, which the NBA considers a huge part of its growth plans, suspended broadcasts of league games and threatened other actions. The NBA tried to smooth over the issue, drawing further criticism in the United States.

See Also: Nomura Upgrades Activision Blizzard, Bullish On 'WoW Classic' And 'Overwatch'

Other Players React

On Reddit, gamers expressed disappointment with Blizzard, with some saying they plan to stop playing its games, with post headlines like, "Player since 2014, I quit today,"

One Reddit user posted a screenshot of an email to Blizzard.

"I am requesting a refund for all products I have purchased from you," the user wrote. "You have made it clear you can rescind payment to a Hearthstone competitor if you disagree with their message ... I can only assume you will allow me to do the same when I disagree with your positions."

Activision Blizzard's stock was down 1.5% on Tuesday to $54.54 per share.

Photo credit: Marco Verch, Flickr

Posted-In: Blitzchung Blizzard Entertainment ChinaNews Politics Sports Global General Best of Benzinga


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