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Blizzard: Chinese interests "had no influence" on Blitzchung ban

Hearthstone developer reduces punishments for pro player's support of Hong Kong protesters as president J. Allen Brack insists response would have been the same to pro-China views

On Friday evening, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack released a statement in response to a week of ongoing criticism from players, developers, and even politicians over its decision to ban pro Hearthstone player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai and strip him of earned prize money for supporting Hong Kong protesters in a post-match interview this week.

"Our esports programs are an expression of our vision and our values," Brack said. "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."

Given the enormous success Activision Blizzard has enjoyed in mainland China and the nearly 5% ownership stake Chinese gaming giant Tencent owns in the publisher, the punishment handed down for Blitzchung has largely been interpreted as a way to avoid threatening the company's Chinese business interests. In its statement, Blizzard insisted that wasn't the case.

"The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made," Brack said. "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."

Despite that, Blizzard did reduce the punishments, with Brack saying that "In hindsight, our process wasn't adequate, and we reacted too quickly." Brack said Blitzchung would receive the prize money he had earned after all, and his ban from the Hearthstone pro circuit has been reduced from one year to six months.

"There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast," Brack said after detailing the lessened penalties.

As for the broadcasters who were interviewing Blitzchung, Blizzard initially severed ties to them, but Brack said the company is suspending them for six months instead because "their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament" and that didn't happen in this case.

"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," Brack said. "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."

Blizzard may have trouble trying to keep the focus on the games when the company's annual BlizzCon begins November 1. Kotaku reported today on multiple protest groups planning actions around the show, with organizers saying that Friday night's statement did little to change their plans.

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Latest comments (4)

Dariusz G. Jagielski Game Developer A month ago
Yeah, sure. Then why that U.S. team wasn't banned for the same? Blizzard, grow a spine and stand up to the Pooh.
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Axel Cushing Freelance Writer A month ago
While I can believe that there was a kneejerk element in the whole affair, I cannot entirely accept that Blizzard's relationship with Tencent (and by extension, the Chinese government) wasn't a factor at all. It may have been subtle, nearly subliminal, but it had to have been in there. Arguably, a 5% stake isn't something that would make people think the life of the entire company hinges on keeping the stakeholder in question happy. But it's not the stake; it's the market access the stake brings, which is probably more than the stake itself. Blizzard has shot itself in the foot with this. Even the backpedaling on the penalty isn't going to undo the damage they've done to their reputation.
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Alex Barnfield Lead Engineer, 17-BITA month ago
This was an incredibly vague rule which explicitly left judgement entirely in Blizzards hands, with the stated aim being to protect the company's image.
Predictably their chosen interpretation did far more to damage their reputation. Why would they score this own goal if not for outside pressure?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alex Barnfield on 13th October 2019 12:13am

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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A month ago
The bill of consumer rights in three Blizzard quotes, the Corporate Manifesto:
Our esports programs are an expression of our vision and our values.
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.
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.

Congratulations, values expressed. In essence, some fake tolerance for any identity in advance, blended with a warning that should you express this identity in a way they do not like it, you will be burned with no due process. That is by no means unique to Blizzard. That is the money first approach for any company that seeks to expand into markets beyond their western origin and vice versa. What would you say, if that Iranian Indie puzzle-platformer stopped the game five times a day and asked you to pray?

Globalized tolerance is merely Don't Ask Don't Tell for everybody. Commercial enterprises are not free speech providers, not even in places where there is free speech. Take a knee, find out for yourself.
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