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.