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Blizzard bans pro, casters for airing political opinions on stream

The gaming world has been talking non-stop recently about the banning of Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai from Hearthstone pro circuits. The player delivered an inciting statement during his winner’s interview during Hearthstone’s Grandmaster series. Blizzard bans blitzchung for using his time during the interview to make political comments on air. Whether or not using this platform for politics is up to debate, but many still criticized Blizzard’s decision to ban the player.

Hearthstone Grandmaster wants to ‘free Hong Kong’

blitzchung in the fateful broadcast
The livestream that led to blitzchung’s suspension

Blitzchung is a Hearthstone player born and residing in Hong Kong. Ongoing protests in Hong Kong inspired blitzchung to make a statement. On October 6, during the GrandMasters 2019 Season 2 APAC tour, blitzchung made political remarks while having his post-match interview. This made the casters interviewing him uncomfortable, who ducked under the camera to disassociate themselves from his statement.

Nevertheless, Blizzard bans all three men for a year, effective from October 5, 2019 up to October 5, 2020. Blitzchung’s prize money, amounting to over $10,000, was also forfeited. Blizzard cites blitzchung’s actions to be disruptive to the tournament. They also claimed that the two casters weren’t able to manage the situation correctly, hence the suspension.

Community Reaction

Blizzard’s actions met heavy criticisms not only from Hearthstone players, but also from the esports community at large. Figures have called out the company’s alleged hypocrisy, since Blizzard supposedly espoused the value “every voice matters“. Leading them is Nathan “Admirable” Zamora, who stepped down as caster from the Grandmaster, Blizzcon and Master Tours. Read his statement below:

Blitzchung’s actions to support Hong Kong speak to me far more than I could have imagined. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and to make sacrifices in the process. His actions are inspiring to me, and I support him wholeheartedly.

For me, this is a large part of my livelihood. This is my passion. This pursuit has been my life, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to make it a career. But I cannot compromise my conviction. Without change, that would convince me that Blizzard will uphold their core value “Every Voice Matters”, I cannot continue casting this game.

Nathan “Admirable” Zamora

Not everyone took the path that Admirable did, stepping down from his role in the company altogether. Still, other casters didn’t hold back their dissent with Blizzard, while also saying that they still wish to continue their casting privileges for the time being. These include Simon “Sottle” Welch, Alexander “Raven” Baguley, andn Darroch Brown. Read their statements below:

Other Casters’ Statements

I fully support Blitzchung’s right to protest and have immense sympathy for his cause and for the plight of the Hong Kong people. What he did was incredibly brave and my heart goes out to him and everyone else fighting for Democracy.
However, in light of the recent relevations that one or more casters will be stepping away from Hearthstone, I would like to affirm that I fully intend to fulfill my contracts with Hearthstone Esports and am open to work with them in the future.
I do not have to agree with the actions or policies of any employer, partner, or service to continue to be affiliated with them. My views are my own, and remain unchanged and uninfluenced by this decision or by Blizzard or Hearthstone Esport’s actions.

Simon “Sottle” Welch

In regards to the events of Blitzchung’s interview, I support his right to protest and cannot even fathom what it is like during the events going on in Hong Kong. He, and the people of Hong Kong, have my sympathy during this time. I truly hope this situation can find a positive resolution that ensures the safety of the people.
Although I do not agree with the decisions that have been made by Blizzard, I will continue to fill my ongoing contracts with the Hearthstone team which include finishing Grandmasters this weekend. I have the utmost respect for the Hearthstone Esports team who are not only my colleagues, but my friends, and will look to continue to work with them in the future.

Alexander “Raven” Baguley

Other reactions from the community

Meanwhile, American University Hearthstone varsity players withdrew from an ongoing Tespa tournament after receiving no sanctions from Blizzard. The team also showed a “Free Hong Kong” signage during a live stream. They call Blizzard’s inaction towards them “a hypocrisy”, as Blizzard’s standards are allegedly not applied equally across the board.

Outside Hearthstone, fans did their own protest by turning the Overwatch character Mei into a symbol of the Hong Kong protests. Other fans have also tried to delete their Blizzard.net accounts. However, Blizzard has allegedly made it harder for users to delete their accounts.

Blizzard employees themselves staged a walkout in response to their company’s decision. None of the Blizzard employees who participated in the walkout received sanctions from the company.

Gods Unchained, another digital card game competitor of Blizzard, offered to recoup blitzchung’s lost earnings, and even offered to pay for blitzchung’s ticket should he decide to join an upcoming Gods Unchained tournament. In a tweet, shown below, the developers stated that “no player should be punished for their beliefs.” The company later reported that they received cyberattacks after making those statements.

Blizzard’s Response

J. Allen Brack , president of Blizzard
Blizzard’s president J. Allen Brack, who made some of the statements regarding blitzchung’s suspension

Blizzard’s initial reaction was to suspend blitzchung and the two casters for one year. They also deletes the VOD where the interview took place. In an October 8 ruling, Blizzard stated that blitzchung violated section 6.1 (o) of the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Ruleset, seen below:

Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms. 

Section 6.1 (o) of the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Ruleset

Blizzard further said that although they “stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts,” players still have to abide by the tournament’s rules and regulations, alluding to the above quote. They stressed that blitzchung’s stand didn’t affect the banning, only the way blitzchung used his platform was what caused the suspension.

Days later, on October 11, Blizzard lowered blitzchung’s and the two casters’ suspension to just six months. They also reversed their revocation of blitzchung’s prize money.

What do you think about this issue? Does blitzchung deserve his suspension? Do you agree with Blizzard’s decision? Let us know in the comments below.