Video game company Blizzard Entertainment became the latest American company to bow to pressure from the Chinese government, when it banned professional gamer Ng "blitzchung" Wai Chung from competitive Hearthstone events for 12 months and deleted comments he made supporting the Hong Kong protests from its video-on-demand replay of a postgame interview.
Blizzard, based in Irvine, California, is perhaps best known in the United States for producing the Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft franchises, which were originally released in the 1990s and have all had wildly successful sequels. The video game company also was responsible for producing World of Warcraft, which is one of the most popular video games of all time. More recently, Blizzard released the popular first-person shooter Overwatch in 2016, and recently released a remastered version of the original World of Warcraft.
Blizzard and its subsidiaries rake in billions of dollars annually in revenue, making them one of the most successful video game studios in the world.
Chung hails from Hong Kong and is a professional player of Hearthstone — a spinoff collectible card game that is based on the Warcraft series. Following a recent competitive match, according to reports, Chung put on a gas mask and advocated for the liberation of Hong Kong.
Blizzard's response was swift. According to US Gamer, Blizzard pulled down the archived video for both the post-game interview and for the match itself.
Not content with censoring the content, Blizzard also banned Chung from competitive Hearthstone play for 12 months, and even went so far as to cut ties with the post-game announcers who interviewed Chung, even though they literally hid behind their desks as Chung was making the comments.
In a statement explaining its decision, Blizzard claimed that Chung violated Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules, section 6.1, which states, "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[.]"
Blizzard's statement further claimed, "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."
Given that the "official competition rule" that Chung is accused of violating is essentially a rule that declares that Blizzard has the right to suspend anyone for saying anything the company doesn't like, it would seem difficult to square its actions in this case with the claim that it stands "by one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions."
In an interview with popular gaming site IGN, Chung said that while he thought Blizzard's action was "unfair," he has no regrets about speaking out, saying, "I shouldn't be afraid of these kinds of white terror."
When asked for clarification of what "white terror" meant, Chung said, "It describes anonymous acts that create a climate of fear."
The current controversy with Blizzard comes hot on the heels of profuse apologies from the NBA's Houston Rockets, who have fallen all over themselves to apologize to the Chinese government for a since-deleted tweet from general manager Daryl Morey that was supportive of the protesters in Hong Kong.