American video game developer Blizzard Entertainment banned a professional gamer from its tournaments after he expressed support for the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Blizzard decided to ban Hong Kong-based professional gamer Chung Ng Wai, who plays under the name "Blitzchung," after its Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament Monday. In his post-game interview, Chung donned a gas mask in support of the Hong Kong protesters and shouted "Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!"
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In response, Blizzard Entertainment announced that Chung had fallen afoul of its rules, which state: "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."
"Effective immediately, Blitzchung is removed from Grandmasters and will receive no prizing for Grandmasters Season 2," Blizzard said in a statement. "Additionally, Blitzchung is ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months beginning from Oct. 5th, 2019 and extending to Oct. 5th, 2020." The company's Chinese social media accounts added the sentence, "We will, as always, resolutely safeguard the country's dignity."
Hearthstone is a free online collectable card game spun off from Blizzard's popular World of Warcraft. It now boasts more than 100 million players. The game is particularly popular among professional gamers, with the world's top 48 players playing in Blizzard-sanctioned tournaments called "Hearthstone Grandmasters."
Blizzard, a subsidiary of S&P 500 company Activision, also banned the commentators who conducted the interview, despite neither expressing agreement with Chung's sentiments. Chung stated on social media that his $10,000 in prize money had also been revoked.
Blizzard's decision comes days after the NBA and several of its executives and players distanced themselves from a pro-Hong Kong protest tweet issued by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
"We recognize that the views expressed by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable," the NBA said in a statement. As with Blizzard, the NBA's Chinese social media accounts issued a statement that was far more deferential to the government, saying the NBA was "extremely disappointed in the inappropriate comment."