Here’s an official corporate statement from Blizzard Entertainment, makers of video games like Hearthstone:
We’d like to re-emphasize tournament and player conduct within the Hearthstone esports community from both players and talent. 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.
I disbelieve part of that statement and am unmoved by the rest.
The player in question goes by Blitzchung, and he’s alleged to have violated one of the Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules:
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 damage’s 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.
…which is, to put it mildly, broadly written. It’s hard to imagine anything an esports player does in public that couldn’t be interpreted as running afoul of this rule – pet a puppy and, if enough PETA-types raise a stink about “animal slavery,” you could be banned for “offending” the PETA-adjacent “portion of the public.” If you say you love your mother, and some overeager culture warrior makes you an example of heternormative patriarchal hegemony, then someone at Blizzard interprets that as “public disrepute,” and wham. Or you might say you’re proud to be a [demographic] and the other culture warriors might rally in defense against your alleged entryism. And the bit about “Blizzard’s image” covers those cases where a Blizzard minion can’t find someone offended by a player’s actions but imagines that someone might be offended.
That’s section 6.1 (o) of the rulebook, by the way. Sections (b) through (n) outline everything specific that a player can do to piss Blizzard off, from “violation of sponsorship requirements” to in-game harassment to being charged with a crime to not using a hotel room that Blizzard offered to pay for.
The bit about “talent” from Blizzard’s statement refers to the two casters who were interviewing Blitzchung, There’s some doubt as to whether they encouraged Blitzchung to commit his “offense” beforehand – every story I’ve seen that says they did is based off of one Chinese Hearthstone fan’s translation (and interpretation of that translation) on Twitter, and if his translation is accurate, it could be read as either a plan or a warning. But Blizzard fired them anyway.
And for those of you who were thinking that being banned from a video game isn’t a big deal, that “reduction of the player’s prize total to $0” reportedly cost Blitzchung $10,000.
And in case you’re wondering what this is all about, here’s a translation of Blitzchung’s “offensive” statement:
Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!
Blitzchung is from Hong Kong, so there was at least some chance he’d support Hong Kong localism.
This may or may not seem like a good idea to you, but it’s only “offensive” to the Chinese government, which acts as a gatekeeper between American media companies and Chinese media consumers, including unofficially or semi-officially dissuading Chinese companies from working with “offenders” from other countries… and which would really rather no one ever again mention the failure of Hong Kong’s fugitive-extradition bill and the months of intermittent protests that revealed how many Hongkongers distrust or dislike the other system in Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” setup.
So while it’s not much of a surprise that a Hong Kong-based esports player would support a Hong Kong political movement, it’s also not much of a surprise that an American media company would step all over that player to appease Beijing’s control freaks. Not supporting the Chinese Communist Party and not quashing a Hong Kong localist Hearthstone player might have cost them several percent of their annual profits.
P.S. Because this is the Year of the Self-Destructing Game Publisher, a somewhat credible rumor started going around that Blizzard has disabled account authentication to make it harder for outraged players to boycott them, although I’ve seen some speculation that Blizzard’s servers just couldn’t handle the uptick in usage. (I doubt that the boycott was large enough to make more than a fraction of a percent difference in server load, which is why I find the rumor more credible than its denial.)
P.P.S. Blizzard then released another official statement about how they were just trying to “keep the official channels focused on the game” and “[t]he specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision” even though they were “divisive.” But on reflection, though, maybe they were too hasty, and maybe a six-month suspension and Blitzchung getting the prize money after all would be more equitable please please PLEASE stop yelling at them everyone they are totally not becoming self-appointed enforcers of Chinese Internet censorship and they’d miss your microtransaction money.
I am not persuaded.
Via SidAlpha again, who pointed out that while Blizzard now says they “reacted too quickly” in determining the original, harsher penalties, they took a couple of days to do so, and then waited a few more days to measure the amount of backlash they were getting and also to announce their revised penalties on a Friday afternoon.