In a move that is quickly becoming international news, Activision Blizzard has pulled the prize money, taken away his Grandmaster ranking, and banned Hong Kong Hearthstone pro player “Blitzchung” from competing in Hearthstone esports for another 12 months.
This decision comes on the heels of a live interview that took place after a major victory for the pro player in Taipei. Towards the end of the interview, both casters laid face down on their shared desk while Blitzchung rallied into his microphone in Mandarin: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” After this declaration, the interview cut off.
The gas mask and goggles, seen worn during many of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, further emphasized the point of his message.
On October 8th, Blizzard made a statement on the official Hearthstone website regarding the decision. According to their rules, players are not to engage in any act that at “Blizzard’s sole discretion” can offend essentially anyone or harm Blizzard’s image.
2019 HEARTHSTONE® GRANDMASTERS OFFICIAL COMPETITION RULES v1.4 p.12, Section 6.1 (o)
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.
For many fans of Blizzard’s games, this sparked immediate outrage on social media platforms such as Reddit and Twitter. As of this morning, #Blizzardboycott is trending and on fire on Twitter, and the subreddits r/hearthstone and r/wow are absolute chaos. Further fanning the flames, users have reported that the World of Warcraft forums were being heavily moderated and any mention of the disaster was being purged as quickly as it appeared. This seems to have eased up today, as there are a few posts here and there arguing over whether or not the political discussion should be held on a video game forum.
One of the most heated threads so far on r/hearthstone, offers another strange twist in this surreal situation. Reddit user gerald89521 is one of the top comments on the thread and linked a screenshot from the official Hearthstone Twitter account in China. The user’s translation of the tweet states:
We strongly condemn the player and the casters on what happened in the game last weekend ,and we firmly DISAPPROVE people to state their own political POV in any tournament.The player will be banned from the tournament,and the casters will never be granted the chance to cast any official tournament from now on. Besides,we will firmly PROTECT THE PRIDE OF THE COUNTRY just like what we always do.
For comparison, this is an excerpt of what Blizzard posted from the Hearthstone website mentioned previously in the article.
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.
With the Chinese company Tencent owning 5% of Blizzard, fans have been quick to speculate whether or not Blizzard is buckling under pressure from Tencent and the Chinese government. If this sounds familiar, it’s because a similar struggle is still ongoing between the NBA and China.
A popular character from Blizzard’s Overwatch has also become a symbol of the Hong Kong resistance overnight: Mei-Ling Zhou. Mei’s character is originally from Xi’an, China, so players are able to support Hong Kong and ironically stick it to Blizzard in the same post.
Those that have taken to Reddit to unite in support of Blitzchung and the movement have already begun to unsubscribe from the massively popular MMORPG World of Warcraft. Redditors lament that they were enjoying their time in the newly released World of Warcraft: Classic, but that they can no longer stand behind the company after the harsh actions that were taken to silence Blitzchung. With larger reporting sites such as The New York Times, Forbes, and CNN beginning to pick up the story and only three weeks before Blizzcon, one can’t help but wonder if this might be the final nail in the coffin for the company.
For the past 15 years, gaming websites have been looking forward to the next MMORPG that would finally dethrone World of Warcraft as one of the most successful and popular MMOs of our time. It has become so popular to debate a new launch’s success, that they’ve earned the potential name of “WoW killers.” But perhaps, it was never a rival MMO that was destined to bring down the multi-billion dollar company. Maybe the WoW killer we’ve been looking for this whole time, was actually looking back at us.