Blizzard has hit pro Hearthstone player "Blitzchung" with a 12-month suspension following a post-match interview in which he voiced his support for the demonstrations in Hong Kong. Blitzchung, whose real name is Ching Ng Wai, is a Hong Kong citizen himself, will also not receive his $200,000 prize money for his win over the weekend.
Blitzchung signed off his interview with the statement, "Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age," this Sunday, after winning the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters. The two casters conducting the interview, who appear uncomfortable after Blitzchung's comment, have also been punished, with Blizzard saying they will "immediately cease working with both casters."
In a statement, Blizzard defends the penalizing, saying it was a "necessary action to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future." Blizzard claims the comments were in breach of section 6.1(o) of the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules, which states:
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.
Despite the backlash, Blitzchung says he does not regret his actions. Speaking to IGN, he said, "I expected the decision by Blizzard, I think it's unfair, but I do respect their decision. I'm not [regretful] of what I said."
The Hearthstone and Overwatch developer has come under heavy fire for this move. Kotaku News Editor, Jason Schreier, said the move is "a good look at what corporations really are," and critic Katherine Cross labeled the move as "intense, immeasurable cowardice."
A good look at what corporations really are https://t.co/q4ZlyJz13M
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) October 8, 2019
Blizzard has yet to comment on the backlash, but this move was likely made to not alienate the Chinese market. Demonstrations sparked in Hong Kong back in June to protest against proposals that would permit extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China, which the protesters claim undermines the country's autonomy.
This incident has been compared to that of the NBA's condemnation of an executive's public support of the Hong Kong demonstration. This Monday, The NBA distanced itself from the executive, calling the comments he made “regrettable," and saying the criticism of the Chinese Government does not represent the company.