A demonstrator holds up his hand in front of riot police at Statue Square the day after the government announced the newly imposed ban on masks in the Central district of Hong Kong, China, on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. Hong Kong went into near shutdown as businesses closed and rail services were suspended for the first time in more than 20 years after overnight violence described by Chief Executive Carrie Lam as a very dark day. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg2019 Bloomberg Finance LP
Friday evening is when you drop news that you want ignored. It's an old tradition in politics--less effective in the era of social media, but effective nonetheless. And so after days of silence, this is when Blizzard decided to respond to the raging controversy that erupted after the game developer decided to suspend and penalize Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai for a pro-Hong Kong statement during the livestream of a Hearthstone tournament. The statement, attributed to Blizzard President J. Allen Brack, is long and contains many hedges. But the important piece of information here seems to be that Blizzard is still planning on punishing Blitzchung and that the company would badly like all of this to go away.
There is actual news expressed in this statement, and a bit of a concession on the part of a company accused of acting as an enforcer for the Chinese government. Blizzard has decided that its initial punishment for Blitzchung--rescinding the prize money from the tournament along with a year-long suspension--was too harsh and that it will be giving back the prize money and reducing the suspension to six months. But the fact that the company is still punishing Blitzchung means that the essential point remains the same: according to Blizzard, political speech is inappropriate and should be punished. The question is only to what degree. From the statement:
Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.
The statement says that this has nothing to do with the content of Blitzchuing's comment, rather that he decided to express political views of any kind. Theoretically, the same punishment could have been handed down for a player that put in a plug for Elizabeth Warren in 2020 or, in a move that would also be seen as controversial, Trump. The company stresses that these decisions are not related to China in any specific way.
Part of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters is recognizing that we have players and fans in almost every country in the world. Our goal is to help players connect in areas of commonality, like their passion for our games, and create a sense of shared community.
The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.
It's a bit hard to believe that last part in the wake of China's recent ban on South Park and decision to stop showing NBA preseason games: China has been clear that it will punish the organizations that house pro-Hong Kong speech, and such a punishment would be a massive blow to Activision Blizzards' bottom line. Given that, the idea that the Chinese government has somehow been absent from all discussions about the Blitzching situations rings hollow. Blizzard's statement makes it clear that it will exercise its authority to punish political speech in the future, as well:
There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.
With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didnt happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well.
Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.
It's worth noting that this is not Blizzards' first statement on the controversy. The company already made a post on the official Chinese Weibo Hearthstone account that specifically refers to protecting the honor of the Chinese country (translation by IGN):
We express our strong indignation [or resentment] and condemnation of the events that occurred in the Hearthstone Asia Pacific competition last weekend and absolutely oppose the dissemination of personal political ideas during any events [or games]. The players involved will be banned, and the commentators involved will be immediately terminated from any official business. Also, we will protect [or safeguard] our national dignity [or honor].
This statement is unlikely to placate many, and this situation isn't going to go away. Blizzard is still headed for trouble at Blizzcon in November, and we'll see who decides to test these policies in between now and then.