Amid mounting backlash, the video game publisher Activision Blizzard on Friday doubled down on its decision to ban a professional player who used an official company broadcast to express support for Hong Kong protesters.
In a video emailed to employees, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack said the player, Chung Ng Wai, aka “Blitzchung,” must pay the “consequence” for “derailing” the broadcast. But Brack said the company would also reduce Chung’s suspension from the pro Hearthstone league from a year to six months. The company will also return the $10,000 in prize money Chung had previously been stripped of. The two commentators interviewing him were banished along with him, but Brack said their suspension has been reduced to six months. The transcript of Brack’s statement was published soon after the email went out.
In a post-match interview, Chung had worn goggles and a gas mask, common symbols of the protest, and said to the camera “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” Hong Kong residents have protested Chinese incursions into the Hong Kong rule of law daily for months now, and the demonstrations are ongoing.
Brack said Chung could not go unpunished for “taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.”
Backlash to Blizzard’s announcement of the ban Tuesday was swift and furious. Gamers cancelled their Blizzard subscriptions, a popular commentator said he would not appear at the company’s annual convention, U.S. college players protested on an official company tournament broadcast, and trolls tried to turn a popular character in another Blizzard title into a symbol of Hong Kong’s resistance in an attempt to bait the Chinese government into banning the game.
Chinese tech giant TenCent owns 5 percent of Activision Blizzard, and the company made 12 percent of its Q2 2019 revenue in the Asia Pacific market, according to its earnings report. Brack denied any pressure from the Chinese government in his Friday statement: “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.”
One Blizzard employee who spoke to the Beast didn’t believe him: “I think that it's a flat-out lie that our relationships in China had nothing to do with the decision.”
The employee added, “I'm glad they gave the player his prize winnings back and reduced the bans but I'm still not happy that any of this happened in the first place.”
A small group of Blizzard employees walked out of work Tuesday in protest of the ban. They gathered at a statue of an orc warrior in the center of the company’s campus in Irvine, California. The Daily Beast first reported news of the walkout.
One employee previously told the Beast of the ban, “Blizzard makes a lot of money in China, but now the company is in this awkward position where we can’t abide by our values.”
The company had been silent since banning Chung on Tuesday, refusing media requests and not communicating with its employees, according to two Blizzard employees who spoke to the Daily Beast throughout the week.
When Brack finally did break the silence, he ended on a stern note, vowing to keep official company broadcasts on topic and not become “a platform for divisive social or political views.” He said he hopes this approach will “make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games.”