Gaming company Blizzard Entertainment said Friday China had nothing to do with its decision to punish an eSports champion who voiced support for Hong Kong protestors, but eased the controversial sentence.
After a week of backlash from players, employees, and US politicians, the California-based unit of Activision said Ng Wai Chung will be given the prize money he was stripped of and have his ban from competing in tournaments halved to six months.
Ng, who represents the Asia-Pacific region under the name Blitzchung, had just won a crucial match at the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament when he exclaimed in Mandarin "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" during a livestreamed interview with hosts in Taipei.
"The specific views expressed by blitzchung were not a factor in the decision we made," Blizzard president J. Allen Brack said in an online post to the gaming community.
"I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision."
Brack contended the player violated rules "he acknowledged and understood."
The company would have taken the same decision if the "opposing viewpoint (had been) delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way," he said.
Blizzard became the target of a boycott by gamers and a walk-out by employees this week after it decided to deny Blitzchung $10,000 in prize money and ban him for a year.
"In the tournament itself Blitzchung 'played' fair," Brack said.
"We now believe he should receive his prize. But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast."
However, a six-month suspension seemed more appropriate in retrospect, so Blitzchung will be allowed back in the Hearthstone pro circuit after that time, Brack said.
Hearthstone is a hugely popular online card game in which two opponents take turns to deploy different characters with different abilities to try to defeat each other.
"We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took," Brack said.
The 21-year-old university student, who was wearing eye goggles and a gas mask -- equipment frequently used by protesters in Hong Kong -- pulled down his respirator to broadcast his message.
The online stream was cut off mid-interview shortly afterward and the video has since been taken down.
Ng told AFP he was not surprised at being kicked out of the competition, but said: "I don't regret saying that stuff. And even now, I don't regret it at all."