While everyone was busy dunking on the NBA and the Houston Rockets for kowtowing to China, gaming company Activision Blizzard stood up and declared hold my beer.
Blizzard owns Hearthstone, a popular online card game and e-sport. During a recent tournament, 21-year-old Chung Ng Wai—who goes by Blitzchung—was interviewed after winning a match. Chung is a Hong Kong native, and took the opportunity to declare, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” with reference to the territory’s ongoing struggle for political freedom from China.
In response, Blizzard killed the interview midstream. Then the company suspended Chung for a year. It also said he would no longer receive his prize money, which was about $10,000, according to Chung.
“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,” wrote the company in a statement.
Blizzard also fired the two employees who were responsible for setting up the interview.
Needless to say, these were drastic steps. Blizzard’s aggressive, punitive action toward Chung’s dissent makes the Rockets’ reaction to a similar incident of pro-Hong Kong sympathy look positively courageous: The team’s owner merely put out a statement saying the team’s general manager does not speak for the Rockets franchise or the NBA. It may not get as much attention, but what Blizzard did is far worse.
Both organizations are private entities, of course, and aren’t obligated to extend free speech rights to their employees and players. But fans can raise hell about the practices of their favorite sports teams and decline to reward those companies that go out of their way to aid the Communist Party of China’s crackdown on internal dissent and external criticism. In this case, Blizzard didn’t just make some unfortunate compromises in order to maintain good-enough relations with China—the company actively aided an authoritarian government’s efforts to silence pro-Hong Kong sentiment.
My friend Zack Beauchamp, a writer for Vox and regular Hearthstone player, has decided to boycott Blizzard games until they make amends to Chung. This seems commendable—especially considering that Bizzard’s headquarters in Irvine, California, has a statue and plaque that reads “Every voice matters.” Employees of the company, unhappy with its treatment of Chung, covered up the plaque yesterday.