Activision Blizzard is now facing backlash from its employees after the gaming company, one of the largest in the United States, banned a professional Hearthstone player that spoke out in defense of the pro-democratic Hong Kong protesters.
More than two dozen Blizzard employees walked out of work Tuesday afternoon protesting the company for capitulating to communist China’s policy of censorship. The workers then gathered around a statue depicting Orc Warrior outside of Blizzard’s California headquarters, the Daily Beast reports.
A plaque is embedded on the orc statue that reads, “Every Voice Matters.”
The employees covered the plaque with paper during the demonstration.
Over the weekend, Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai was suspended from the Blizzard’s grand master tournament for a year after he espoused a pro-Hong Kong slogan and urged viewers to support the protesters in an Oct. 5 post-game interview.
“Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” Blitzchung said during the interview discussing his tournament wins on Hearthstone’s official livestream.
Acting as an agent of communist China, Blizzard severed its deal with the hosts to conduct interviews on future streams and removed video of the interview, featuring Blitzchung wearing a gas mask and goggles from the web, according to Hollywood Reporter.
However, clips of the interview are still circulating on Twitter.
Blizzard Entertainment, the game developer of franchises including World of Warcraft and Overwatch which earned $7.5 billion in revenue in 2018, also rescinded Blitzchung’s Grandmaster prize earnings.
“We’d like to re-emphasize tournament and player conduct within the Hearthstone esports community from both players and talent,” Blizzard said in a statement on the official Hearthstone blog. “While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules.”
Blizzard justified the censorship, claiming Blitzchung violated section 6.1 (o) of the Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules.
“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’s image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms,” the guideline states.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional reprisal, Blizzard employees told Daily Beast their employer’s underhanded actions against Blitzchung are to be expected given the revenue the company earns from China.
“The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising,” one Blizzard employee told the publication. “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.”
“I’m disappointed,” another employee said. “We want people all over the world to play our games, but no action like this can be made with political neutrality.”
According to Blizzard’s earnings reports, 12 percent of the gaming giant’s revenue came from the Asia-Pacific region last quarter while the Chinese tech giant Tencent owns a 5 percent stake in the company.
While demonstrating, the employees also solicited signatures for a petition condemning Blizzard’s unethical retaliation against Blitzchung which they plan to submit to the company’s executives, the employees said.
Gamers across the world are also lashing out against Blizzard for penalizing Blitzchung.
Until Blizzard reverses its anti-democratic behavior Vox reporter Zack Beauchamp says he’s done with Hearthstone.
“The non-Chinese Hearthstone player base is furious with Blizzard; the game’s subreddit is full of longtime players vowing to quit the game in protest. Count me as one of them,” Beauchamp wrote. “I’ve been playing Hearthstone daily for about two years, including spending some money on cards and reaching the top tier of the game’s competitive ladder (the Legend ranks). But now I’m done, both with Hearthstone and any other Activision Blizzard product, unless it reinstates Chung and the casters.”
Blizzard’s banning of Blitzchung comes days after the NBA capitulated to the Chinese government.
China also announced last week it would stop broadcasting Houston Rockets games after general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted his support for Hong Kong protesters over the weekend.
Rather than supporting Morey, the NBA apologized for Morey’s statement. Nonetheless, Beijing has refused to accept the concession.