The Blizzard Hong Kong controversy is escalating. Following an incident where a professional Hearthstone player stated a pro-Hong Kong message in a post-game interview and was subsequently banned for a year, players, employees, government officials, and even Epic Games are chiming in with their commentary (and protests of their own) on the way Blizzard decided to handle the situation.
Here's a bit of background if you're out of the loop: recently, Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai was in a post-match interview during the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament for the Asia-Pacific region. A Hong Kong native, he took the opportunity to don a gas mask and goggles, stating, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" in his native tongue.
Since then Rod Breslau has also posted a translation of the Chinese Weibo post that went out, which had harsher language than the English version.
After this happened, Blizzard elected to ban Blitzchung for a year and refuse to pay him his winnings from the tournament. Furthermore, they ended their professional relationship with both of the casters who were interviewing him. That would be where the trouble began.
Outraged Fans Make Mei Pro HK
Suffice it to say, a large number of Blizzard fans were incredibly unhappy with the situation. A discussion thread or meme held the top positions on Reddit's /r/all subreddit (which tracks the most popular submissions across the site) for the better part of yesterday and several memes and other posts continue to rank highly across various subreddits.
Among the many protests over the Blizzard Hong Kong controversy is an effort to associate Mei from Overwatch with the pro-Hong Kong movement in a series of memes, with some users jokingly insinuating that it will get the game banned in China. One person even went as far as to make an entire fan edit of a portion of Mei's animated short:
If we are gonna do it, we are gonna do it big: Mei becomes the icon of Hong Kong revolution! from r/HongKong
Several other users have stated that they are halting WoW Classic subscriptions, uninstalling Blizzard Battle.net, or outright deleting their account. One Hong Kong-based played (who claims that he's reached the rank of Legend and spent more than $10,000 on the game) also publicly quit. I would link to more individual examples, but there are literally hundreds if not thousands; swing by /r/Hearthstone to see just a small sampling of them.
Additionally, players from the American University team held up a pro-Hong Kong sign during a TESPA tournament livestream, echoing the sentiments expressed by Blitzchung in his original act. The stream quickly cut away from their sign.
Employees Quietly Rebel Over Blizzard Hong Kong Controversy
Anyone who worked at a big company has likely dealt with management making decisions they disagreed with and Blizzard is no different. One former employee noted that the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" plaques on the company campus had been covered up by employees:
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
Both the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6Q
Additionally, a protest took place on the campus where employees stood with open umbrellas around a Warcraft statue, likely in reference to the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" protests in Hong Kong where citizens made use of umbrella to shield themselves from police pepper spray.
Kotaku's Jason Schreier reports that he's heard that Blizzard President J. Allen Brack will be addressing the company's employees today.
Epic Games and Gods Unchained Chime In
Epic Games — a company that is no stranger to controversy itself — has also decided to speak up about the Blizzard Hong Kong controversy.
“Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights," an Epic Games representative told The Verge. "We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics."
Blizzard's other competition isn't shying away from the opportunity to speak up, either; a blockchain-based collectible card game called Gods Unchained has promised to pay Blitzchung's forfeited prize money and invited him to one of their upcoming tournaments with a prize pool of $500,000:
.@Blizzard_Ent just banned @blitzchungHS and stripped his Hearthstone winnings because they care about money more than freedom. We will pay for ALL his lost winnings and a ticket to our $500k tournament: no player should be punished for their beliefs. #freegaming https://t.co/ONvtkG4x9G— Gods Unchained (@GodsUnchained) October 8, 2019
Politicians Condemn Blizzard's Actions
Far be it from a politician to miss a good chance to sound off. Political figures in several nations have spoken up about the Blizzard Hong Kong controversy, too.
United States Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has tweeted about the issue, accusing them of censoring people in order to make "a quick buck".
Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck. https://t.co/rJBeXUiwYS— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) October 8, 2019
Norwegian parliament member Grunde Almeland has also decided to speak up.
"As a global corporation, you are not without power or responsibility when it comes to supporting fundamental human rights," Mr. Almeland said. "In fact, the actions made should be considered political statements themselves."
"If players cannot be certain that their rights will be protected, and that your company does not deal with them in a just manner, I do not see how it would be possible for cities or national organizations to support any further tournaments to be held within the games you own the rights for."
Blizzard seems to be under fire from every conceivable direction between irate fans, Blizzard employees, politicians, and even their competition. What could have been a short PR gaffe is continuing to grow and the company will have to address it sooner rather than later.
What do you think of the progression of the Blizzard Hong Kong controversy? Do you think the company should change their decision on Blitzchung's 12-month ban and forfeiture of his prize? Let us know in the comments below!