Earlier this month, Blizzard banned professional Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai (blitzchung) over pro-Hong Kong remarks, igniting a firestorm of online controversy. Thousands pledged support for blitzchung's stance in the coming days. Even company employees at Blizzard's Chinese branch fumed over the decision. Chung said "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times," during a live broadcast during the Hearthstone Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament. Held in Taiwan, it showcases the best and brightest players in the region.
Following Chung's remarks, Blizzard barred Chung from professional play for a year and refused to grant him his earned prize winnings. Later, the company reduced the sentence to six months and allowed him to collect his earnings following the ensuing Internet backlash. Two commentators were caught in the crossfire and were terminated. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack stated Chung needed disciplinary action for “taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.”
Blows to the company's reputation didn't stop with angry remarks and protests, however. Two days after Blizzard announced its decision, another company responded by withdrawing support of Blizzard's events, first reported by the Daily Beast. Erica Rasch, spokesperson for Mitsubishi, confirmed Mitsubishi Motors Taiwan ended its sponsorship of Blizzard's esports events. Mitsubishi did not offer further clarification or comment.
Blizzard's two biggest markets are the United States and China. Activision Blizzard's most recent earnings report claims the company made 12 percent of its quarterly revenue from in the Asia-Pacific market. The company has attempted to balance both markets while adhering to Chinese censorship practices. Brack released another statement in an attempt to assuage Internet anger.
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.
The outcry included condemnations from companies, consumers, and lawmakers. Some angry net denizens responded by making Meiling Zhou of Overwatch into a Hong Kong sympathizer. Various forms of the meme emerged, often complete with umbrellas, face masks, and gas masks, symbols of the protest movements. TechRaptor has previously covered the situation regarding Blizzard's stance and the public's response.
Returned to China in 1997, the Hong Kong special administrative region operates under China's "one country, two systems" policy. Dissatisfied citizens believe that the government, stationed in Beijing, is overstepping its boundaries and failing to adhere to the 1997 agreement between Great Britain and China. Protests have been met with force that many have deemed excessive, condemning the Chinese government for human rights violations.