Yesterday’s article, “Prominent Gaming Company Blizzard Sanctions Tournament Player for Political Speech During Post Play Interview”, covered the sanctions Blizzard inflicted upon Hearthstone Grandmaster champion Ng Wai Chung, aka Blitzchung, after Chung voiced “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time”. While Chung maintained his title, he was stripped of $10,000 in winnings and prohibited from participating in tournaments for one year. According to Blizzard, the sanctions were applied based upon a code of conduct policy, which can be found in yesterday’s article. In addition to punishing Chung, Blizzard fired the two shoutcasters who conducted the post-play interview.
In support of Chung, collegiate Hearthstone tournament players from American University held up a sign during their match saying “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizzard”. The American team fully expected Blizzard to sanction them under the same code of conduct policy. However, the AU team received the schedule for their next match and did not receive any sanctions whatsoever. The AU team chose to forfeit their next match and withdraw from further play citing Blizzard’s inconsistency in policy enforcement. The team stated, “The response from Blizzard shows that as soon as the messaging is out of the view of China, they don’t care about ‘political messaging’”.
Brian Kibler, prominent Hearthstone caster and content creator, joined the AU team in ceasing association with the gaming giant citing Blizzard’s infliction of “incredibly harsh punishment” upon gamer Blitzchung.
For an entire week, Blizzard has received harsh backlash from current and past players across all games operated by Blizzard, employees, other shoutcasters, YouTubers, former Blizzard employee Mark Kern, and US Senate members Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio. Late yesterday evening, Blizzard issued a statement posted on its Hearthstone website explaining their actions.
The response is quite long so the important points will be covered. The statement issued by J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment, iterated the company was firmly committed to its core values and principles, which include “Think Globally, Lead Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters”. Brack explained that esports programs are an expression of Blizzards vision and values. “Esports exist to create opportunities for players from around the world, from different cultures, and from different backgrounds, to come together to compete and share their passion for gaming. It is extremely important to us to protect these channels and the purpose they serve: to bring the world together through epic entertainment, celebrate our players, and build diverse and inclusive communities.”
Bring the world together through epic entertainment? Build diverse and inclusive communities? This wreaks of liberal corporate-ese propaganda catchphrases. The gamer subculture couldn’t care less about diversity – all that matters is if one is a good player. Moreover, gamers can be very exclusive, elitist, and harsh regardless of the attempt by the company to “build diverse and inclusive communities”.
Brack goes on to explain the position of Blizzard.
First, our official esports tournament broadcast was used as a platform for a winner of this event to share his views with the world.
We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.
Over the weekend, blitzchung used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong—in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action.
Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.
Second, what is the role of shoutcasters for these broadcasts?
We hire shoutcasters to amplify the excitement of the game. They elevate the watchability and help the esports viewing experience stay focused on the tournament and our amazing players.
Third, were our actions based on the content of the message?
Part of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters is recognizing that we have players and fans in almost every country in the world. Our goal is to help players connect in areas of commonality, like their passion for our games, and create a sense of shared community.
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. [Emphasis mine].
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.
If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.
If the company has to make a statement that their relationships in China had no influence on their actions, one can almost bet those relationships in China did have some influence. It’s difficult to believe that Blizzard would sanction an individual who stated support for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the spread of totalitarianism. And, scrutiny of the code of conduct revealed that picking your nose on camera, hocking a loogey, and/or attire could result in sanctions. If this is their position, why has the AU team not been sanctioned according to the same code of conduct policy? Could the difference be the AU team is in America and Ng Wai Chung is from Hong Kong and participating in a tournament in Taiwan. Yes, it’s Taiwan – get over it Xi Xi.
Brack went on to inform the community and public that the penalty exacted upon Chung was not given enough thought and enacted too quickly. He stated that Blizzard wanted to ensure a “safe and inclusive environment for all our players” was maintained and the rules and policies were clear. So, making a statement supporting a movement creates and unsafe and exclusive environment? It’s evident the policy used to penalize Chung couldn’t be more vague, broad or duplicitous since it allows for discrimination and inconsistency.
Blizzard made the determination that Chung did in fact “play nice; play fair” during the tournament; but indicated that “fair play” included pre- and post-match conduct. The company chose to award Chung his prize money and reduce his suspension to six months instead of one year.
When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.
Notice the language used – six months suspension is “more appropriate” meaning a suspension was appropriate but the revised time is better. The casters, instead of being fired, were placed on a six month suspension as well.
Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.
One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games.
At Blizzard, we are always listening and finding ways to improve—it is part of our culture. Thank you for your patience with us as we continue to learn.
Is Brack saying that a voice supporting a people’s stand for freedom, liberty, and self-governance is a “divisive social or political view”? Evidently, because Blizzard declares itself as “not a platform for divisive social or political views.” However, if Chung had said, “Love China; the best country in the word”, one can bet Blizzard would not have implemented these penalties against Chung. The company should have community managers or game masters monitoring every server they have because there are plenty of gamers using their game chat to spread divisive social and political views as well as harass other players, stalk players, and malign others without any penalty exacted upon them by Blizzard.
And, Brack issues the typical liberal corporate-ese propaganda of creating a “safe place” for the alphabet of social demographics – “make sure every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome …”. Bull manure! The company only penalized Chung because China was watching since the AU team did the same thing while Blizzard remained silent. Brack thanked the community for its patience as they “continue to learn”.
Continue to learn? The president of the company should have skills to handle the situation. For one, their code of conduct policy should not be so broad, vague or duplicitous. It should be applicable to all if the company is going to have one such as this. Moreover, it should not be worded in a way that invites abuse of the policy.
Blizzard’s affiliate or Blizzard management should have discreetly taken Chung aside, explained the policy in private (the policy needs to be more specific and not violate an individual’s rights), requested to not express personal viewpoints on the job regarding world events and events of a political nature, stick to discussing the game and tournament play, and outline what penalties could be enforced upon the second violation. But, not Blizzard because China was watching.
At one time, Blizzard did not permit the use of guild names referencing LGBTqrsuv lifestyle, sexual references, religious references
The community appears to understand Blizzard has authority to enforce their rules governing use of their products and participants engaging in tournament play. However, many do disagree with the way Blizzard dealt with the situation. Moreover, many players acknowledge the increasing move by China to be involved with many US, EU and other countries recognizing individual God-given rights in order to censor the rest of the world according to their discretion. Some players believe companies kowtowing to the Chinese government by quickly penalizing individuals exercising their freedom to speak have compromised their company values for the love of money. Then, there is the few who support the stifling of God-given individual unalienable rights when the government makes freedom of speech illegal through law or doesn’t allow an individual to have rights because those are given by government. Comb the forums and you will find those few.
With all the controversy surrounding Blizzard over the last few years, this current controversy could be the one straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to repeat and new consumers. One can’t help but think these US companies are doing the Chinese government’s dirty work at that government’s request in order to retain and expand their market shares. This being the possible case means China is working to gain more connections to foreign markets to engage in massive censorship. While everyone is stuck on Russiagate, China is flying under the radar.
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