Blizzard Digs Its Heels In And Issues 6 Month Ban To College 'Hearthstone' Team Over Hong Kong Message
from the double-down dept
Blizzard has found itself trying to navigate its self-made storm over the past several weeks. It started when a professional Hearthstone player relayed a message of support for the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, leading Blizzard to issue a 1 year ban and pull back prize money for that player. With many eSport and IRLsport leagues either being directly confronted by the regime in Beijing, or simply self-censoring in fear of such a confrontation, the whole ecosystem of eGaming has felt the effects of Blizzard’s actions. And, while Blizzard eventually did lighten the punishment it had initially doled out, the company also thumbed its nose at the principle complaint in the protests: that Blizzard was kneeling at an altar constructed of the Chinese government’s thin skin.
And now the company is simply doubling down. Earlier this month, American students at American University held up a sign during a competition stream that read, “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz.” True to its earlier lack of spine, Blizzard has responded by issuing the team a 6 month ban from competitions.
American University Hearthstone players who recently held up a sign calling for Hong Kong’s freedom during a livestream have been officially disciplined by Activision-Blizzard. In a Twitter post today, team member Casey Chambers stated that the team has been banned from competitive play for six months.
When a punishment from Blizzard to similar to Blitzchung’s was not forthcoming, the team voluntarily dropped out of future tournaments. Now, they’ve been officially banned for half a year.
Interestingly, the American University team appeared to be trying to make a very specific point by getting banned. The team clearly saw inequity in the punishment for Blitzchung being both swift and severe, while their actions went unpunished at first. To that end, the team voluntarily dropped out of competition, it appears as part of its call to protest Blizzard generally. When the punishment eventually did come down, team member Casey Chambers tweeted that he was pleased it did.
Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition. While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules. pic.twitter.com/mZStoF0e0t
— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_hs) October 16, 2019
He later responded to someone claiming that Blizzard was violating its own call for “every voice to matter” with the ban by stating, “Nah bro. We knew what we were doing.”
All of which is entirely besides the point. When Hearthstone competitors have reached the point of trying to get themselves banned to make a point, never mind actively calling for a boycott of Blizzard, it signals that the company is losing the PR war in America. What Blizzard now has to decide is what the math is on the value of pissing off the American public versus keeping Beijing happy.
Based on this most recent 6 month ban, it looks like the company thinks it can thread a needle that I’m not sure actually exists.