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.

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.

Filed Under: censorship, china, free speech, hearthstone, hong kong, protests
Companies: blizzard


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 12:12pm

    no one being above the rules

    When the rule is that you can't offend anyone anywhere, the only fair action is to ban everyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 12:34pm

    They just can't stop digging their hole deeper. Blizzcon next month will be interesting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 12:38pm

    Blizzard execs, to the PR department: “Dig up, stupid!”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bruce C., 18 Oct 2019 @ 12:48pm

    To be fair...

    The only difference between Blizzard, the NBA, HP, Apple and the buyers of their respective products is one of degree. Unless you, by some miracle, have never bought a product "Made in China" during the past 80 years or so, you too are propping up the regime there.

    And yes, that includes me. I haven't been able to decide how I should respond to Chinese censorship exports in my personal life, let alone how I should judge others for their response.

    The theory was going to be that we would reform China's regime by making them economically dependent on us, but it looks like China flipped the move back on us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 1:05pm

    Blizzard is in a tough situation,
    if it allows protests or signs supporting hong kong in eports events,
    it is likely to have all it,s games being banned in china .
    All these people calling for a boycott are the ones who buy the latest iphone, console , laptop, tech gadget , most of which are made in china .
    AAA games cost millions to make ,its hard to ignore a big market
    with millions of gamers like china .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 1:33pm

      Re:

      "its hard to ignore a big market"

      it's more like a wet dream than a market

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bob, 18 Oct 2019 @ 1:36pm

      Re:

      I never thought I would see the day, when Blizzard would become hated like EA.
      Yet here we are with Blizzard deciding, their western player base to be deriding.
      Indeed it's truly silly when, instead you kiss president pooh's rear end
      But alas this is the course Blizzard set, when it became involved with Tencent.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        anonymouse, 21 Oct 2019 @ 10:32am

        Re: Re:

        This all started well before the involvement with tencent.

        This started when Activision got involved and it has been downhill for Blizzard ever since.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:06pm

      Re:

      Eh, I stopped buying into the AAA hype a while back, after discovering that for all the money and glitz the fun wasn't there for lot of them.

      It would be interesting if, as time goes on, there comes a sea change in the market, where these multi-million dollar productions become more trouble than they are worth. I have no idea if it will happen, but it would be interesting to see.

      More on point to your comment, I would hesitate to say that all the same people calling for the boycott are also the same people chasing the latest tech. Blizzard has a pretty wide player-base, with widely varied levels of affluence and multiple demographics. Some WoW players have that as their one and only regular luxury expenditure and chug along on outdated machines.

      I would not paint everyone involved with the exact same brush.

      More generally, I view these games through a lens of them being not that important. Blizzard and their properties can be dropped like a hot potato if the company itself does something beyond the pale. They are a luxury, not a utility or a necessity, so joining a boycott of Blizzard products, and Activision if necessary, is a relatively easy proposition.

      While not everyone may agree with me on just how easy it is to do so, it remains a simple fact that it is far easier to boycott Blizzard (and Activision) than it would be to boycott a company like Microsoft. That they are only providing entertainment may well contribute to people's willingness to "sacrifice" in order to make a point.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 1:12pm

    So what is Blizzard going to do when non-players start photobombing competition streams with "Free Hong Kong" messages?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      Someone (with deep pockets) needs to stand outside Blizzcon and give away "FREE HONG KONG" tshirts to everyone in attendance on their way into the building.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rocky, 18 Oct 2019 @ 1:37pm

        Re: Re:

        If some enterprising soul sets up a gofundme-page with that goal, my guess is that money wont be a problem...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          TFG, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:11pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          T-shirts and signs may not make it past entry. Be nice if they did, but those are easy to spot ahead of time and then straight deny entry.

          For signs it may be necessary to bring the tools to make them while in the audience. Depends on what Blizzard is doing to police audience expression.

          Chants, on the other hand, have no physical presence. Get enough people saying the same thing in unison...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2019 @ 6:55pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Put the t-shirt inside out, or wear it underneath something. Think they'll go to the trouble of strip-searching every person who enters an event?

            The level of shit-storm that would create almost makes me wish they'd try.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            OGquaker, 20 Oct 2019 @ 8:59pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            At the April 2007 California Democratic Convention in San Diego, 15 or 20 Lyndon LaRouche "Fusion Power Will Save Us' crew would throttle committee meetings of a hundred Democrats by suddenly all belting out their nonsense in a cappella for many minutes. Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were both frustrated, Just Saying©.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2019 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      Blizzard has already started banning people for "Free Hong Kong" on twitch chat. Add in blizzard has been trying to halt people from deleting their accounts, and it just is going to keep escalating.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Despicable Me, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:38pm

    Don't mix video games with high-level politics

    Don't mix video games with high-level politics. That's all. Blizzard has huge business within China's mainland. It's not like their financial profiting from some low teens of millions of US-based subscribers will put a financial dent in their profits from upper tens of millions of Chinese subscribers and South Korean subscribers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:42pm

      Re: Don't mix video games with high-level politics

      To you, I have only the following to say:

      Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our time!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 4:20pm

      Nice idea, now maybe tell Blizzard that

      If Blizzard didn't want to mix games and politics they shouldn't have done so in the first place in the form of grovelling at china's feet and lashing out against a player who made a harmless statement in order to appease them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 7:07pm

      Re: Don't mix video games with high-level politics

      Okay, but what does South Korea have to do with it? Do you actually think the South Korean market is so dependent on the Chinese that if the Chinese market is lost, South Korea goes with it?

      Actually, do you seriously think the rest of the global market is that insignificant? The rest of the world has plenty of whales willing to throw time and money at Blizzard. Not to say the Chinese market is insignificant, but I wouldn't go so far as to prop it up as Blizzard's top priority if it means alienating their existing base.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Despicable Me, 19 Oct 2019 @ 9:21am

        Re: Re: Don't mix video games with high-level politics

        OK, It was a bit off my comment, but, still, they are second largest market for Blizzard's games.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2019 @ 9:30am

          Re: Re: Re: Don't mix video games with high-level politics

          So... why piss off the largest market just to placate the second largest? That makes even less business sense.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            anonymouse, 21 Oct 2019 @ 10:21am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Don't mix video games with high-level politics

            Why ask about making sense when Activision Management are looking at virtual profits and million dollar bonuses.

            Being joined at the hip[wallet] with china's biggest game company may also have had something to do with it.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2019 @ 7:03pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Don't mix video games with high-level politi

              At this point I think it's clear that nobody is buying the "China like totes has nothing to do with this" argument.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2019 @ 2:43pm

    When you get banned, do you get your money back? Seems like a breach of contract to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 4:14pm

      Re:

      Originally, no, the ban that kicked this whole thing off saw the player in question lose all of their winnings up to that point alongside the year long ban, it was only after Blizzard was taking a PR beating for a while that they 'graciously' decided to give the winnings back and reduce the ban to 'only' six months.

      Whether that will apply here as well? Probably, though given how stupid they've been so far I wouldn't put it past them to try to pull any winnings yet again.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 18 Oct 2019 @ 5:14pm

    Still suffering from self-inflicted wounds, Blizzard shoots itself to stop the bleeding.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 18 Oct 2019 @ 6:17pm

    Looks like the relations with Blizzard are getting a little frosty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    McKay (profile), 19 Oct 2019 @ 2:25pm

    This is reasonable?

    It seems to me like a reasonable position for a company to hold is, “you can say whatever you want on your own streams, and out in public, and in tournaments we don’t support. But on our streams, or at our tournaments, nothing political.” Anything more lenient than this pobably brings problems. Maybe I'm missing something, but allowing all speech on Blizzard's channels doesn't seem mandatory.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2019 @ 3:54pm

      Re: This is reasonable?

      "allowing all speech on Blizzard's channels doesn't seem mandatory"
      Of course it's not, but neither is use of any blizzard product. And it is also not mandatory to say nice things about blizzard, no matter the platform.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      TFG, 20 Oct 2019 @ 12:51am

      Re: This is reasonable?

      It's reasonable to enforce the rule, but the problem is that Blizzard was originally unreasonable in their enforcement, in a manner that has angered a wide portion of their player base.

      Original punishment: banned for a year, and clawing back of winnings, with a big announcement of it, for someone expressing support for people who are fighting for freedom from an oppressive regime. The degree and the swiftness of the reaction implies that it was done to ensure the Chinese government, an authoritarian and oppressive regime, did not take action against Blizzard. It also comes with the implication that Blizzard supports the subjugation of Hong Kong, or at least would be willling to say they did, if it would protect their Chinese profits.

      This pissed people off. It is what you might term a PR shitstorm.

      If the initial action had been a 3 or 6 month ban, done quietly, with no clawing back of winnings and no penalties for the casters, I imagine Blizzard wouldn't be in this current predicament - those that learned of it might well have accepted that this was a reasonable action based on the rules that players adhere to.

      But after that start things are no longer reasonable. This American collegiate team does almost exactly the same thing, and Blizzard does nothing to them at first, so that team drops out as a form of protest. Blizzard comes off as a hypocrite.

      After a while, Blizzard reduces the ban for Blitzchung to six months and decide not to claw back winnings ... but still suspend the casters for six months and have the audacity to claim the decision was not at all affected by their relationship to China. Nobody believes this - it is treated as a lie, and keeps the fires fresh.

      They now decide to apply this same ban to the American team (and the American team is happy about that, make no mistake) but it's too late. The only perception of this is more attempts at damage control - they've realized they look the hypocrite so they're following up to try and not look the hypocrite, but the people they've pissed off are not going to be placated by this. Blizzard is still trying to pass off the lie that China has nothing to do with this.

      People are pointing out that Blizzard puts on a front of being LGBT supportive, but this suppression of an expression of support for resistance to oppression belies their purported buoying of social progression. Tracer and Soldier76 are straight in China, and this feeds into the fires of consumer anger. Blizzard is now under the microscope (and to a degree so is Activision), and what might be reasonable for strictly business purposes is no longer going to be adequate for an angered consumer base.

      It is entirely true that Blizzard has the right to restrict what can be said on their streams. With that comes the caveat that said restrictions can be disliked and vilified by the people who watch those streams and play their games, and that people can also say (notably, outside of their streams) that Blizzard are being awful for restricting a particular type of speech.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2019 @ 8:38am

        Re: Re: This is reasonable?

        It's reasonable to enforce the rule

        It's not, because the rule wasn't "no political messages" (which would itself be too vague) but "don't do anything that could possibly offend anybody". Because anything could offend somebody, that's equivalent to saying they can ban you for any reason or no reason, regardless of whether you knew or could have known you were breaking "a rule".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2019 @ 11:36pm

      Re: This is reasonable?

      The main problem is that the original chinese streamer was instant banned with excessive response, and blizzard didn't do anything about the american students until 7 days later, clearly showing how they overreacted to the pressure by china to ban, and now only banned the americans as a 'oh hey, we do it with everyone, no pressure here.'

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2019 @ 9:55am

        Re: Re: This is reasonable?

        I suspect that the American team was only banned because they'd deliberately and publicly cornered Blizzard. Blizzard really had no choice at that point but to be consistent with their actions.

        I think it would have been more effective if the American team hadn't disclosed their "plan" when they took action. Then after nothing happened for seven days, they could have announced, "hey we did it too and we didn't get banned, what's up with that Blizzard?"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          anonymouse, 21 Oct 2019 @ 10:17am

          Re: Re: Re: This is reasonable?

          Yes but no.

          Not only did they protest but they dropped out of the competition.

          Blizzard aka Activision Management, pulling the ban hammer is like closing the barn door and telling the horses in the field they can't leave.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.