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

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  1. 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.

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