A veteran Hearthstone player and commentator is pulling away from Blizzard after they banned pro player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai for voicing support of Hong Kong's pro-autonomy protests in a post-match interview. Brian Kibler has commentated several official Blizzard tournaments but now he's pulling out of casting this year's Hearthstone Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. "I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision," Kibler said. Some Blizzard employees protested the decision this week too. So far, the ban stands.
Blizzard this week punished Blitzchung, who lives in Hong Kong, for saying "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" during a livestreamed post-match interview. They removed him from the Grandmasters tournament, cancelled his prize money, and banned him from Hearthstone esports for one year. They also said they'll no longer work with the match's two commentators. Blizzard say Blitzchung violated the competition rule against "engaging in any act that, in Blizzard's sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image."
Kibler said in his statement yesterday that he agrees a punishment was warranted, given that Blitzchung explicitly broke the competition rules, but that the one Blizzard meted out "is incredibly harsh." He explained, "I could understand a fine, or even a short suspension from competitive play, but removal from Grandmasters, clawing back the prizes he already earned, and banning him for a full year seems completely overboard to an extent that feels completely unwarranted and unfair."
He's concerned that Blizzard might be bowing to pressure to protect their business interests.
"The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself," he said.
"That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with. When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward."
A scandal running parallel to this illustrates the scenario Blizzard might be fearing. On Sunday, the general manager of the Houston Rockets NBA basketball team tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests. Within days, several broadcasters have scrapped plans to show exhibition matches in China between two other NBA teams, several NBA media events in China have been cancelled, Rockets merchandise has been removed from some Chinese stores, and many Chinese companies have pulled their NBA sponsorship. I don't doubt businesses fear losing access to the potentially huge Chinese market.