On October 8th, Video game developer Blizzard banned virtual card game Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung for voicing support for Hong Kong protesters during a competition live stream. Since then, Blizzard has banned three college students and temporarily suspended multiple people in a Twitch chat for also expressing support for the protests.
In the story stream below, follow the developments after Blizzard joined a list of companies coming under fire from users, activists, and lawmakers for moderating support for the protests. Some critics see the move as acquiescing to the Chinese government, and both Apple and the NBA have faced similar allegations.
These incidents have sparked outcries about the restriction of free speech and expression, and raised the all-too-familiar debate surrounding whether politics should be kept out of gaming, sports, or anything else. There’s speculation that US-based companies are trying to appease China through this kind of moderation, and it’s seemingly motivated by profit.
Nov 5, 2019
It was a warm day in Hong Kong in early October, and Derek Kwok was in the midst of talking to his seven-man Overwatch roster about the future.Read Article >
The team was attempting to raise enough funds in order to make a 7,200-mile journey across the globe to BlizzCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in California where the Overwatch World Cup would take place in early November. Blizzard had changed the format of the tournament so there would be no regional qualifiers and no way to compete outside of actually traveling to Anaheim. That came with steep costs.
Nov 1, 2019
Blizzard Entertainment kicked off its annual BlizzCon fan expo today with a direct apology from president J. Allen Brack regarding the explosive Hong Kong controversy that’s engulfed the company for the past month.Read Article >
“Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone e-sports moment about a month ago. We did not. We moved too quickly in our decision-making and then to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk to all of you,” Brack said onstage during the beginning of the BlizzCon opening ceremony. “When I think about how most unhappy I am, I think about two things. We didn’t live up to the higher standards we set for ourselves. Second, we failed in our purpose. For that, I am sorry, and I accept accountability.”
Oct 30, 2019
Blizzard Entertainment may be feeling the effects of its controversial ban of Hong Kong Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung for quite some time. The company not only faced a widespread player boycott, condemnations from US lawmakers, and numerous employee walkouts over the decision, but it also lost a key sponsor of its international gaming competitions.Read Article >
According to The Daily Beast, Mitsubishi decided to pull sponsorships of Blizzard e-sports events after the company banned Wai Chung for voicing support for the Hong Kong protesters in a televised post-game interview earlier this month. Reddit users first noticed the disappearance of the Mitsubishi logo during a recent Asia Pacific Hearthstone tournament, and the company confirmed its decision to pull its sponsorship to The Daily Beast.
Oct 24, 2019
Gaming and politics do mix, as the recent furor over Blizzard’s censorship of pro-Hong Kong voices has shown: it hasn’t blown over, and the conflict shows no signs of stopping. Today, a new challenger appeared: the nonprofit organization Fight for the Future, which has spun up a campaign called Gamers for Freedom to put pressure on Blizzard to reevaluate its stances on China and Hong Kong.Read Article >
Fight for the Future organizes online (and in-person) campaigns to, as they write in their mission statement, “ensure that the web continues to hold freedom of expression and creativity at its core.” (They were the ones who mobilized basically the entire internet against SOPA and PIPA in 2012.) For this latest battle, the org has planned two actions, one online and one IRL. Next week, they’re organizing an “online day of action for free expression,” which will “demand that gaming companies make a public statement supporting basic rights in their games and on their platforms.”
Oct 18, 2019
In February, Blizzard announced a new Hearthstone e-sports program, called the Masters Tour, to pit the game’s best players against each other for a chance to win the acclaim of the internet (and potentially a lot of money). A European leg of the tour is currently happening in Bucharest, and you can catch the action over on Twitch.Read Article >
But there’s a catch: anybody who posts anything pro-Hong Kong seems to be earning an automatic 24-hour chat ban, as reported by Dot Esports. (On Twitch, a chat ban means that you can’t post anything in a channel’s chat for a certain amount of time; offenses and ban lengths are both specified by moderators.)
Oct 18, 2019
In two letters, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sharply criticized Apple and Blizzard over their recent actions in China.Read Article >
The first, addressed to Apple CEO Tim Cook, expresses “strong concern” over the company’s decision to remove an app used by Hong Kong protesters from its App Store. The app, called HKMap, tracked police presence and was used by pro-democracy activists, but was removed earlier this month after Apple claimed it was being used for criminal activity. The app’s developers said there was no evidence of that, and Apple has been slammed for the move.
Oct 17, 2019
In a speech at Georgetown University on Thursday, Mark Zuckerberg laid out Facebook’s approach to moderation in terms of an ongoing commitment to free expression — and in one particular section, drew a sharp contrast with Chinese companies that may not share those values.Read Article >
As Zuckerberg described it, regulators and technologists face the question of “which nation’s values are going to determine what speech is going to be allowed for decades to come,” China or the US. As he laid out Facebook’s commitment to free expression, he also emphasized that those values were already coming under threat from China.
Oct 16, 2019
Blizzard has suspended three college Hearthstone players for six months after they held up a sign that read “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz” while participating in an official competition stream.Read Article >
The ban, which was first reported by VICE Games, comes just over a week after Blizzard suspended a professional Hearthstone player, Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung for six months. Chung was suspended for showing support for Hong Kong protesters in an interview after Hearthstone’s Grandmaster tournament. The incident led to widespread complaints from the gaming community, as well as within Blizzard itself.
Oct 12, 2019
Video game developer Blizzard Entertainment has finally broken its silence after banning a professional player of popular virtual card game Hearthstone for voicing support for the Hong Kong protests. In a lengthy statement, the company says it will reduce the one-year suspension of player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung to a six-month one, and it will restore the prize money it withheld from him.Read Article >
Blizzard claims that its initial decision was not influenced by its relationship with China. “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,” writes J. Allen Brack, the president of Blizzard Entertainment.
Oct 11, 2019
On Friday, Riot Games said that League of Legends broadcasters should “refrain” from discussing “sensitive topics” on the air, following a controversial move from Blizzard to ban a Hearthstone player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protesters over the weekend.Read Article >
“As a general rule, we want to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players,” John Needham, the global head of League of Legends e-sports said in a statement. “We serve fans from many different countries and cultures, and we believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitives issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate.”
Oct 10, 2019
Google has removed a pro-Hong Kong protestor game called The Revolution of Our Times from the Play Store, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. It marks the latest Hong Kong-related app to be pulled after Apple removed a crowdsourced mapping app used by protestors and Quartz’s news app.Read Article >
While the game has been removed, a cached version of the Play Store page is still available on Google search (at least for now). As an actual game, there doesn’t seem to be too much here beyond a basic text-based Choose Your Own Adventure-style narrative that tells the story of a protestor.
Oct 10, 2019
News organization Quartz tells The Verge that Apple has removed its mobile app from the Chinese version of its App Store after complaints from the Chinese government. According to Quartz, this is due to the publication’s ongoing coverage of the Hong Kong protests, and the company says its entire website has also been blocked from being accessed in mainland China.Read Article >
The publication says it received a notice from Apple that the app “includes content that is illegal in China.”
A couple dozen Blizzard employees walked out of work Tuesday in protest of the company’s decision to ban a professional Hearthstone player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protesters over the weekend, according to The Daily Beast.Read Article >
The employees met at a giant statue depicting an Orc Warrior outside of the Activision Blizzard offices in California. According to the Beast, employees came and went as the day continued on and topped off at around 30 concurrent workers. Someone claiming to be a Blizzard employee posted a photo of workers sitting beside the statue on the r/Hearthstone subreddit, where it was met with praise from members of the Reddit community.
On Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) requested that the US government conduct a formal investigation into whether the popular Chinese video app, TikTok, poses a national security risk by censoring content that upsets leaders in Beijing.Read Article >
“These Chinese-owned apps are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Community Party,” Rubio claimed in a letter calling on the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to conduct a full review on the potential national security risks posed by TikTok’s acquisition of Musical.ly.
Fortnite developer Epic Games said in a statement that it will not ban players or content creators for political speech. The message comes after Blizzard caught fire this week for banning a professional Hearthstone player for shouting a statement associated with Hong Kong protesters.Read Article >
“Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics,” an Epic Games spokesperson told The Verge.
Oct 8, 2019
Over the weekend, Blizzard Entertainment banned a Hearthstone player from participating in tournaments after he voiced support for the Hong Kong protesters. Now, US senators are criticizing the game’s publisher for its move.Read Article >
“Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said. “No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
Oct 8, 2019
Blizzard has issued a year-long ban to a Hearthstone player who expressed support for the Hong Kong protestors during a competition live stream. The US-based game developer and publisher is also withholding any prize money he would have earned from competing in the tournament.Read Article >
The incident occurred on Sunday, when Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung was being interviewed after a Grandmasters match. At the end of the interview, InvenGlobal reports that Blitzchung pulled down his Hong Kong protester-style mask to yell, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” The stream then quickly cuts to a commercial break.
When Apple released iOS 13.1.1 in late September, it appears to have dropped the Taiwan flag from the emoji keyboard for users that have their iOS region set to Hong Kong or Macau, as noticed by the blog Hiraku and later corroborated by Hong Kong Free Press.Read Article >
The Taiwan flag emoji isn’t completely gone — apparently, it will still display in apps and on websites, and you can even still “type” it by either typing “Taiwan” in English and selecting it from Apple’s next-word predictions or by copying and pasting it.