Blizzard’s handling of the Blitzchung dilemma has been mental novocaine as the situation only gets worse. If you missed the debacle last week, here’s a rundown of everything you missed and a link to a video about the beginning of this developing issue.
Recap of What Happened
Hong Kong is currently going through massive protests in resistance to China’s increasing pressure. During the Hearthstone Grandmaster tournament, professional player Blitzchung donned a gas mask and goggles and yelled "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our age" during a post-match interview. The stream was quickly cut to commercial and the authoritarian hammer of Blizzard came down hard.
Blitzchung had all of his winnings revoked, he was banned from competing in Blizzard esports for a year, and they took away his win from the tournament. Oh yeah, and the poor casters who were bystanders during this social justice demonstration were fired, for no reason. The poor guys were just sitting there. People were pissed at Blizzard and a whole series of Boycott Blizzard groups popped up overnight. Subreddits, trending on Twitter, dominating headlines, and forcing Riot to release a statement that they did not restrict their casters’ freedom of speech.
Additionally, during a Hearthstone Collegiate Championship, American University's team held up a sign stating, “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizzard.” Aside from being cut from the stream immediately, the American University team was let off with a slap on the wrists, leading to even more controversy. All caught up? Good, It’s time to go deeper.
What Happened Next
For a whole week, Blizzard remained silent as their subreddits were ablaze. They were flooded with #BoycottBlizzard posts including memes, discussion, and actual plans to stage a protest at Blizzcon. On top of that, employees staged a walkout on October 9th in response to the controversy. A handful of Blizzard employees boycotted their employer by leaving their workspaces to stand at the company’s main statue with umbrellas symbolic of the umbrellas held by Hong Kong protestors. Fans have also quickly turned Mei into a symbol of protest given her background with support of climate change.
The first piece of news during this debacle comes in the form of a clip of Mr. Yee, one of the casters who was fired during the original Hearthstone incident. He talked on stream how he is no longer able to cast Overwatch events during this ban period. As he stated, all of the hard work and dedication put towards his casting career is in ruins by being a bystander. On October 12th Blizzard released this word-soup PR statement that attempts to clear all their bases but simultaneously fails at covering any of them. They start off with a cleary corporate response:
“At Blizzard, our vision is ‘to bring the world together through epic entertainment.’ And we have core values that apply here: Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and importantly, Every Voice Matters, encouraging everybody to share their point of view.”
It gets worse with an explanation defending themselves rather than saying hey, we messed up we’re sorry.
“We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.
Over the weekend, Blitzchung used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong—in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action.
Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.”
It is casters’ jobs to provide external context and flair to the esports experience. It would be negligent of Blizzard to believe that no social issues will permeate esports, and their handling of this current event is sad. Players will always express interests other than esports, and often taking a look into the personal lives of players is something that fans crave. Saying, “we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.” doesn’t really fly here. Every sponsored message, advertisement, and improvised show bits that Blizzard loves should be cut to make way for only entirely game-related content.
— 🎃 Inven Global 🎃 (@InvenGlobal) October 6, 2019
Regardless, the year ban has been reduced and instead of a year, both Blitzchung and the casters of the Grandmasters event have been banned for six months. Six months is still a considerable amount of time for a forced vacation for people who did nothing wrong. Chung issued his own statement in response. He wrote that he was “grateful for Blizzard reconsidering their position about my ban,” and that he would be “more careful” in the future to “express my opinions or show my support to Hong Kong on my personal platforms” rather than official broadcasts. He said he hopes that Blizzard will reconsider its suspension of the Hearthstone commentators and as do many others.
Former Magic: The Gathering pro, Brian Kibler stated that he would no longer be casting the Hearthstone Grandmasters finals at Blizzcon. In his statement he expressed:
“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 makes a good point that Blizzard is not 100% in the wrong in punishing Blitzchung, but their response was overkill. He continues on with:
“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.”
This is a big hit to Blizzard, and directly affects the stability of Blizzcon as an event.
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
In the last piece of news in this story, the American University Hearthstone team has received their punishment. In similar fashion to Blitzchung, the American University that held up a “Boycott Blizz” sign during a Hearthstone competition will be banned for six months. While this is technically a step forward in equality of punishment, at this point Blizzard is running around putting out fires. Blizzcon is only two weeks away and it's not looking good for the popular developer. To be honest there isn’t much that they can do to get themselves out of this situation so now it’s just a waiting game.