Blizzard admits responsibility over the Hong Kong free speech situation

In a dramatic change of tone, Activision Blizzard have issued a public apology for their player bans issued in response to public support of the Hong Kong protests

What are Blizzard apologising for?

As we reported last week, Californian e-sports firm Blizzard issued a ban against superstar gamer Blitzchung (real name Ng Wai Chung). This was after Blitzchung gave an interview supporting the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Originally Blizzard issued a 12-month ban, both to Blitzchung and the announcers at the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament. They later reduced this to six months, but seemed oblivious to the outcries of protest at this decision.

Protest banner on Twitter against the Blizzard Entertainment player bans
Blizzard viewers are protesting the bans. Image: Twitter

How is this relevant to the protests in Hong Kong?

There has been an outpouring of protests from all sides. The Hong Kong demonstrations are a serious issue, and many people support the cause. The crux of the protests is around proposed Chinese mainland legislation. This is currently suspended, but if successful has wide reaching human rights implications.

Protesters in Hong Kong are campaigning for democracy. They wish to retain their rights and freedoms, which are far more relaxed than the legislation in place on the mainland. The Chinese legislation wouldn’t just affect Hong Kong, either, it could have impacts on Chinese nationals worldwide being extradited to China should they find themselves in breach of the law.

By denouncing Blitzchung, and indeed banning him and originally withdrawing his winnings, Blizzard showed their lack of support for the protests. It is likely that this was an effort to sustain good trading relationships with the Chinese government. Blizzard, of course, deny that this had anything to do with the bans.

What backlash followed the bans?

Mitsubishi Taiwan dropped Blizzard, having been a key sponsor. Viewers voiced their anger, with #BoycottBlizzard trending on Twitter.

Blizzard employees walked out of work, and displayed banners saying ‘every voice matters’; an ironic use of the phrase which is meant to form part of Blizzards’ core value system. Players also dropped out of Blizzard tournaments, with the Hearthstone American University team streaming their protest video.

Even the US Congress got involved, writing to the Blizzard CEO to urge him not to give in to Beijing’s demands‘. 

Protest banner saying Boycott Blizzard because they ban you from your beliefs
The backlash against Blizzard is not going away. Image: Twitter

Why have Blizzard now apologised?

The President of Blizzard, J. Allen Brack, made the public apology at the opening of BlizzCon 2019 Fan Fest. It would seem that the volume and seriousness of the protests have finally caught his attention.

Brack said that; We didn’t live up to the standards we set for ourselves. We failed in our purpose. And for that, I’m sorry, and I accept accountability’.

This is a big reverse from his previous statement on October 12th, which said that:

‘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.’

How has the apology been received?

It may be that this is too little, too late. Certainly the response on Twitter has been less than conciliatory.

At the time of writing, the YouTube video has 10,444 views and the tweet of the video by Rod Breslau, tweeting as @Slasher has 4,660 Likes and 882 Retweets. There are comments falling on both sides of the argument, but it feels like overwhelming, the apology is not being considered sincere. Viewer comments include:

‘I didn’t know that respecting human rights was considered as “high standards”.

‘If every voice matters, lift the bans and change your contract.’

‘Empty Platitudes from a corporate exec who’s still got a 6 mo ban on Blitzchung and the moderators. If they really learned their lesson, they should exonerate them.’

‘So when are they going to lift Blitzchung’s ban entirely? When are they going to rehire the stream hosts? Cause if they don’t do that, his words aren’t good enough. Free Hong Kong.’

It sounds to me like Blizzard are going to have to take some real action if their apology is to be seen as genuine. Making an apology without lifting the bans is not going to cut it.

Gamer Blitzchung next to a Hearthstone banner
Blitzchung is currently suspended from Blizzard. Image: WCCF tech

How likely is it that Blizzard will reverse the bans?

Likelihood; currently zero. As reported by Polygon, Brack stated categorically in in an interview with PC Gamer that Blizzard will not reconsider lifting the ban.

Brack says; ‘If we hadn’t taken action, if we hadn’t done something, you can imagine the trail that would be in our future around doing interviews. They would become times for people to make a statement about whatever they wanted to, on whatever issue. That’s just a path that we don’t want to go down.’

What does Blitzchung make of it all?

The pro gamer is certainly feeling the support coming his way. He issued a statement on 12th October following the reduction of his ban to six months. This said:

‘Lastly, many people wants to know if i would be competing in hearthstone in the future. Honestly, I have no idea on that yet. I will take this time to relax myself to decide if I am staying in competitive hearthstone scene or not.’

He tweeted on 19th Oct; ‘Thanks everyone supported me, Hong Kong, freedom of speech and democracy I saw the twitch chat and I heard it. It has been a tough period for me but it also motivated me to shine brighter‘.

Two days ago, it was reported that Blitzchung has now been signed to the Tempo Storm Hearthstone program. Tempo says it values ‘character and integrity’ as much as skill.

As for Blitzchung’s response to this latest apology? Watch this space.

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