The incident comes at a time when the NBA is enmeshed in a controversy over its relationship with China.
During a post-match interview on the official Taiwanese Hearthstone stream, Blitzchung, wearing a gas mask, cried, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” At that point, the stream cut to a commercial break. The comment came during the last weekend of the Hearthstone Grandmasters Asia-Pacific regular season.
Blizzard on Tuesday announced that Blitzchung’s action violated its rules of competition, citing a prohibition on “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’s image.
“As you know there are serious protests in my country now,” Blitzchung said in a statement to Inven Global before the ban was announced. “My call on [the] stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention. I put so much effort in that social movement in the past few months, that I sometimes couldn’t focus on preparing my Grandmaster match. I know what my action on [the] stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue.”
Like the NBA, Blizzard is heavily invested in China through its Overwatch League and it has sought to balance those business interests with the right to free expression. Tencent, the Chinese gaming giant, owns a five-percent stake in Activision Blizzard, Blizzard’s parent company. (Tencent is also the NBA’s rights holder in China.) And Blizzard has long had a partnership with NetEase, the Chinese Internet company. According to Quartz, Blizzard is believed to derive 12 percent of its revenue from the Asia-Pacific market.
“We’d like to reemphasize tournament and player conduct within the Hearthstone esports community from both players and talent,” the company said in a statement. “While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules.”
Blitzchung was also stripped of his prize money.
Blizzard terminated its contract with the two casters conducting the interview. The two casters dived under the table as soon as Blitzchung made his statement.
As with the NBA, Blizzard is seeking to strike a balance between its considerable financial stake in China and the right to free expression. Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey started a firestorm with a now-deleted tweet reading “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” The league struggled with its initial response to blowback from Chinese businesses and its domestic basketball league. Initially calling the tweet “regrettable,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has sought to ease the damage in both countries, saying that the league does not censor what its owners, players, or employees say.
A proposal by Hong Kong to allow extraditions from the semiautonomous territory to China sparked the protests, which stem from a fear that Beijing’s leaders would seek to systematically pick apart the freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.
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