“Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms.”
Blitzchung made a pro-Hong Kong statement during an official competition, and Blizzard initially banned him for one year and took away his winnings, which the letter references. After a global outrage, including a sternly-worded tweet from Rubio, Blizzard lowered the suspension for six months.
The punishment would have been the same no matter what blitzchung said, claimed Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack, and insisted the company’s many business ties with China had no influence on the decision.
American collegiate esports players made a similar protest on U.S. soil, daring Blizzard to ban them too. The three American University students were eventually suspended for six months earlier this week.
The Hong Kong protests have been a common rallying point for social activists in recent months. A proposal by Hong Kong to allow extraditions to China sparked the movement, as it was seen by some as an attempt by Beijing to pick apart the autonomy and liberties promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.
Blizzard has invested in China’s esports scene through its Overwatch League, placing franchises in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu. Tencent, a Chinese entertainment giant, owns a five-percent stake in Blizzard’s parent company, Activision Blizzard.
An official letter from Congress may only throw more wood into the fire surrounding Blizzard at a particularly poor time for the company. BlizzCon, the company’s annual gathering of tens of thousands of fans, begins Nov. 1.
Several protests are being planned, including a few Facebook event pages for “Raid BlizzCon 2019 dressed as Winnie the Pooh," the beloved children’s character that eventually was banned in China because of Internet memes mocking China President Xi Jinping.
Fight For The Future, an online freedom activist group, has called for an umbrella protest of companies appearing to bend a knee to the Chinese government.
Evan Greer, the group’s deputy director, said moderation on social networks are among “the most important decisions that humans are making right now."
“Companies should make content moderation decisions based on the needs of their community and humanity as a whole, not based on pressure from governments, whether it’s the U.S., China or the U.K.,” she said.
Greer added that this feels different from the multitudes of other Internet outrage explosions, and that she’s seeing people consider political action.
“Blizzard is trying to hide the fact that they’re blatantly acting as censors on behalf of a government by claiming they just have a blanket ban on all ‘political’ speech,” she said. “How you define what speech is ‘political’ and what speech is okay is a highly political decision in and of itself.”