Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung, better known as blitzchung, remains suspended in the wake of his live-streamed protest in early October in favor of demonstrators in Hong Kong. That is despite an apology to fans over the handling of the matter by Blizzard President J. Allen Brack at the start of the company’s mega-convention, BlizzCon. In the days since the convention, there are many who feel Blizzard has not done enough to correct its actions, even after it reduced the suspension from 12 to six months and returned the winnings it initially stripped from blitzchung. One of those people is Blizzard vice president and Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan.
“I was relieved when they reduced his suspension,” Kaplan said in a Friday phone interview. "And I think the suspension should be reduced more or eliminated. But that’s just me.”
When Blizzard banned blitzchung there was overwhelming backlash. From congressional letters to social media posts, politicians, gamers and even prominent former Blizzard employees voiced their displeasure. Not only did many onlookers deem the punishment unfair, but there were concerns the studio was favoring its financial interests in China over free speech.
“I’m obviously a huge supporter of free speech; it’s something that’s very important to me," Kaplan said. “It got to me personally. I think the punishment was too harsh and I was greatly relieved when they gave his money back. I think that was extremely important."
It happened “way too quickly,” and came as a shock to Kaplan. He shared that most of his staff, including himself, didn’t know about the incident until they saw news articles on the subject. As someone who is regularly part of the conversation when it comes to handling suspensions and bans for the Overwatch League, he explained that normally these decisions are tactfully and thoughtfully considered.
“We had to deal with a few of them in season one in particular, and that process usually takes about four or five days to make the decision," Kaplan said. "There was always a group of us involved in deciding what the punishment should be, and we would heavily devil’s-advocate every part of the decision. So I was actually shocked that such a harsh penalty was levied.”
Brack told fans last week that Blizzard had indeed made the wrong decision, but did not rescind or further reduce the punishment.
“We moved too quickly in our decision-making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you,” he said at the time.
Kaplan is not the only Blizzard employee to come forward with his disapproval of how Blizzard handled the controversy. In an interview with Kotaku, Hearthstone game director Ben Lee told the outlet that he believed the “initial decision was too harsh." Kaplan is, however, the first Blizzard head to publicly state that he wants the suspension revoked completely.
Kaplan made clear he did not speak for the entirety of his Overwatch division, and said that many on his team of developers have differing opinions on the situation.
“I think as individuals, we all have very different feelings about what happened in regards to the Hearthstone tournament and blitzchung," Kaplan said. "There is a lot of very different reaction among all of us.”