Large game companies restricting speech or introducing censorship is nothing new, but a new case involving American gaming company Blizzard is nevertheless making the headlines.
Last weekend, Blizzard decided to ban professional Hearthstone player from Hong Kong, Ng Wai Chung, who plays under the name Blitzchung, for expressing his sentiments in favor of protesters in that autonomous Chinese region. Also, the company will not pay Blitzchung any of the money he had won during the tournament where the incident happened last weekend.
“Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!,” Blitzchung said at the end of an interview, which also resulted in the firing of two casters who interviewed him, and who are believed to have encouraged the gamer.
Blizzard's way of dealing with Blitzchung's political activism has drawn criticism from many corners – from other gamers all the way to US politicians, both Republicans and Democrats. Senator Ron Wyden took to Twitter to condemn the move by saying, “Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck. https://t.co/rJBeXUiwYS
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) October 8, 2019
An American company, perhaps – but one where China's giant Tencent has about a five percent stake in the parent, Activision Blizzard.
Blizzard's decision has been interpreted by some in this light, suggesting that the desire not to get on the wrong side of China's sensibilities was fueled by the company's ownership structure.
Epic supports everyone’s right to speak freely. China players of Fortnite are free to criticize the US or criticize Epic just as equally as all others.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) October 9, 2019
However, the reaction of another American gaming company, Epic Games – where Tencent has a 40 percent stake – is casting some doubt on that theory. Unlike Blizzard, Epic is pledging not to introduce censorship on political grounds.
Epic said in a statement that the company supports the right of players and content creators to express themselves politically, and on human rights issues.
Blizzard is saying the same thing – that they support the right to expression of “thoughts and opinions” – but not during one of its tournaments, as that runs afoul of the rules.
Blitzchung – who has been banned from participating for a year, and has reportedly lost about $10,000 from the event where the incident took place alone – broke those rules, said Blizzard, Specifically, the rules that say players must not act in a way that would bring them into public disrepute, offend a portion or group of the public – or harm Blizzard's reputation.