By: BRENDAN MCDANIEL
On Oct. 6, professional Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai of Hong Kong was suspended from tournament play by Activision-Blizzard, who developed the game and oversaw its tournaments.
Chung was suspended, and was forced to forfeit $10,000 in prize money, after stating his support for protesters in Hong Kong and calling for the liberation of the region. Doing so violated a term in his contract, and so Activision-Blizzard elected to terminate the contract.
This immediately kicked up a PR nightmare for the company, with many seeing it as Activision-Blizzard punishing a professional player for speaking out against what he viewed as tyrannical rule on the part of the Chinese government.
Public figures from all walks of life have condemned Activision-Blizzard for this, from Senators Rubio (R) and Wyden (D) of Florida and Oregon, to e-sports fans and gamers on the Internet.
Even people whose opinions one might actually care about confidently opposed the removal of Blitzchung; former Blizzard developer Mark Kern made a statement on Twitter using #BoycottBlizzard and cancelling his subscription to MMO giant World of Warcraft, the very game he helped develop.
Seeing how the vast majority of people not working for or under the rule of the Chinese government were vehemently against the decision, Activision-Blizzard made a public statement Saturday morning in the second or third most hilariously inept PR move I’ve ever seen.
Now, there’s a lot that’s just downright funny about this story. The statement that got Chung Ng Wai removed was made on a Taiwanese livestream after a competition, which he entered wearing a gas mask before shouting “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times!” @InvenGlobal on Twitter has posted a video of the incident, which I highly recommend you watch, because it is comedy gold.
Chung enters the stream wearing a two-piece gas mask, and the hosts of the stream ducked their heads below the table and burst out laughing before Chung even removed the mask to speak. Also, the streamers follow up Chung’s very controversial (China really doesn’t like the Hong Kong protesters, and the Chinese Communist Party currently owns/occupies Taiwan, depending on whether or not you view Taiwan as having its own independent government) comment with an ad cut for Mitsubishi cars.
Despite the fact that Chung was clearly a bit tongue-in-cheek with his initial outburst, he did later clarify that he was very serious about his support for the Hong Kong protests, saying that “what I have lost in Hearthstone is four years of time, but if Hong Kong loses, it would be the matter of a lifetime.”
Now, the specific part of Chung’s contract that got him removed was that he made the statement “Liberate Hong Kong,” and Blizzard forbids players from making statements or actions that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages” Blizzard’s reputation, as according to Chung’s contract.
As making a pro-Hong Kong statement is going to anger the Chinese government, Chung’s support for Hong Kong would put him into public disrepute with the Chinese Communist Party, and the Chinese Communist Party makes up the overwhelming majority of the Chinese public, it could therefore be reasonably argued that Chung’s statement brought him into public disrepute.
Blizzard’s official statement on the matter, made Friday evening, states that “The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.”
This statement comes from Activision-Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick, who Preface readers may also know as the man who earlier this year said “while our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential,” in an attempt to rationalize laying off approximately 8% of its staff after its best financial year in the company’s history.
Just a thought – maybe we shouldn’t lend too much weight to whether or not Kotick sees his decisions as justified?
But the thing that really gets me about the statement Activision-Blizzard made is this bit: “if this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.” I think that’s nonsense.
I’m no expert on Chinese social politics or society, but I don’t think it’s even possible to make the opposing viewpoint in the same divisive and deliberate way.
What exactly does that look like, even? Going on stream and shouting “Hong Kong doesn’t deserve freedom?”
As I understand the issue, the thing that makes Chung’s statement “divisive and deliberate” is because it is a minority opinion, and that the Chinese government wants to suppress it.
I don’t know if that same pressure exists on the opposing viewpoint in China, Taiwan, or anywhere else except when made while standing in the middle of a crowd of protesters.
I don’t believe that Blizzard would have made the same decision if Chung had given the opposite viewpoint, because the social and political context surrounding the pro-Hong Kong and anti-Hong Kong viewpoints are not equivalent.
Also, Bobby Kotick, the CEO of Activision-Blizzard, a lying liar who lies a bunch and should be viewed as such.