Being one of the most iconic and prolific personalities in the Hearthstone scene is a difficult position to be in when the company running the game royally messes up. Brian Kibler found himself in this unenviable place when it came to the fore that Hearthstone Grandmaster Blitzchung was banned from the tournament and had his prize money taken as punishment for commenting on the political situation in Hong Kong, supporting the protesters fighting for human rights. The Hearthstone and wider gaming communities have reacted strongly against Blizzard’s actions, and Kibler ended up pulling out of his role casting Grandmasters finals.
He said Blitzchung was brave to stand up for what’s right in the face of opposition, but Blizzard was justified in delivering a punishment for using its broadcasts as a political tool. Our view slightly differs, since either way the company would have to set a precedent. Of course, the right to free speech does not mean the right to a platform, but by punishing Blitzchung for speaking out it set the precedent of players self-censoring when participating in Blizzard broadcasts.
I just want to say that Ive been absolutely blown away by the messages of support that Ive gotten for my statement today, both publicly and in private. I did not expect this to blow up as much as it did, but Im glad I could help move the needle at all to make the world better.Brian Kibler (@bmkibler) October 10, 2019
When the topic is as sensitive and important for so many people as this, there’s no sitting on the fence, and by punishing Blitzchung, the company took a side. When such an obscure rule must be invoked to justify a punishment, it’s clear the company doesn’t have much of an excuse.
Kibler did say he felt the punishment was overly harsh though, and it looks to him like the company’s actions are intertwined with the issues in China and Hong Kong as well as Blizzard’s business interests. He informed Blizzard he would be removing himself from the role of Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon, but made it clear this is a luxury he has being in a hugely privileged position. Of course, not everyone is able to pull support for the company, and many people’s livelihoods rely on work provided by Blizzard, but Brian Kibler using his position in the community is nonetheless refreshing to see.