In a post-match interview, Hearthstone player Blitzchung called for the liberation of Hong Kong. In response, tournament organisers banned him from competing and took away his prize money.
During the interview, Blitzchung wore a mask and stated what has been translated as 'liberate Hong Kong, revolution in our age'. The casters ducked behind the sofa during the statement and did not comment directly on it.
"Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms."
Given Hearthstone’s large Chinese playerbase, Blizzard clearly used its sole discretion to attempt to minimise the reputational damage in that part of the world. Chinese gaming giant Tencent owns 5% of Activision-Blizzard, and the company’s games are immensely popular in China. Blitzchung will be unable to participate in Hearthstone Esports until October 2020. It was also noted by Rod Breslau that Taiwan has to be referred to as ‘Chinese Taipei’ in the Overwatch World Cup, indicating history in this regard.
Despite the two casters appearing to distance themselves from the statement, physically recoiling to avoid repercussions, they will both no longer be working with Blizzard.
Blizzard Taiwan has also removed the clip from its Twitch Channel. The NBA has faced a lot of backlash for its weak stance on the Hong Kong protests, capitulating to China’s demands, and it appears that Activision-Blizzard, with this ruling, is doing the same.
The statement was closed by the line: "While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules." The fact that such an obscure and subjective rule had to be invoked to put the ban in place appears to show a lack of specific knowledge on this. Hearthstone players often let their personalities out on stream, but it’s likely that this ban will force them, and other Esports players, to think twice and self-censor when it comes to using their platform to make comments on important political issues.