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Irvine, California-based Blizzard Entertainment, the video game developer and publisher behind such franchises as World of Warcraft and Overwatch, has suspended professional Hearthstone (a competitive digital card game based on World of Warcraft) player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai from its Grandmasters tournament events, the highest league in the game’s competitive scene, after he made comments supporting protestors in Hong Kong.
During a post-game interview appearance on Sunday with the official Hearthstone live stream of Taiwan, Chung wore a gas mask while being interviewed and voiced his support for the protests against Hong Kong’s government. At one point during the interview, he can be heard saying, “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” a rallying cry among the protestors. The video has since been removed, though esports site InvenGlobal still has footage from the stream up on its Twitter page.
Blizzard also decided to no longer work with the hosts of the interview on future streams. The suspension of Blitzchung will last for a full year, and also includes forfeiture of his Grandmasters prize earnings to date.
“We’d like to re-emphasize tournament and player conduct within the Hearthstone esports community from both players and talent,” Blizzard said in a statement on the official Hearthstone blog. “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.”
Blizzard defended the choice to suspend Blitzchung, citing the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules section 6.1 (o): “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’s 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.”
Blitzchung’s suspension began Saturday, the day of the incident, and will end Oct. 5, 2020. Requests for additional comment from Blizzard were not immediately returned.
Chung told IGN earlier this week that he “expected the decision by Blizzard.”
“I think it’s unfair, but I do respect their decision. I’m not [regretful] of what I said,” he said.
China represents a major market for esports. In 2018, Chinese conglomerate Tencent, which owns stake in Activision Blizzard, released a report that the competitive gaming market in China would reach $1.5 billion by 2020.
Earlier this week, Chinese officials scrubbed virtually every clip, episode and online discussion of Comedy Central’s South Park from the country’s streaming services, social media and even fan pages following an episode of the animated series that criticized the Chinese government and leader Xi Jinping the week prior.
Meanwhile, the NBA is also embroiled in controversy with China, as Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey on Sunday issued a tweet expressing his solidarity with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors, which sparked a deluge of criticism in China. In response, Chinese broadcasters announced they would stop airing Rockets games and local sponsors pulled their funds from the team, while stateside, the Rockets and the NBA disavowed Morey’s comments.
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