Blizzard Entertainment has issued yet another suspension to esports players in its Hearthstone digital card game.
A trio of players from American University in Washington, D.C., have been suspended from the ongoing Hearthstone Collegiate Championships tournament for holding up a handwritten sign reading “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz” during a live-streamed match on Oct. 8.
“The players are disqualified from the ongoing tournament and will be ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 6 months, beginning from Oct. 8, 2019 and extending to April 8th, 2020. Following the 6 months suspension, the players may, at their discretion, continue to participate in Hearthstone esports,” Blizzard said in an official ruling on Hearthstone‘s site.
The suspension comes a week after Blizzard’s ban of professional Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for voicing support of pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong during a live stream. The decision was met with widespread criticism as many accused Blizzard of kowtowing to the Chinese government. Hearthstone and other Blizzard titles, such as World of Warcraft and Overwatch, are extremely popular in China. Chinese conglomerate Tencent also owns a small stake in the company.
Last week, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack addressed the controversy in a statement, saying, “I want to be clear: Our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” He also walked back Chung’s suspension, which was initially a yearlong ban from competition and called for the forfeiture of his winnings, to a six-month block and the reinstatement of his prizes.
The banning of the three collegiate players is not the only controversy Blizzard has endured this week. A planned event celebrating the company’s launch of Overwatch on the Nintendo Switch console, which was to take place Wednesday, was canceled.
The company’s annual convention, BlizzCon, is still scheduled to take place in early November in Anaheim.