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Why Blizzard’s ban of players is a problem

The two casters who interviewed Blitzchung have also been fired from the company, despite physically ducking under their desks.

If you aren’t clued up on the events that have transpired in Hong Kong over the last four months, it might be time to get informed, particularly as ramifications are extending beyond Hong Kong streets and into mainstream pop culture.

The protests are now the largest in modern history and have outgrown their initial spark, which was to publicly reject a proposed bill that would allow extradition to China. After this was finally withdrawn in September, activists began demanding a fully-fledged democracy and a thorough investigation into police brutality.

As the unrest continues to spiral, companies are being forced to acknowledge the issue and respond to individuals within their ranks who voice their support. This has led to public criticisms toward corporations for self-censoring themselves in order to appease lucrative Chinese markets.

Blizzard’s removal of prolific gamer Blitzchung from its competitions is public punishment for expressing a political opinion, and we should hold the company accountable for a weak and profit-fuelled move. This situation highlights many brands’ unwillingness to even remotely offend China’s communist government for fear of losing out on big bucks – and that’s a serious problem.

What actually happened?

Blitzchung, a successful Hearthstone player, expressed support for the Hong Kong protests during an Asia-Pacific Grandmasters broadcast over the weekend. The two interviewers he was talking to quickly ducked under their desks – but it wasn’t enough to shield them from a ban. You can view the incident below.

After the broadcast, Blizzard promptly fired both interviewers and banned Blitzchung from entering any tournaments for twelve months. They also revoked all of his prize money from the current competition and removed him from this year’s finals.

Are Blizzard at fault?

Questions of free speech within the context of companies, social media, or corporate platforms are tricky. On the one hand, individuals should have the right to express their opinions, political or otherwise, and feel safe from penalties doing so. On the other, companies themselves are under no obligation to allow employees to say anything they like, particularly if the person in question is representing them publicly.

Was Blizzard actually at fault for banning Blitzchung and the two casters who interviewed him? Technically it isn’t doing anything wrong, but it’s a cowardly move that is most likely fuelled by the revenue the company generates from its large Chinese audience.

The removal of three big names from its public face is a deliberate warning to any others that might be thinking about expressing support for liberation in Hong Kong. What’s even more frustrating is that Blizzard won’t even acknowledge it’s own tight fist over the subject, instead opting for a vague statement that shows ‘support’ for free speech.

Sure, guys.


Why shoddy business responses should be called out

Unfortunately, similar events are occurring in other areas of entertainment. Just in the last week, manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team, Daryl Morey, has faced an intense investigation and backlash from the NBA for a single tweet in support of the protests. The NBA response has, thankfully, been met with criticism from Western publications, who call out the league for being more concerned about its bottom line from China than the civil rights of an entire region.

Blizzard and the NBA’s disciplining of individuals exposes the flimsy morals of many big-name companies who stay silent on issues that affect large chunks of their audiences, just for the sake of profit. Sure, these companies don’t have to do anything, but actively shutting down political opinions that may upset some Chinese investors is disheartening and undemocratic.

The political disruption in Hong Kong shouldn’t be a controversial one for Western businesses – this isn’t a fascist movement or hateful, extremist rioting. These are simply members of the public who want the same rights as most democratic countries, people who are urging for transparency in their police forces, and standing up for civil rights in a region that lives in China’s shadow.

As consumers we should demand more from brands we’re invested in, particularly ones that appeal to an international audience. Blizzard is no exception. Blitzchung did not say anything outright offensive, nor did he call for violence or act hateful toward any group. He simply showed support for a civil rights movement in his own country which should not be a disciplinary offense.

Blizzard is acting within its rights, but it’s a disappointing response that deserves the criticism it’s receiving. Many are choosing to boycott the company for the foreseeable future and players are voicing anger across both Twitter and YouTube. Check out this video below by YongYea that rightly calls Blizzard ‘cowardly’ for its actions.

What should we do in response?

Events like this may seem small in the grand scheme of things, particularly given all of the actual chaos that’s ensuing on Hong Kong’s streets. But, for many outsiders who aren’t informed on the situation, this news will be the first time they’re exposed to the protests.

Companies actively taking measures to silence people will have an impact on the outside world. By belittling and smothering voices who are showing solidarity with activists, big businesses are deliberately bending their knees to the will of China and reducing the impact the riots can have on the global stage.

As informed consumers we should hold Blizzard, the NBA, and any other brands accountable for their actions. We can boycott their products, voice our concerns on social media, and encourage others to call out profit-focused behaviour that puts civil liberties at risk.

It may seem small, but Blizzard’s ban demonstrates an ethos that punishes civil rights advocation and promotes whatever morals its investors deem fit – and that’s not right. We may not be able to protest on the streets, but we can make our voices heard with our wallets and our Twitter accounts.

It’s time to start calling out the companies who lack a backbone and give in to greed.