Congress Criticizes Blizzard's Hong Kong Player Ban In Bipartisan Letter To Bobby Kotick

"We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider."

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Blizzard's controversial decision to punish a professional Hearthstone player for expressing support for Hong Kong protests in a post-match interview already received widespread outcry from several sources, including members of Congress. Now five sitting Senators and Representatives have taken a new step, penning a joint bipartisan letter to Activision CEO Bobby Kotick urging the company to reconsider.

The letter from the office of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was co-signed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), as well as House of Representatives members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). The letter is dated October 18, well after Blizzard partially reversed its punishment against the player, Ng Wai Chung aka Blitzchung. Notably, the letter references the initial punishment rather than the revised one.

"As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values--like freedom of speech and thought--or to give in to Beijing's demands in order to preserve market access," the letter states. "We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it."

You can read the letter in full below.

The controversy began when Chung spoke out in support of the Hong Kong protesters during a post-match interview. He was subsequently stripped of his $10,000 in winnings and banned from competitive play for a year. This quickly received backlash, with many interpreting the move as conceding to China's market pressure. In a revised ruling, Blizzard returned the prize money and reduced the ban to six months. Blizzard also stated that it was not punishing Chung for speaking out on Hong Kong specifically.

Since then, Blizzard has also banned a team that protested in solidarity, giving them equal punishment to Blitzchung. That appeared meant to resolve their criticism that they were not given equal punishment for the same offense. Gamers have also called for boycotts of Blizzard's other games and a protest at BlizzCon, and the company cancelled a planned Overwatch launch event at the Nintendo World Store. BlizzCon protest organizers say that despite the company's revised punishment, plans for the demonstration are still on.

GameSpot has contacted Activision for comment.

Dear Mr. Kotick:

We write to express our deep concern about Activision Blizzard's decision to make player Ng Wai Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. This decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government's growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.

Activision Blizzard benefits from China's growing market for e-sports, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China's largest technology firms. As you and your company are no doubt aware, the Chinese government uses the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions with which it disagrees. Last week alone, the Chinese government targeted Apple for hosting an app to help peaceful demonstrators evade repression and the National Basketball Association because one team's general manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong protests.

Your company claims to stand by "one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions," yet many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzard's decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values. Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms. Indeed, many gamers around the world have taken notice of your company's actions, understandably calling for boycotts of Activision Blizzard gaming sites.

As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values--like freedom of speech and thought--or to give into Beijing's demands in order to preserve market access. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it.

Sincerely,

Ron Wyden

United States Senator

Marco Rubio

United States Senator

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Member of Congress

Mike Gallagher

Member of Congress

Tom Malinowski

Member of Congress

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