Critics Of Hearthstone Pro Ban Now Include Epic, Senator Marco Rubio, And Blizzard's Own Employees
The Blizzard situation continues to snowball.
Following an incident in which Blizzard banned a professional Hearthstone player for expressing solidarity with Hong Kong protests, the company faced sharp criticism from fans. The controversy has only grown since then, and now the company’s critics include competing game companies, sitting US Senators, and even some employees of the company itself.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted a criticism of the move, saying China is "using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally." Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) had even sharper words, saying that Blizzard is "willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck."
Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in U.S. politics today is gone. https://t.co/Cx3tkWc7r6— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 8, 2019
Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck. https://t.co/rJBeXUiwYS— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) October 8, 2019
Meanwhile, the incident has proven a PR misstep as well, giving an opportunity for competing developers to suggest they wouldn’t make the same mistake. Epic issued a statement stressing its support for players to speak their mind.
"Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights," the company told The Verge. "We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics."
Workers at Epic aren’t the only ones dissatisfied with the move, though. It appears that Blizzard has conscientious dissenters in its own company. Plaques outside the company's headquarters expressing the values "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" have been covered with paper. Rock Paper Shotgun reports that some employees gathered for an umbrella protest in solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters. The Daily Beast spoke with some employees, who said the gathering ranged from 12-30 people throughout the day.
"The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising," one Blizzard employee said. "Blizzard makes a lot of money in China, but now the company is in this awkward position where we can't abide by our values."
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
Both the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6Q
Blizzard has also seen at least one high-profile departure from its own competitive events. Brian Kibler, a Hearthstone streamer who has also become a regular caster and event host, issued a statement on the ruling. He said he understands why Blizzard had to take some action against using its platform to make political statements, but that this one seems unnecessarily harsh and heavy-handed.
"That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with," Kibler said. "When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward."
In a streaming show, Kibler spoke about the controversy with James Kostesich aka "Firebat," the first Hearthstone World Champion. Kostesich agreed that the penalty is too harsh, calling it "ridiculous" and "unreasonable," and suggested Blizzard is looking to make an example out of the player.
The situation began when the professional player Ng Wai Chung aka "Blitzchung" showed his support for Hong Kong protests during a post-match interview. Blizzard banned Chung from competitive events for one year and rescinded his $10,000 in winnings, citing a rule against any action that "brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard's image." The Hearthstone subreddit quickly populated with several threads full of players saying they had or planned to quit playing the game. A boycottblizzard hashtag also trended on Twitter.
Chung himself told AFP the unrest in his home city sometimes distracted him from the competition, and he has no regrets about speaking out.
"I sacrificed time hanging out with my friends and studying because of this competition. Even though it seemed that I had wasted four years of time, I have something more important in my heart--if we lose the movement, Hong Kong will end forever."
BlizzCon 2019 is beginning on November 1, where Blizzard may need to address this controversy in person.
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