Hearthstone Devs Felt Blitzchung's Punishment Was "Too Harsh"

The studio "celebrates" free speech, but felt a professional tournament wasn't the place.

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Though Blizzard lessened Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai's punishment following the overwhelming backlash, some Hearthstone developers thought the company's handling of the professional player was "too harsh."

In an interview with Kotaku at BlizzCon 2019, game director Ben Lee wished Blizzard took better care of the Blitzchung situation. "The initial decision was too harsh. Absolutely," Lee said. "Definitely should have taken more time to consider something more reasonable, but we can't take that back."

While creative director Ben Thompson ultimately supports Blitzchung's right to free speech, the Hearthstone developer felt a professional tournament wasn't the place to express those views.

“Of course I celebrate--as we all do to some extent or another--free speech. You should be able to say what it is you want to say," Thompson said. "I also understand what [Blizzard president] J. Allen Brack himself addressed in his own internal communications and later on to the world at large, which is that being able to speak your mind and say how you feel from a personal level is always and should always be a welcome thing. Doing so from a platform very much not your own and done from a voice not your own to take control, so to speak, or on behalf of another is not free speech. That is on behalf of something that’s not yours to do with.”

Blitzchung was initially banned for one year and lost all of his prize winnings after expressing support for democracy in Hong Kong during a post-match Hearthstone Grandmasters interview. Blizzard received widespread criticism online and from protesters, to which the company responded by reducing Blitzchung's ban to six months and giving back his thousands of dollars in winnings.

"We've had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn't adequate, and we reacted too quickly," Brack said in a statement. "We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value--Play Nice; Play Fair."

Brack addressed the controversial decision during BlizzCon's opening ceremony, stating the company failed to adhere to its principles. "We moved too quickly in our decision making, and to make matters worse we were too slow to talk with you," Brack said. "We didn't live up to the high standards we really set for ourselves, and second, we failed in our purpose. I'm sorry, and I accept accountability."

Hong Kong has seen several protests in recent months. A protest also occurred at BlizzCon, where participants demonstrated outside the Anaheim Convention Center venue on November 1.

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