The Chinese government is a totalitarian regime that actively censors any form of dissent. It is also a huge market that multinational corporations view as extremely lucrative, despite the ethical issues therein.
Civil unrest in Hong Kong is on-going, as the largely autonomous region protests its government who are being actively accused of attempting to forge closer alignment with the dictatorial Chinese system of governance. The political turmoil spilled over into esports this week, as Hearthstone grandmaster blitzchung was not only banned for an entire year, but also had his prize winnings stripped. Blizzard cited violation of its terms of service for the ruling, specifically the section where it states competitors must not bring "Blizzard's image into disrepute," along with offending the public.
Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard's sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player's prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard's Website Terms.
The violation they're referring to is a post-match interview blitzchung gave, where he voiced support of democracy for Hong Kong.
Blizzard since offered this statement, fired both commentators who conducted the interview (despite the fact they said nothing on the topic), and closed down any commentary on its own blog post. Unfortunately for Activision Blizzard, it cannot control the massive backlash on Hearthstone's popular community subreddit.
Several posts with tens of thousands of upvotes from veteran players are voicing their support for blitzchung, while noting that they plan to quit the game. Even U.S. lawmakers like Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Marco Rubio weighed in on the issue.
"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," Wyden, a Senator from Oregon, tweeted.
It's not a good look for Blizzard, who has been reeling from a bad couple of years in terms of PR, despite previously being one of the most community-oriented publishers out there.
China is a vast market for Blizzard Entertainment and its parent, Activision, who are well-documented for putting profits and greed before basic morality. However, this very public appeasement of a dictatorial regime that is widely believed to be operating concentration camps for those who dissent against the government is quite truly a new low. As a huge fan of Blizzard, I cannot begin to express my disappointment.
Update: Angry Blizzard employees are protesting the decision too, covering up the "every voice matters" plaque outside the studio. As usual, this whole thing reeks of Activision.
Update #2: U.S. lawmakers have weighed in on the decision.
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