UB gamers show mixed feelings toward Blizzard’s Hong Kong controversy
Blizzard’s reaction to Blitzchung, UB gamers’ responses
One of the gaming world’s beloved companies is facing criticism after a top gamer showed support for Hong Kong.
On Oct. 8, Blizzard, creator of games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch, announced it would ban and revoke prize money from Hearthstone pro and Hong Kong native Ng Wai Chung (username Blitzchung). Chung, who won the company’s Asia-Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament, wore a mask during an interview to show solidarity with Hong Kong natives looking to retain autonomy from maintain China.
Chung, during a post-game stream, said –– translated in English –– “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.” The stream, which intended to show a recap of Chung’s victory, ended after that.
Hearthstone’s news page wrote that the interview was a “competition rule violation” and “resulted in the removal of the match VOD replay.”Blizzard consequently revoked Chung’s $3,000 prize money and banned him from professional Hearthstone play for 12 months. The company also fired both casters who were present for Chung’s post-game interview.
This sparked outcry across the internet. Critics accused Blizzard of censoring Chung’s statement for monetary reasons, as Chinese corporation Tencent has a 5% stock in Activision Blizzard. Chinese Overwatch character Mei became a symbol of protest support, and people began boycotting Blizzard’s products and organizing protests in advance of its 2019 convention, BlizzCon, which ended Sunday morning.
UB eSports President Jake Nowak, a senior technical theatre major, said he hasn’t noticed a decrease in the team’s Overwatch players but said he wouldn’t blame players if they quit.
“That’s their own choice and their prerogative. If they believe that that’s right for what they’re doing, then by all means,” said Nowak. “I do not play Blizzard games, so I don’t have a fully-fledged opinion one way or the other, but again, it comes down to their choice.”
Blizzard later released a statement agreeing to return Chung’s prize money and reduce his ban to six months.
During the opening BlizzCon ceremonies on Nov. 1, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack addressed the situation, without directly mentioning Hong Kong or Chung.
“When I think about what I’m most unhappy about, there’s really two things,” Brack said. “The first one is we didn’t live up to the high standards that we really set for ourselves. The second is we failed in our purpose, and for that, I am sorry, and I accept accountability.”
At UB, reception of the controversy has been mixed. Brian Fenster, a senior computer science major and former officer of UB gaming organization Strategists and Role Players Association, said he doesn’t blame Blizzard for its decision.
“I am not pro-China. That being said, Blizzard was fully within its rights, and its share price, while dipping down a bit, is not really showing a negative reflection,” Fenster said. “The mass majority of people are already over the issue.”
Some players on UB’s rising esports team feel stronger about Blizzard’s reaction but have not formally decided to boycott. The team does not currently have a Hearthstone team, but it does have an active Overwatch team.
Tyler Walter, a senior media studies major and Overwatch team member, stopped playing the game for a week after Blitzchung’s ban.
“People saw how quickly Blizzard would silence people out of fear of offending China,” Walter explained. “Personally I see it as karmic justice that in an attempt to not lose money, Blizzard only got themselves a huge controversy and still lost lots of revenue.”
Walter has since returned to playing Overwatch for UB eSports.
Sophomore environmental design major and Overwatch team member Eric Hourigan said Blizzard’s reaction to Blitzchung was “terrible.”
“I love Blizzard games. I played [World of Warcraft] religiously when it came out and the same with Overwatch,” Hourigan said. “I will personally not be [financially] supporting Blizzard until it makes amends.”
Alex Whetham is an Asst. Arts Editor and can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @alexo774.