Over the weekend streamer Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai, a Hong Kong native, expressed support for the protests following a Hearthstone Grandmasters event, with the casters present letting him express his sentiment, but trying to disassociate themselves by literally hiding under their table and hastily cutting to adverts. It's the latest example of how a popular sport has been dragged into tensions over the months-long political unrest.
Blitzchung made the comment on an official Hearthstone broadcast on Twitch, the video streaming platform, after his last game in the 2019 Hearthstone Asia-Pacific Grandmasters Tournament. He also is banned from participating in "Hearthstone" esports for 12 months, until October 5, 2020.
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.
Ng's comments on the livestream were later republished on Twitter by the esports news website Inven Global. My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention.
Blizzard's statement further claimed, "While we stand by one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules".
Blizzard is a US-based company, where speech is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, but it also operates in authoritarian China thanks to a partnership with one of its China-based investors, Tencent. A gamer who said they've played Hearthstone since 2014 posted that they've now quit, ripping Blizzard as "embarrassing" and "spineless". It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life.
There's a lot of public protests in Hong Kong right now, and it started earlier this year when Hong Kong announced plans to enact laws that would allow China to extradite Hong Kong citizens for judiciary reasons. "But I think it's my duty to say something about the issue".
Protests started several months ago after the government in Hong Kong advanced a bill that would make it easier to extradite alleged criminals from Hong Kong to China.
Blitzchung is from Hong Kong where protesters routinely hide their faces and conceal their identities for fear of reprisal from the Chinese communists on the mainland.
Blizzard said in a statement Tuesday that Blitzchung has been removed from the Grandmasters tournament and will receive no prize money for season 2. The protestors are now demanding democratic election of Hong Kong's leaders.
Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard joins a number of worldwide companies finding themselves embroiled in controversy around free speech linked to China. Basketball is a constantly growing market in China, and the Rockets are one of the most popular teams ever since Chinese center Yao Ming became an worldwide superstar in the early 2000s.
After the team's owner and an National Basketball Association spokesman denounced Morey's statement - prompting a separate backlash in the US - the league's commissioner clarified Tuesday that the National Basketball Association supports free speech.