Activision Blizzard, the inventor of the game “Hearthstone,” has suspended three American University students for holding a sign that read, “Free Hong Kong. Boycott Blitz.”
At the conclusion of a match, Casey Chambers, Torin Wright, and Corwin Dark held up their pro-democracy sign. In the video, they were immediately censored and taken off the screen.
— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_hs) October 9, 2019
The AU Hearthstone team has been banned from playing for the upcoming six months due to their political message.
Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition. While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules. pic.twitter.com/mZStoF0e0t
— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_hs) October 16, 2019
The controversy stems from another ban Blizzard placed on a famous esports player from Hong Kong who goes by the screen name “Blitzchung,” in early October, at the height of the NBA-China censorship fracas.
During the Hearthstone “Grand Masters,” Blitzchung won his match and said on a Taiwanese stream, “liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our times!”
“I thought good for [Blitzchung], he took his moment,” Chambers said.
Blizzard announced Blitzchung would be removed from Hearthstone Grandmasters and forfeit his prize money from Grandmasters Season 2. He was also made ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for a year.
Chambers explained that political messaging on the platform is not tolerated. It didn’t matter if the message read “liberate Palestine,” messaging of any kind has not been allowed. But, Blitzchung was not just censored. He was fined and barred from entering the game or making a profit for the next year.
“My initial take on seeing this was how many thousands of dollars is he going to get fined?” Chambers said. “I don’t know what his earnings were … it’s between $5-15 thousand dollars that [Hearthstone] originally revoked.”
The three American University students wanted to stand in solidarity with Blitzchung, prompting them to hold up the controversial “Free Hong Kong” sign. Chambers said the punishments for Blitzchung were far beyond what a regular punishment for these actions should be.
Blizzard’s treatment of Blitzchung has prompted bi-partisan support in Congress. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), among others penned a joint letter to Blizzard’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, condemning the company’s punishment of Blitzchung.
JUST IN: @AOC, Senator @marcorubio, Senator @RonWyden, congressman Gallagher and Malinowski have signed a joint letter directed to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick denouncing and condemning Blizzard's punishment of Blitzchung pic.twitter.com/kIaWriif7m
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 18, 2019
“This decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech,” the letter reads. “…Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms.”