After a week-long controversy and accusations of censorship, Blizzard Entertainment responded late Oct. 11, 2019, to say China did not influence its decision to ban a professional gamer from Hong Kong for supporting anti-China protests. But the gaming community has been reluctant to accept Blizzard's latest explanation of the move, and many are still planning protests at the company's upcoming conference, BlizzCon.
"Hearthstone" player Ng Wai Chung, better known as Blitzchung, wore a gas mask and called for the liberation of Hong Kong during a post-match interview at a Blizzard-sponsored event on Oct. 5, 2019. Blizzard initially responded by banning him from competition for one year, and saying that it would no longer work with the two commentators who conducted the interview.
The company said Blitzchung violated the rules of the competition by making political statements, and claimed that the statements damaged the company's image by offending a portion of the public.
The punishment was harshly criticized by fans and U.S. lawmakers who accused the company of censoring free speech to protect its relationships in China, a massive and highly lucrative market with strict laws that require companies operating in the country to censor or remove content at the government's request. Players threatened to boycott Blizzard's games in response and a small group of Blizzard employees staged a walkout to show support for the protesters in Hong Kong.
After staying silent for several days, Blizzard Entertainment President J.Allen Brack pushed back against claims that Blizzard's business in China influenced the company's decision in a statement published Oct. 11, 2019. The company reduced the suspension of Blitzchung and the two commentators to six months and reinstated Blitzchung's prize money, but Brack reiterated that Blitzchung had violated the rules of the competition.
"There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast," Brack wrote in a statement.
Blizzard's reduced punishment didn't do much to change public perception
Critics remain skeptical of Brack's claim that China had no impact on Blizzard's decision, and many suggested that Blizzard should have lifted its suspension of Blitzchung and the two competitors entirely.
all of video game & esports twitter currently out there looking for their best "mmhm" gif after reading J. Allen Brack say that Blizzard's response to Blitzchung had nothing to do with their relationships with China— Just UltraDavid (@ultradavid) October 12, 2019
They’re still punishing Blitzchung. They’re still punishing the casters. This is a double down, plain and simple.— Patrick Klepek (@patrickklepek) October 12, 2019
And dumped on a Friday night, the exact time people aren’t paying attention, the place you put news you’re ashamed of. https://t.co/ilkf2CvVj6
Others accused Blizzard of trying to minimize its concession by making a statement on a Friday evening, a common tactic used to diminish negative press in a weekend news cycle. Former Blizzard producer Mark Kern said the company used the same strategy while he was working there.
The Blizzard PR was released on a Friday, after works hours.— Mark Kern (@Grummz) October 12, 2019
We've done this at Blizzard for years when we knew we had bad news to share.
They want to bury this. Never forget.
Protesters upset with Blizzard's lack of support for Hong Kong are planning to show up at the company's annual fan convention, BlizzCon, on November 1. One group of protesters planned to form picket lines outside of the event and interrupt BlizzCon panel discussions with questions about Hong Kong. The same group is demanding that Blizzard make a public statement in support of Hong Kong, apologize and reverse the punishment, and create a special protest costume for the Chinese "Overwatch" character Mei.
Ultimately, Brack's statement did little to change the perception of Blizzard's punishment of Blitzchung, though the "Hearthstone" player said he accepted the company's stance on the situation. Blizzard will have to wait and see if time will heal the company's public perception, and hope the situation doesn't escalate further with planned protests in the coming weeks.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
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