Blizzard recently found itself embroiled in controversy when it banned a professional Hearthstone player and rescinded his $10,0000 prize money after they expressed support for the Hong Kong protests in China.
The player, blitzchung, made his statement during a victory interview--and this was in violation of "rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action," Blizzard's president J. Allen Brack said in a statement.
Brack went on to say its decision was not driven by its relationship with its partners in China. "The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision," Brack said.
The executive went on to say that Blizzard enforces rules about what can and cannot be said during player interviews to "keep the focus on the game and on the tournament." For this reason--and this reason alone--Blizzard decided to take action against blitzchung.
"If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same," Brack said.
While Blizzard is standing by its decision to punish, Brack acknowledged that the company made some mistakes in how it handled the situation and specifically how it determined the penalties against blitzchung. "We've had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn't adequate, and we reacted too quickly," Blizzard said.
"We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value--Play Nice; Play Fair."
Brack said that blitzchung competed in the Hearthstone tournament in a fair manner, and as such, he still should have been paid the prize money he earned. "We now believe he should receive his prizing," Brack said.
However, Brack said "playing fair" encompasses conduct during match play and after, which would include his Hong Kong comments from the post-match interview.
In terms of his suspension, Brack said a six-month ban is "more appropriate" than the one-year suspension that was announced earlier. "There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast," Brack said.
The shoutcasters were also caught up in the controversy, and Blizzard is banning them as well for steering the conversation away from the game. "With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn't happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well," Brack said.
"One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games."
After Blizzard announced its action against blitzchung, whose real name is Ng Wai Chung, the response was fierce, with gamers calling for boycotts and some deleting their accounts. US Senators criticized the move as censorship, some Blizzard employees staged their own protest, and host personalities like Brian Kibler announced they would no longer shoutcast Hearthstone events. Most recently Hearthstone's first ever World Champion, James Kostesich aka "Firebat," called the penalty ridiculous and unreasonable.
Blizzard's big fan convention, BlizzCon, is scheduled to November. A group of gamers are organizing a protest over the Hong Kong situation at the event.
Full Blizzard Statement:
"Hello Blizzard Community . . .
I want to take a few minutes to talk to all of you about the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament this past weekend. On Monday, we made the decision to take action against a player named blitzchung and two shoutcasters after the player shared his views on what’s happening in Hong Kong on our official broadcast channel.
At Blizzard, our vision is “to bring the world together through epic entertainment.” And we have core values that apply here: Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and importantly, Every Voice Matters, encouraging everybody to share their point of view. The actions that we took over the weekend are causing people to question if we are still committed to these values. We absolutely are and I will explain.
Our esports programs are an expression of our vision and our values. Esports exist to create opportunities for players from around the world, from different cultures, and from different backgrounds, to come together to compete and share their passion for gaming. It is extremely important to us to protect these channels and the purpose they serve: to bring the world together through epic entertainment, celebrate our players, and build diverse and inclusive communities.
As to how those values apply in this case:
First, our official esports tournament broadcast was used as a platform for a winner of this event to share his views with the world.
We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.
Over the weekend, blitzchung used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong—in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action.
Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.
Second, what is the role of shoutcasters for these broadcasts?
We hire shoutcasters to amplify the excitement of the game. They elevate the watchability and help the esports viewing experience stay focused on the tournament and our amazing players.
Third, were our actions based on the content of the message?
Part of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters is recognizing that we have players and fans in almost every country in the world. Our goal is to help players connect in areas of commonality, like their passion for our games, and create a sense of shared community.
The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.
We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.
If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.
OK, what could Blizzard have done better, and where do we go from here?
Over the past few days, many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties. We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.
We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value—Play Nice; Play Fair.
In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention.
But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.
With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well.
Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views.
One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games.
At Blizzard, we are always listening and finding ways to improve—it is part of our culture. Thank you for your patience with us as we continue to learn.
J. Allen Brack
President of Blizzard Entertainment"