Collaborative article with Joel Keck

Blizzard Entertainment Inc, a California based subsidiary of Activision and developer of the immensely popular Warcraft and Starcraft series of games, has come under intense fire from the gaming community at large after banning a popular eSports competitor. The incident occurred after an interview at the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament. 

Released in March of 2014, Hearthstone is a free-to-play online digital collectible card game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. Originally subtitled Heroes of Warcraft, Hearthstone builds upon the existing lore of the Warcraft series by using the same elements, characters, and relics. Hearthstone has developed a huge international following with Blizzard boasting the game has more than 100 million players. 

Each year, 48 of the world’s top Hearthstone players will join Hearthstone Grandmasters. Players from three regions, 16 each from the Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific, are chosen based on lifetime earnings, 2018 HCT Competitive Points, and other criteria. Hearthstone Grandmasters consists of two eight-week seasons. Hearthstone Grandmasters culminates in an epic global finals at year’s end, where the top two competitors from each region, plus two Gold Series Champions from China, compete for a $500,000 prize pool.

The twelve month ban, and forfeiture of tournament winnings in the amount of $10,000, came after Ng Wai Chung or “Blitzchung” made comments regarding the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong. During an interview after winning a match, Chung removed a mask he had been wearing and stated “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”. 

Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung

Blizzard quickly responded with an official statement, https://playhearthstone.com/en-us/blog/23179289/, stating that Chung had violated the Grandmasters Official competition rules. Specifically, 

2019 HEARTHSTONE® GRANDMASTERS OFFICIAL COMPETITION RULES v1.4   p.12, Section 6.1 (o)
Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.

Criticism has been swift and harsh, with many calling Blizzards actions pandering to the Chinese government or Tencent, a Chinese company which owns 5 percent of Activision Blizzard. There have also been reports of internal strife at the studio, with employees staging a walkout, as well as covering portions of a statue that features the company’s core value in protest of the ban.

Some Background

Hong Kong was a former British Colony up until 1997 when it was handed over to the Chinese government.  Even with that change, there were legal agreements set up prior to the hand over that the laws would be held in place for 50 years (2047).  They have their own judiciary and a separate legal system from China. That is until the proposal by the leaders of Hong Kong called the “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019” was introduced. In short, it meant local authorities would be able to extradite suspected criminals who are wanted in territories  where Hong Kong doesn’t currently have extradition agreements, to include Taiwan and mainland China.

The problem is that China is well known for human rights violations and the people of Hong Kong fear what this would allow China to do within Hong Kong and the influence it could have over the government in Hong Kong.  Some fears are targeting of journalists and activists, violent treatment of those arrested, and unfair trials.

Demonstrations against the bill started back at the end of March, not breaking out largely until around June 9th when mass protests began.  The bill was ‘indefinitely suspended’ on June 15th, but this was not enough and protesters weren’t convinced even after the bill was withdrawn completely on September 4th.  By this time the protesters had come up with some demands.  Release of arrested protesters, including amnesty. A retraction of “riot” used to describe the protests. An independent inquiry on police brutality. Universal suffrage for the election of the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive.  Currently only half the council seats are elected by the people of Hong Kong and the council executive is elected by a small select ‘Election Committee’. Some have also called for Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation. All of the demands have been refused.

Violence has scarred the protests with reports of police shooting an 18 year old protester and reports of journalists and others being targeted with non-lethal (but still quite harmful) methods.  Use of tear gas indoors, bean bag rounds that will likely blind a medic in one eye, a journalist losing an eye to a rubber bullet are all examples of the violent response from the police.

Despite withdrawal and measures such as an anti-mask law to curb the protests, violence increased significantly on October 1st. This was the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.  Reports include the first live round fired at a protester, use of tear gas, rubber bullets, sponge grenades and water cannons.  Protesters have been using acids, bricks, and gas bombs (Molotov cocktails) against Police.

Much of the violence and movement in reports that do make it out have been corroborated by Michael Yon, who is over there broadcasting and recording daily.  Michael Yon has been there almost since the beginning of the protests and has reported in great detail many events and presents a feel from locals all over the city of Hong Kong.  China has severely censored reporting on the issue within their borders. After not initially getting into the fray, China eventually condemned the protests with “close to terrorism” statements and reportedly massing police and military at the border.

China has a vested interest in Hong Kong, not only because it’s connected to their country. It’s also a major city in the financial world as well as a port.  It would offer a new monetary influx of funds to China if they could take it over completely. And as stated above, China has been known to clamp down on all dissent in various ways.  Chinese companies will back the methods of the Chinese government. After all, they want to stay in business and the good graces of the government is the best way to do that.

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