After a week of controversy surrounding its decision to boot Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai from a tournament and suspend him for a year for delivering a pro-Hong-Kong message during an official broadcast, Blizzard has finally made a statement about the situation. It plans to allow Blitzchung to collect his prize money after all and reduce his suspension.
In the statement, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack explained that while Blizzard tries to uphold company values that focus on diversity and global thinking, it also wants to keep esports events focused on games. Blitzchung broke a rule, but Brack insists that the specific words he said weren’t the issue.
“The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made,” wrote Brack. “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.”
Brack went on to say that, since Blitzchung did not break any rules while playing the actual game, he’ll get to collect his prize money after all. However, he’ll still be suspended. Now, though, the suspension is six months instead of a year.
“We now believe he should receive his prizing,” said Brack. “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.”
Same goes for the commentators who were on duty at the time; their suspension, too, has been reduced to six months.
“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,” said Brack. “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.”
But, as has been stated multiple times by fans, players, and commentators throughout the week, it’s hard to square this kind of faux-neutral political stance with the games Blizzard creates and the values it espouses. This is a company whose games are full of heroes fighting for freedom and equality, and China’s handling of Hong Kong has been anything but. All political statements are not equal—especially where human rights violations are concerned—and it’s disheartening to see a company with Blizzard’s legacy stand behind that kind of false equivalence in a time when games are, more than ever, intertwined with culture. Reducing Blitzchung’s suspension is a step in the right direction, but in the face of all this, it’s still hard for the company’s games and statements not to ring hollow.
Brack opened his statement by saying that two of its core values—“Think Globally; Lead Responsibly”—apply here. But this isn’t global thinking or responsible leadership. It’s reactivity and fear of reprisal. It’s an abdication of responsibility at a time when it’s needed most.