One of the most beloved players in the Overwatch League is facing backlash over political comments he made in a stream. On Chinese social media site Weibo, several members of the Chinese Overwatch League teams stated they would boycott any events that include Korean player Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park due to his apparent stance on Hong Kong and Taiwan.
[Update, 5/6/21, 3:51pm—Seoul Dynasty and the four Chinese teams released statements today saying they will “resume normal activities.” Those statements have been included at the end of this post. Original story follows.]
On April 12, Park—a DPS player for the Seoul Dynasty—commented on Twitch about his experiences streaming on Douyu, a Chinese streaming platform. In the Twitch stream, Park said he had a hard time streaming for a Chinese audience because he felt his managers restricted what he could say on Douyu.
“I can’t say Taiwan and [Hong Kong]. At all. They [China] don’t recognize them as countries. I got into so much trouble for saying their names,” Park said in the video, which was translated into English by Overwatch League community translator Gatamchun.
“Make it make sense. What are you talking about, ‘One China?’ So I objected to that and all the managers said, ‘If you want to earn Chinese money, you have to become a Chinese dog,’” Park added. “So that’s what I’m doing right now. I can even say, ‘Thanks for subscribing’ in Chinese. Aren’t I good at Chinese?”
The original Douyu stream mentioning Hong Kong and Taiwan that Park referenced on Twitch can no longer be found on the internet. Park’s Twitch page no longer features any past broadcasts, including the one from which the above clip was taken, and the last time he was live appears to be April 12—the same day as the Twitch stream in which he mentioned his problems streaming on Douyu. The stream and clips of this incident look to be deleted from Twitch but can still be viewed in the tweet thread above.
On April 14, two days after the Twitch stream, Park posted a handwritten note on Instagram (also translated by Gatamchun) apologizing for his comments without getting into specifics about the actions prompting the apology.
“I wanted to write once again to apologize for my inappropriate words on stream,” Park wrote. “I will accept all the comments from people and become a player who takes responsibility for their words. Sorry once again for disappointing fans.”
Park’s comments prompted backlash within the Overwatch League: On Tuesday, nearly three weeks after the comments and apologies were made, some members of the four Chinese Overwatch League teams—the Shanghai Dragons, Chengdu Hunters, Hangzhou Spark, and Guangzhou Charge—posted various statements on Chinese social media platform Weibo condemning Park’s words. Some of these posters also said they would not participate in any Overwatch League event in which Park would be present.
Kotaku viewed these statements on Weibo and translated the text with the help of Chinese language speakers.
Yang Van, general manager of the Shanghai Dragons, posted a lengthy statement on Weibo in which he reaffirmed the tenets of the One China policy—the political idea that Taiwan is not its own nation but instead an indivisible part of China—and that, “Competitive sports should remain pure sports and shouldn’t be used to announce a political position.”
Van continued that Park’s apology was insufficient, writing, “Although the player posted an apology after the incident, I personally do not feel that this apology is worth recognizing or accepting, so this total boycott of the player will continue.”
Another statement came from Guangzhou Charge general manager M4nD4R4 who wrote, “Guangzhou Charge will henceforth not participate in any activities that [Park] participates in, including league activities, brand activities, commercial activities, media activities, exhibition games and scrims.”
Though made on M4nD4R4’s personal Weibo account, the post was also shared by the Guangzhou Charge’s official Weibo account.
Huang “Xioagui” Tsung-Yu, who is listed as a supervisor on the Hangzhou Spark’s Liquipedia page, stated that the Spark will similarly boycott any activity if Park is also present.
A staff member from the Chengdu Hunters also posted a statement saying the team would boycott Park. According to screenshots of the statement and its translation posted by Gatamchun on Twitter, Yiheng “Luke” Qin, manager of the Hunters, wrote, “We are going to resist all competitions and events of any form in which Park will participate.”
From the posts, it seems the teams are only protesting Park and not the Seoul Dynasty as a whole. Of the four Chinese teams, the Seoul Dynasty has only played two since League play began on April 16, and Park did not participate in either match. Park’s comments and apology both took place days before the League’s opening day, and Park, considered by many a premier player, has not yet played in an official match against any team, even when the heroes he’s known for playing have been used in team compositions. Though this is not in itself unusual, it is unclear if the Dynasty has already taken action, avoiding a boycott by benching Park. How the teams whose members criticized Park will enact their boycott should Park play remains to be seen.
Kotaku reached out to Park’s team, Seoul Dynasty, and the Overwatch League for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication. At the time of publication, the Overwatch League has not made an official statement regarding the matter. Kotaku also reached out to the four Chinese teams and the Los Angeles Valiant—a North American-owned team that operates out of China with Chinese staff and players.
It will be interesting to see if Park receives any formal censure or discipline from the League, especially after Blizzard received a great deal of backlash in 2019 when it punished and then rescinded the punishment of Hearthstone player Blitzchung for his pro-Hong Kong statements.
Though Chengdu, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and Shanghai are Chinese teams, the majority of players on these teams, with the exception of Chengdu, are Korean. As of today, no Korean player—on a Chinese team or otherwise—has publicly commented.
Update, 5/6/21, 3:51pm—Seoul Dynasty posted a statement on Twitter today, writing, “Our team cares deeply about our fans and our community. We respect there are many emotions as a result of the recent issues. In the spirit of fostering healing, better understanding of one another, and delivering great competition for our fans around the world, all teams will be resuming normal activities and we look forward to making you proud in our next match.”
The Shanghai Dragons, Chengdu Hunters, Hangzhou Spark, and Guangzhou Charge all posted identical statements on their own Twitter accounts, stating that “Through the active involvement of the Overwatch League, and with collaboration from the teams involved, we recently had many rounds of discussion and have finally reached an agreement on this incident... We will resume normal activities with each other based on mutual respect and unity, and we look forward to making our fans proud in the upcoming tournaments.”
In a statement to the Washington Post, the Overwatch League said, “The Overwatch League is a global community, one made stronger by the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our players and fans... In the spirit of sportsmanship and continuing to deliver amazing competition for our fans around the world, the teams have agreed to resume normal activities with one another.”