US game developer Blizzard Entertainment removed a professional gamer from a “Grandmasters” competition for the video game Hearthstone on Tuesday after he made a statement supporting the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, CNET reported

Why it matters: Blizzard’s action sends a message that the company is serious about enforcing its tournament guidelines, which prohibit participants from engaging in any act that brings them “into public dispute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages” the California-based company’s image.

  • The move highlights the complex politics that non-Chinese companies must navigate when operating in the country. 

Details: During an interview on the official Taiwanese Hearthstone stream, Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” in Mandarin while wearing a gas mask.

  • Blizzard also cancelled Blitzchung’s prize money and banned him from Hearthstone competitions for 12 months.   
  • In an interview with Polygon before his ban, Blitzchung acknowledged the divisiveness of his comment, stating that “There will be definitely be negative consequences.”  
  • Blizzard is facing backlash from US government officials, with Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon commenting that “No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
  • There also appears to be displeasure within the company as well, with part of a statue on its campus being covered to hide the words “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters.” 

Context: Blitzchung’s ban comes as the NBA deals with fallout from a similar Hong Kong-related speech issue. 

  • After Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a picture signaling support for protesters in Hong Kong, various Chinese sponsors and partners broke relations with the team.
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s Tuesday statement did little to control the damage, with Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) subsequently cancelling its broadcast arrangements for the NBA preseason.  
  • Some have pointed to Blizzard’s ownership as a contributing factor to its decision to ban Blitzching: Tencent holds a 4.9% stake in the firm through its parent company Activision. 

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