This weekend, Hearthstone pro Chung "blitzchung" Ng Wai created an ongoing international incident when he celebrated his victory at the Asia Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament by calling for Hong Kong's liberation from China during a post-match interview. A day later, Blizzard took severe action against Chung, seizing his prize winnings and banning him from competing in official tournaments for one year.
But two of the unexpected victims of Chung's controversial statement are Virtual and Mr. Yee, the Taiwanese commentators who were hosting the tournament and on camera when Chung made his remarks. Both were fired, and after speaking with Virtual, they still don't know why. "I just want to know all the details of this judgement, and they say will tell me in 24 hours," Virtual, who requested I not use his real name, told me. "Right now I still have 13 hours to go."
It's a bizarre chain of events that started after Chung joined Virtual and co-caster Mr. Yee for an interview following his win against South Korean player Jang "DawN" Hyun Jae. During the interview, Chung was wearing a gasmask and goggles—a symbol of resistance in the Hong Kong protests—and shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time," a popular slogan among Hong Kong protesters.
It was a moment that completely blindsided Virtual. "The director only told me I have an interview," the 26-year-old Taiwanese caster said. "He didn’t talk about how he’s wearing a mask, so when the interview started, I wasn't sure what the situation was. So I thought that Chung could just say what he wanted to say."
[BREAKING] Hong Kong Hearthstone player @blitzchungHS calls for liberation of his country in post-game interview:https://t.co/3AgQAaPioj @Matthieist #Hearthstone pic.twitter.com/DnaMSEaM4gOctober 6, 2019
Knowing of the ongoing protests that have gripped Hong Kong for the past few months, Virtual says he had a hunch of what Chung was going to say when he saw the mask. But since his director hadn't said anything beforehand, Virtual figured it was best to let Chung say what he wanted to say and quickly move on. To make it evident that Chung was speaking only for himself and not for Virtual, Mr. Yee, or the tournament organizers, Virtual and Mr. Yee ducked under their desks to hide their faces while Chung spoke.
Though Blizzard has deleted the stream, a clip of the exchange is being shared online. Moments before Chung speaks, Virtual confirmed to me that he said something along the lines of, "OK, so after you've said your eight words, we'll end our conversation with that. We won't discuss anything more after that. You can start whenever. First, let's bow our heads."
That attempt to walk the line between letting a Grandmaster tournament champion have his say while simultaneously distancing himself from those comments didn't work out in Virtual's favor—though he only found out about it shortly before Blizzard issued a public statement banning Chung and firing Virtual and Mr. Yee. Immediately after the livestream concluded, Virtual says he just "finished his job" and decided to go grab dinner. He was completely unaware that his short interview with Chung was going to create the enormous controversy that it since has.
Nearly a day later, Virtual was contacted by Blizzard Taiwan, the organizers of the Grandmasters tournament, and was told he was fired. Around that exact time, Blizzard also issued its public statement explaining what specific rules Chung broke. But for Virtual and Mr. Yee, Blizzard hasn't even told them what exactly they did wrong—or even if they're actually fired at all.
Virtual tells me that he argued with his manager at Blizzard Taiwan about the decision and explained he was "just doing [his] job," which prompted Blizzard to rethink its decision to let him go. He was told that he would have a final answer within 24 hours (at the time of this writing Virtual says he still had 13 hours left to wait). It's not clear if the decision to fire Mr. Yee is also under review. I reached out to him but have yet to receive a response.
Virtual is not an employee of Blizzard Taiwan but is an independent contractor paid to commentate Hearthstone tournaments. He's been doing that for around three years but originally started as a professional Hearthstone player himself. He even won the All-Star invitational Championship in 2017, bringing home a first-place prize of $20,000.
Losing his contract with Blizzard would be devastating, Virtual explains. He says around 50 percent of his income comes from casting the Grandmasters and other Asian Hearthstone tournaments. "If Blizzard bans me from casting any Hearthstone tournament, it will really hurt."
For now, Virtual and presumably Mr. Yee's futures as Hearthstone commentators are undecided. It's a precarious situation for someone to be in. Even so, Virtual says he will accept Blizzard's decision one way or another. "If their decision is to still fire me, I can accept that. But I think I'm doing good with my job. The winner should be able to say what he wants to say in the winner interview."
Virtual is holding out for good news though. "I really love Hearthstone," he said. "It's given me so many precious memories."
I contacted Blizzard to ask for more clarity on its decision, but did not receive a response before the time of publication. I will update this post if the developer makes a statement.
With his permission, some of Virtual's quotes have been edited for clarity.