Blizzard's removal of Hearthstone pro Ng Wai "blitzchung" Chung from the Grandmasters has prompted a backlash from players, not just of Hearthstone, many of whom are now boycotting the company.
The Grandmaster player was removed from the tournament after he called for the "liberation" of Hong Kong (opens in new tab) in a post-match interview. This, according to Blizzard, was a breach of the extremely broad tournament rules that allows the company to give players the boot for acts that, "in Blizzard's sole discretion", damage Blizzard or the player's public image, or offend a portion of the public.
"As you know there are serious protests in my country now," he said after the interview. "My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention."
Blizzard's decision means that Chung won't receive anything for Season 2 and will not be able to compete in Hearthstone esports for a year. While Blizzard says it apparently stands by player's right to express themselves, players still have to abide by the official rules—rules that largely forbid players from expressing opinions.
Supporters of the boycott are calling it an attack on free speech, voicing their discontent on Twitter with the a Boycott Blizzard hashtag (opens in new tab) and closing their wallets.
"Cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft," one player wrote. "I support young people proactively advocating for their freedom and democracy."
Cancelled my subscription to World of Warcraft. I support young people proactively advocating for their freedom and democracy; They are shaping a better tomorrow. Punishing them for their activism is shameful. #BoycottBlizzard pic.twitter.com/LcPG48AxblOctober 8, 2019
I've not seen any pros participating in the boycott at the moment, though CCG pro Brian Kibler tweeted that he's being thinking about the situation and will have more to say soon.
I did not expect Hearthstone Grandmasters to be at the center of an international incident when I woke up this morning, but here we are. I have been giving the situation a lot of thought and I’ll have much more to say about things soon.October 8, 2019
On the Hearthstone subreddit, meanwhile, players are announcing that they're done with the game. In the top post, a player claims they've spent $10,000 on Hearthstone and won't be spending more. Another Reddit post tells people how they can refund their Warcraft 3 Remaster preorder. "It's not much but if it's what I can do right now to support Hong Kong it's an easy thing to do," they wrote.
Other players have accused Blizzard of bowing to pressure from Chinese investors. Activision Blizzard is one of many game companies that Chinese publisher Tencent has invested in, though it only owns five percent. Tencent is now the largest game publisher in the world, and China is a gargantuan market—the largest PC market—which Blizzard clearly wants to appeal to.