Prominent Hearthstone (opens in new tab) caster and content creator Brian Kibler has announced that, as a result of Blizzard's "incredibly harsh" punishment of now-former Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung "blitzchung" Ng Wai, he will not take part in Grandmasters livestreams going forward, "unless something changes."
Blitzchung fell afoul of Blizzard's rules when he shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" during a recent post-match interview at the Asia Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament. Blizzard came down on him extremely hard for his gesture, removing him from Grandmasters, rescinding his winnings for season two, and suspending him from all professional Hearthstone competition for a year. It also said that it would no longer work with the two streamers conducting the interview.
The backlash over that decision was immediate and furious, and among other things forced a temporary lockdown of the Blizzard subreddit. Kibler's response is more well-considered, but ends up in a similar place.
"I want to start by saying that I feel what Blitzchung did was very brave. He knew that his actions would likely have serious consequences, not just for his future in Hearthstone but possibly even for his personal safety, and I commend him for the fortitude that takes," he wrote.
"Even so, I do think that Blizzard was correct in issuing him a penalty for his actions. They do not want to set the precedent for their official broadcasts being used as political tools. The players agreed to particular rules for behavior, and he violated those rules."
Kibler said that he makes no secret of his political positions, but that he leaves his views at home when he's working an official Blizzard event. "Maybe I’ll make a subtle snide remark on occasion, but I know that I am representing Blizzard in addition to myself. If I were to close a show with speech about how I feel like Trump should be impeached, I wouldn’t expect to be invited back for future events," he said.
But while he believes that some form of punishment was warranted, what Blizzard meted out "seems completely overboard to an extent that feels completely unwarranted and unfair."
"I won’t pretend to understand either the intricacies of the geopolitical situation in China and Hong Kong or the full extent of Blizzard’s business interests there, but to me this penalty feels like it is deeply rooted in both. The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself," Kibler wrote.
"That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with. When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward."
Kibler done some fill-in work on Grandmasters livestreams but hasn't been a regular, so his withdrawal won't be immediately evident to viewers. But his high profile in the community—we described him and Natalie Kiber as "Hearthstone’s ultimate power couple" in 2017—makes his stance noteworthy. Whether that will translate into influence remains to be seen, but it can't be making things any more comfortable at Blizzard HQ right now.
Kibler also made a point of acknowledging that not everyone is in a position to do what he's doing, and called on gamers to direct their anger appropriately. "Do not take your anger out on the other casters, or streamers, or employees of Blizzard. This is not the kind of decision that comes from the rank and file," he wrote. "Most likely they’re just as angry as you are. I know I am."