Chinese Overwatch League teams Hangzhou Spark, Chengdu Hunters, Guangzhou Charge, and Shanghai Dragons are ending their boycotts of South Korean team Seoul Dynasty, and specifically player Jong-ryeol "Saebyeolbe" Park, who raised their ire by criticizing Chinese censorship during a Twitch livestream in April.
A clip of Park's comments was shared on Twitter by Overwatch esports commentator Gatamchun, who also provided an English translation. "I can't call Taiwan, Taiwan. Taiwan is not a separate country," he said about restrictions he faces while streaming in China. "Hong Kong is also not a country. I can't say that. I can't say Taiwan and HK. At all. They don't recognize them as countries. I got into so much trouble for saying their names."
"So I was sad about that. Like, fuck, 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.'"
"So I was sad about that. Like, fuck, 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.""May 3, 2021
Park issued an apology for his "inappropriate remarks" a couple of days later, but it wasn't enough to calm the situation. Earlier this week, Dragons general manager Yang Van rejected the apology in a message on Weibo, saying (via Google Translate) that it is "not worthy of recognition and acceptance, so the total boycott of the player will continue." Representatives from other teams shared similar sentiments in their own posts.
It was clearly a big problem for the league. The Chinese teams were technically only boycotting Park, but unless the Dynasty benched him in competition (which seems unlikely), it was effectively against the entire team. And Blizzard, for obvious reasons, would be very reluctant to risk angering Chinese fans by forcing the teams to play.
Fortunately for all involved, the matter has now been resolved. "The Overwatch League is a global community, one made stronger by the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of our players and fans," a League spokesperson said in a statement.
"We have discussed this matter with all teams involved and the learnings that have come from it. 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."
The four Chinese teams released similar, identical statements.
Statement pic.twitter.com/PdMdYXJMcVMay 6, 2021
"Our team is very concerned about the voices from our community and among our fans, and we respect the many emotions that have risen due to the team's viewpoints previously expressed," they said.
"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; meanwhile, all teams have agreed that providing the best competitive matches for our fans around the world is the number one priority. 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."
The Seoul Dynasty released a similar, but briefer statement of its own:
새별비 선수 입장문에 대하여 : From Seoul Dynasty regarding Saebyeolbe’s statement:https://t.co/Ohbhb2mx47 pic.twitter.com/QQvQNXWhS1May 6, 2021
"Our team cares deeply about our fans and our community. We respect that there are many emotions as a result of the recent issues," it said. "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."
Park has not yet commented on the matter personally.
Park is the second Blizzard esports player to spark a major controversy with comments about China: In 2019, Hearthstone grandmaster Chung 'blitzchung' Ng Wai caused an international stir when he donned a mask and goggles similar to gear being worn by protesters in Hong Kong and said, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" In that case, Blizzard immediately suspended him, along with the two Taiwanese broadcaster he was speaking to, which touched off a PR disaster that ultimately led to an apology and partial walkback of his penalty. Its handling of this situation might suggest that it learned a thing or two from that one.