Blizzard has taken another hit on the Hearthstone esports front as Nathan "ThatsAdmirable" Zamora, one of the main casters of the Grandmasters league, has announced that he is withdrawing from the casting team for the remainder of the Grandmasters season, and will not take part in the Masters Tour in Bucharest, or cast at BlizzCon. Zamora said in a statement that he is stepping down over Blizzard's treatment of former Grandmaster Chung "blitzchung" Ng Wai, who was stripped of his Grandmaster status, all winnings from this season, and suspended from competition for a year earlier this week over his call to "liberate Hong Kong" from China.
"Blitzchung's actions to support Hong Kong speak to me far more than I could have imagined. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, and to make sacrifices in the process. His actions are inspiring to me, and I support him wholeheartedly," Zamora said.
He added that he agreed with the position taken by Hearthstone personality Brian Kibler, who announced yesterday that he will not take part in future Grandmasters livestreams "unless something changes." But while casting is a side gig for Kibler, Zamora was one of the primary Hearthstone casters this season, a point he referenced in his statement.
"For me, this is a large part of my livelihood. This is my passion. This pursuit has been my life, and I'm lucky that I've been able to make it a career," he wrote. "But I cannot compromise my conviction. Without change that would convince me that Blizzard will uphold their core value 'Every Voice Matters,' I cannot continue casting the game."
"In Hearthstone, good strategic play involves making the right choice, even if that choice will sometimes cost you. You think about the range of possibilities from the other side. With the hand you're dealt, you make the best choice you can, even if the foreseeable outcomes hurt. That doesn't mean you should make worse choices—it means you do the right thing, even if you pay the price."
My statement regarding Blitzchung, Hearthstone Grandmasters, and Blizzard.I reference writing from @bmkibler which can be read in full here: https://t.co/wU588CQ9Yk pic.twitter.com/TWKamd7z4SOctober 10, 2019
Another caster, Simon "Sottle" Welch, said in a separate statement that he supports Blitzchung but will continue with his casting responsibilities.
"I fully support Blitzchung's right to protest and have immense sympathy for his cause and for the plight of the Hong Kong people. What he did was incredibly brave and my heart goes out to him and everyone else fighting for democracy," Welch said. "However, in light of the recent revelations that one or more casters will be stepping away from Hearthstone, I would like to affirm that I fully intend to fulfill my contracts with Hearthstone Esports and am open to work with them in the future."
"I do not have to agree with the actions or policies of any employer, partner, or service to continue to be affiliated with them. My views are my own, and remain unchanged and uninfluenced by this decision or by Blizzard or Hearthstone Esports' actions. I love Hearthstone, and I love what I do. I choose to continue not to support or condone these actions, but to support an incredible game and an incredible team at the ground level who work to put on tournaments and productions that I love being a part of."
Hearthstone Grandmaster William "Amnesiac" Barton also weighed in today with support for Blitzchung and protesters in Hong Kong. "As a player in the Grandmaster League, I suppose democracy, free speech, and the right of people in Hong Kong and around the world to assemble in protest, and I do not support Blizzard or anyone else playing a role in the silencing of these views," Barton said.
My statement on Blizzard and Blitzchung: pic.twitter.com/XYt5Ho22yCOctober 10, 2019
Barton acknowledged that he may face "consequences" for his statement, although as Hearthstone Top Decks pointed out, the fact that he made the statement on social media and not during a competition may insulate him from any major punishment.
The backlash against Blizzard over its draconian treatment of Blitzchung shows no sign of slowing down, and could have a real impact on this year's BlizzCon, which is now just three weeks away. Last year's disastrous Diablo Immortal announcement hasn't been forgotten, and the Hearthstone Global Finals, which will be played at the show, could also prove to be an interesting time. But the real flashpoint may be the traditional BlizzCon cosplay contest: Cosplayers like this one have been pushing a campaign to turn the Overwatch character Mei—a Chinese climatologist—into a symbol of the Hong Kong protest.
I've reached out to Blizzard for comment on the continuing backlash and will update if I receive a reply.