Last week, a player from American University's collegiate Hearthstone team held up a sign reading "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz" during a match. The gesture was intended to express support for protesters in Hong Kong and, more specifically, Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung 'blitzchung' Ng Wai, who was harshly punished by Blizzard for his own call to "liberate Hong Kong" from China during a post-match interview.
While Blitzchung was hit with a one-year suspension from competitive play and loss of his season two winnings (a penalty that was dialed back following an uproar among the Hearthstone community), the AU team went unpunished, leading it to forfeit the tournament and withdraw from future competitions to protest what it saw as an arbitrary and unfair treatment of one infraction over another. But now that withdrawal is no longer a voluntary matter, as the team has been handed a six-month ban from competition.
Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition. While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules. pic.twitter.com/mZStoF0e0tOctober 16, 2019
"During week 4 of the Fall 2019 Hearthstone Collegiate Championships, players GiantDwarf, TJammer and Xcelsior were in violation of section 7.1.B of the Hearthstone Collegiate Championship rules for engaging in behavior disruptive to the official esports broadcast," the formal ruling states.
"The players are disqualified from the ongoing tournament and will be ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 6 months, beginning from October 8th, 2019 and extending to April 8th, 2020. Following the 6 months suspension, the players may, at their discretion, continue to participate in Hearthstone esports."
"We strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, our official broadcast needs to be about the game and the competition, and to be a place where all are welcome," Blizzard said in a statement.
"If we allow the introduction of personal views about sensitive issues into the channel, it ceases to be what it’s meant for—esports. We have rules in place to support this, to which these competitors, as well as others at all levels, have agreed. They knowingly broke those rules and we’ve suspended them from Hearthstone esports for six months."
Casey "Xcelsior" Chambers, one of the suspended players, acknowledged on Twitter that the team was effectively looking for trouble, and appeared to have no regrets. "This one was pretty cut and dry. We knew what we were doing and expected the punishment," he wrote. "The problem was Blizzard ignoring our protest for PR reasons but going after Blitzchung."
As for what the team will do during the six-month suspension, Chambers said he's turning his attention to Immutable's CCG Gods Unchained, saying that its development team "is really cool."