When Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung "blitzchung" Ng Wai called for the liberation of Hong Kong during a post-match interview in October, Blizzard's reaction was harsh: A year-long suspension from pro play, demotion from Grandmasters, and loss of all his season two winnings. Blizzard eventually eased up a bit (opens in new tab), reducing his suspension from a year to six months and reinstating his winnings, but it was still a very serious penalty for one of the best Hearthstone pros in the world.
One very surprising critic of Blizzard's handling of the situation is Jeff Kaplan, the high-profile director of Blizzard's team-based FPS Overwatch. Kaplan told the Washington Post (opens in new tab) that he was relieved when Blizzard reduced Blitzchung's suspension, and furthermore, he thinks it should be "reduced more or eliminated."
"I'm obviously a huge supporter of free speech; it’s something that’s very important to me," Kaplan said. "It got to me personally. I think the punishment was too harsh and I was greatly relieved when they gave his money back. I think that was extremely important."
Kaplan said he and most of the Overwatch team weren't aware of the situation until it began to appear on news sites, and that he thinks it was handled "way too quickly." He's regularly involved in determining bans and suspensions for Overwatch League players who break the rules, he said, and said the process of determining punishment usually takes four or five days.
"There was always a group of us involved in deciding what the punishment should be, and we would heavily devil’s-advocate every part of the decision. So I was actually shocked that such a harsh penalty was levied," he said.
It's an unexpected stance from someone who may be Blizzard's most high-profile developer, but Kaplan also emphasized that he was speaking solely for himself, and that other Blizzard personnel may feel differently: "I think as individuals, we all have very different feelings about what happened in regards to the Hearthstone tournament and Blitzchung. There is a lot of very different reaction among all of us."
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack apologized to fans (opens in new tab) for Blizzard's handling of the matter, saying during his BlizzCon keynote that the company "moved too quickly in our decision making." He did not apologize to Blitzchung, however, or reduce his punishment further.