After a tumultuous week that saw widespread fan outrage, a call for boycotts, and two high-profile personalities withdraw from future events, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack has issued a statement (opens in new tab) explaining the company's perspective on the suspension of Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung "blitzchung" Ng Wai, and admitting that it "reacted too quickly" in imposing his punishment.
"Our esports programs are an expression of our vision and our values. Esports exist to create opportunities for players from around the world, from different cultures, and from different backgrounds, to come together to compete and share their passion for gaming," Brack wrote. "It is extremely important to us to protect these channels and the purpose they serve: to bring the world together through epic entertainment, celebrate our players, and build diverse and inclusive communities."
Brack emphasized that the views expressed by Blitzchung—"Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age! (opens in new tab)"—were not a factor in determining his punishment, and that "our relationships in China had no influence on our decision." Instead, he said that Blizzard's only consideration were the Grandmasters competition rules, which are in place "to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience."
"If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same," he wrote.
Nonetheless, Brack acknowledged that Blitzchung had conducted himself fairly in his matches, and therefore should receive his prizing, which had been voided in the original ruling. "But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast. When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses," Brack wrote. "There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast."
The casters involved in the matter will also be given six-month suspensions, rather than a permanent loss of privileges, as had been originally imposed.
It's an improvement for Blitzchung but still a significant penalty, and particularly so when compared to Blizzard's response to American University's display of a "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz" sign during a recent TESPA match. That team voluntarily forfeited future matches (opens in new tab) in that tournament, and declined to participate in future events, because it went officially unsanctioned; it also said in a statement on Reddit that Blizzard's non-action against it should "dispel the idea that Blitzchung was punished for bringing politics into Hearthstone, because our message was clearly political and we weren't touched. Blitzchung was punished because China was watching."
It's not a perfect comparison because TESPA is a collegiate league and not run by Blizzard, but even so, the very different handling of relatively similar situations is hard to overlook. The timing of Blizzard's statement—after 8 pm ET on a Friday night, which is generally when individuals and organizations release news that they'd rather see buried—also suggests that it may not be perfectly confident that this new step will satisfy its fans.
"Moving forward, we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views," Brack concluded. "One of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games."