Michael Williams discusses the ramifications of Blizzard's suspension on Hong Kong pro gamer for protesting during a tournament. He weaves this into a story about people using sports as a platform to protest against systems of oppression.
In Hong Kong #takeaknee
In October, Blizzard Entertainment suspended Hearthstone champion Ng Wai "blitzchung" Chung for one year after the young man showed solidarity with the Hong Kong protestors. The young man donned a gas mask, a now symbol for his comrades, and shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" in his native tongue. This was said during a post-match interview for the Hearthstone Grand Finals Asia Pacific.
The casters of the game, despite cutting to black, were immediately fired.
On his Twitch stream, "blitzchung" told chat:
"I spent four years on Hearthstone so I only lost four years of my life, but if HK loses it will be forever."
The ruling goes against Blizzard’s underlying principles. They released this in their original statement, but it has been since taken down. However, you can watch Your Overwatch's breakdown on the statement on Youtube here. "Think Globally; Lead Responsibly" and, of course, "Every Voice Matters" are company principles, according to the statement. It's most important to highlight that they said, "Every Voice Matters" — it's just that some voices matter more than others.
Said the spokesperson on YouTube:
"Every Voice Matters and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places to express themselves. However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome. In support of that, we want to keep the official channels focused on the game.”
After months of scrutiny, the entertainment giant did deliver "blitzchung" his prize money and reduced his suspension to six months. This happened during "Blizzcon", a convention where the company reveals their plans for the next year to consumers. The apology that followed was described by many commentators as phony.
As esports begins to match the scope of physical sports – for example, the League of Legends grand finals received 27 million views, compared to the AFL, which had just 3.2 million – its player base will have equal stardom. The opinions of these players, especially in the Asia Pacific, where esports is a religion, will become more and more influential in the global community. Thus they should be considered equal to physical sports players.
The story of "blitzchung" is not an an unusual one. Sports players all over the world have been criticised for standing up to oppresion and racisim.
In Australia #takeaknee
For using his platform to speak up against racism, Adam Goodes was condemned by Andrew Bolt and Sam Newman for being "divisive". While Goodes was not suspended for his behaviour, the AFL's refusal to protect Goodes lead to his subsequent retirement.
It took the AFL two years to make a comment on the issue. Despite apologising, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan refused to call the booing racist.
Five years later, Stan Grant made the Australian Dream documentary and it forced the hand of AFL to finally pay attention. All 18 clubs signed an official apology in what was a first for the sport.
Sports as a protesting platform was a commonality after Goodes; NRL player Cody Walker refused to sing the national anthem during Game One of the State of Origin this year.
If Australia is so bad and the national anthem can't be sung, why do Cody Walker and other Indigenous players accept the many benefits of our nation post-1788, like huge $$$ rugby league salaries, TV coverage/fame, modern stadium facilities etc etc.— Real Mark Latham (@RealMarkLatham) February 16, 2019
Dopey hypocrites all of them. https://t.co/OfdPvLy3Rm
But it was one step forward, one step back, when NSW Blues Development Trainer Timana Tahu was sacked for stating that the decision to axe Walker was based on his boycott of the anthem. It can't without a doubt be proven why Walker was axed, but it is mighty suspicious.
Whether sports should be politics free is up for debate, but the people that do protest always cop it and that is damning to the importance we place on free speech in the West.
In America #takeaknee
In 2017, Donald Trump lambasted NFL player Colin Kaepernick for not standing during the nation anthem in reaction to the U.S. unwavering racial discrimination.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!" said the POTUS
This sparked the #takeaknee movement to spread throughout the entire world; Kaepernick was even named as the face of Nike.
Basketball prodigy LeBraun James showed his solidarity with Kaepernick. He said that, in fact, it is Trump who is "using sports to divide us". And that he (James) "wont stand for it".
Futher similarities occured between Blizzard and the NBA when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his solidarity with Hong Kong. This outcry has put his job in jeopardy and the NBA comissioner has struggled to make a statement on the matter.
When you look at the stakeholders of the two companies, it becomes easier to understand why they are protecting the diversity of their player base (read: Chinese interests). Chinese company Tencent has invested $2 billion into the NBA and owns 5 per cent of shares in Blizzard Entertainment. This is not to mention Tencent runs all NBA streaming in China and has multiple esports teams in Blizzard franchises.
Tencent has lost $90 million since suspending its deal with the NBA in retaliation, but its influence is still nothing to gawk at. They are one of the largest video game companies in the world. They have recently bought large stocks in Ubisoft and own more than a quarter of the video game market. Many of the games they purchase, including New Zealand’s Path of Exile, have been turned into "pay to win" gambling machines. (Despite loot boxes being illegal in China.) They also own controversial phone app WeChat, which sells user information to the Government, and also own China's version of Google Maps.
During a Portland Trail Blazers and the Brooklyn Nets game, the company cancelled the stream because it showed the Taiwanese flag for a second.
China's growing economic reach and oppression is a concern for us in the West. It is up to our companies to fight for free speech and our ideals.
70 years on, China's economy has boosted industrialisation and created billionaires - but inequality is now a growing concern https://t.co/fO0qs5nHVs pic.twitter.com/MfUbP5Vn2I— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) October 1, 2019
Blizzard China tweeted:
'We strongly condemn the player and the casters on what happened in the game last weekend, and we firmly DISAPPROVE people to state their own political POV in any tournament. The player will be banned from the tournament, and the casters will never be granted the chance to cast any official tournament from now on. Besides, we will firmly PROTECT THE PRIDE OF THE COUNTRY just like what we always do.'
(Tweet removed, found again on reddit Hearthstone, translated by user "anti9take")
The story behind this tweet, whether it is from Blizzard interests or a foreign body, would take another article. But Blizzard America has not made any further statements on the matter.
The U.S. have decided to remove tariffs on China and end the three-year trade war, at a time when the ideals of the West are being threatened across the globe. Economically, the West is dependent on trade deals with China, but the street goes both ways.
We must fight for our right to speak — not just in Australia, America and the UK, but for people all around the world.
FInd out how you can help the Hong Kong protestors here.
You can follow IA intern Michael Williams on Twitter @hossglop.
Rumours are there that these kind of photos would be vanished as per the request by Hong Kong Police.— dony (@dony79030330) November 19, 2019
If not, then let the world know more how HKPF is misbehaving nowadays#HongKongPoliceMassacre #HongKongProtesters #PolyUHK pic.twitter.com/pb1yJsXPhR