- BlizzardCEO J. Allen Brack has issued the company’s first public statement since its decision to ban an esports competitor and withhold his prize money for making statements supporting the protests in Hong Kong at a Blizzard-sponsored event.
- The company has been accused of prioritising its relationships with China rather than protecting the right to free speech, which Brack denied: “I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.”
- Brack said the company’s relationships in China were not a factor in the decision to punish Blitzchung, but the initial punishment may have been too harsh.
- Brack shortened Blitzchung’s one-year suspension down to six months, and said it would be giving a suspension of the same length for the two commentators who conducted the interview. Brack also said Blitzchung “should receive his prizing” from the tournament, which would be several thousand dollars.
- However, it said Blitzchung and the two broadcasters should have kept the focus of the interview on the event, and that it stood by the decision to take action.
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Blizzard Entertainment President J.Allen Brack has issued the company’s first public statement since making the decision to punish Chung Ng Wai, better known as Blitzchung – a “Hearthstone” esports competitor who spoke out in favour of the protests in Hong Kong.
Brack’s statement pushed back against the accusation that Blizzard made the decision to punish Blitzchung in order to protect its business interests in China.
“The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision,” the statement reads.
Blitzchung wore a gas mask and called for the liberation of Hong Kong during a post-match interview on October 5. Blizzard responded by banning him from competition for one year, and saying that it would no longer work with the two commentators who conducted the interview. It also said at the time it would withhold several thousand dollars in prize money from Blitzchung.
Now, Brack said that Blitzchung and the two commentators conducting the interview had indeed broken the rules of the competition by not keeping the focus on the game. Ultimately, Brack wrote, Blitzchung had been punished not for his specific views, but rather for distracting away from the tournament by raising a political issue.
However, Brack said, the intial punishment may have been too harsh, and cut the one-year suspension to a six-month span. It also said that the two commentators would be given the same-length suspension, apparently rather than cutting ties entirely.
“There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast,” Brack’s statement reads. “With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well.”
Brack also said blitzchung “should receive his prizing” but did not specify how much or when it would be paid out.
Critics, including Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, claimed earlier this week that Blizzard’s punishment was an act of censorship designed to protect the company’s interests in China.
Over the course of the four days after the original event, a group of about 30 Blizzard employees staged a walkout at the company’s California studio, a pair of “Heartstone” commentators resigned from participating in the finals broadcast, and dozens of players took to social media to share pictures of themselves deleting their Blizzard accounts and cancelling their World of Warcraft subscriptions under the hashtag “#BoycottBlizzard.”
It remains to be seen whether Brack’s new statement will quell the fires, or just stoke further protest.
You can read Blizzard CEO J. Allen Brack’s full statement below:
Hello Blizzard Community . . .
I want to take a few minutes to talk to all of you about the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament this past weekend. On Monday, we made the decision to take action against a player named blitzchung and two shoutcasters after the player shared his views on what’s happening in Hong Kong on our official broadcast channel.
At Blizzard, our vision is “to bring the world together through epic entertainment.” And we have core values that apply here: Think Globally; Lead Responsibly; and importantly, Every Voice Matters, encouraging everybody to share their point of view. The actions that we took over the weekend are causing people to question if we are still committed to these values. We absolutely are and I will explain.
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. 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.
As to how those values apply in this case:
First, our official esports tournament broadcast was used as a platform for a winner of this event to share his views with the world.
We interview competitors who are at the top of their craft to share how they feel. We want to experience that moment with them. Hearing their excitement is a powerful way to bring us together.
Over the weekend, blitzchung used his segment to make a statement about the situation in Hong Kong-in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action.
Every Voice Matters, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available 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.
Second, what is the role of shoutcasters for these broadcasts?
We hire shoutcasters to amplify the excitement of the game. They elevate the watchability and help the esports viewing experience stay focused on the tournament and our amazing players.
Third, were our actions based on the content of the message?
Part of Thinking Globally, Leading Responsibly, and Every Voice Matters is recognising that we have players and fans in almost every country in the world. Our goal is to help players connect in areas of commonality, like their passion for our games, and create a sense of shared community.
The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.
We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.
If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.
OK, what could Blizzard have done better, and where do we go from here?
Over the past few days, many players, casters, esports fans, and employees have expressed concerns about how we determined the penalties. We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.
We want to ensure that we maintain a safe and inclusive environment for all our players, and that our rules and processes are clear. All of this is in service of another important Blizzard value-Play Nice; Play Fair.
In the tournament itself blitzchung *played* fair. We now believe he should receive his prizing. We understand that for some this is not about the prize, and perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. That is not our intention.
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. There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.
With regard to the casters, remember their purpose is to keep the event focused on the tournament. That didn’t happen here, and we are setting their suspension to six months as well.
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.
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.
At Blizzard, we are always listening and finding ways to improve-it is part of our culture. Thank you for your patience with us as we continue to learn.
J. Allen Brack
President of Blizzard Entertainment