UPDATE: Blizzard has finally responded to the intense furore which has surrounded the prominent PC games developer since it opted to ban an eSports player for a year for their on-stream protest against the Hong Kong authorities and China.

Calling it an apology would be far too strong a descriptor. It's merely an empty statement which attempts to broker piece while entirely missing the point. To say it has blown back in Activision-Blizzard's face would be putting it mildly; it's anarchy out there right now with closed subreddits, boycotts, and even Blizzard-related protests on the streets of Hong Kong.

"I want to take a few minutes to talk to all of you about the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament this past weekend," wrote Blizzard's head honcho, J. Allen Brack. "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."

The full statement then devolves into a fairly thorough break-down of the rules, the actions of the player and the shoutcasters, and how Blizzard came to its decision to impose a 12-month ban and rescind all eSports winnings.

Most pertinently, Brack claims "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." Ahem. Sure.

"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."

As a result, Hearthstone eSports player Blitzchung has had his winnings returned to him and his ban shortened to six months. There's a feeling that Blizzard has spectacularly missed the point here and come out of this in an even worse position than before it issued the statement. 

For his part, Chung 'blitzchung' Ng Wai doesn't sound overly impressed as his time as a Hearthstone pro may be coming to a forced end. 

"First of all," he wrote, "I'm grateful for Blizzard reconsidering their position about my ban. Earlier this week, I told media that I knew I might have penalty or consequence for my act, because I understand that my act could take the conversation away from the purpose of the event. In the future, I will be more careful on that and express my opinions or show my support to Hong Kong on my personal platforms."

But, he says "six months is still quite a lot to me" and he also hopes Blizzard would reconsider the bans imposed on the shoutcasters who had precious little to do with his political statement. Six months is a long time in the competitive scene, however you look at it, and so it's caused Blitzchung to reevaluate whether it's worth staying competitive during the ban period.

This is a PR disaster right now for Blizzard, who surely should have rolled back the ban at the earlier possible opportunity. Meeting in the middle isn't really an option and pleases neither 'side'.

One thing's for sure though - BlizzCon 2019 on November 1st is shaping up to be a spicy affair...

Original Story: 08-Oct-2019 - Blizzard bans Hearthstone pro and pulls prize winnings for Hong Kong pro-democracy comments

Blizzard has found itself in hot water for suspending the winner of a Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament and pulled their prize money after the eSports professional voiced their support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Chung ‘Blitzchung’ Ng Wai is a professional Hearthstone player from Hong Kong who won the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters Hearthstone tournament. During the post-game interview, Blitzchung brandished a mask and said “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” Masks are currently banned by the Hong Kong authorities, who are trying to crack down on the widespread protests.

Blitzchung was suspended (along with the stream’s hosts) and his winnings have been withheld. He’s now banned from competing in Hearthstone tournaments for 12 months.

Blizzard has issued a statement on the situation saying “Upon further review we have found the action has violated the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Official Competition Rules section 6.1.”

Section 6.1 imposes a rule which says, at Blizzard’s sole discretion, it may remove any player and reduce their prize money to $0 USD if they bring themselves into public disrepute, or offend a portion of the public. That’s a far-reaching rule which sounds as if it can be applied in just about any context. Handy.

“Grandmasters is the highest tier of Hearthstone Esports and we take tournament rule violations very seriously,” writes Blizzard in its statement. “After an investigation, we are taking the necessary actions to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

“Effective immediately, Blitzchung is removed from Grandmasters and will receive no prizing for Grandmasters Season 2. Additionally, Blitzchung is ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months beginning from Oct. 5th, 2019 and extending to Oct. 5th, 2020. We will also immediately cease working with both casters.”

All comments have been disabled by Blizzard on the news post, drawing a fairly stern line under the whole affair.

If feels as if Blizzard seriously needs some help in the PR department because they’re tripping up at every available opportunity these days. I mean, what is the best they seriously think can happen in this situation? If a short message advocating a pro-democracy movement has the capacity to offend then where is the line to be drawn? What we’re really seeing here is a publisher cowing to the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities for fear of retribution. It looks weak, if we’re being honest, and smacks of an insincerity from Blizzard in its approach to other hot-topic issues, picking and choosing the corporate activism which best suits its bottom line.

But, we'd love to know your thoughts on the issue. Were Blizzard in the right here? Or should such views be kept well away from a Hearthstone tournament? Let us know below!