Statement on Blizzard and Blitzchung

Brian Kibler

Repost from http://bmkgaming.com/statement-on-blitzchung/, which is down due to traffic

I certainly never expected that my position in the Hearthstone community would lead to me making a statement on sensitive topics regarding international relations, but I have always viewed my strange place as a public figure in gaming as an opportunity to try to make the world a better place in whatever way I can, so here we are.

Here are the facts as I understand them.

After finishing his final match of the second season of APAC Hearthstone Grandmasters, Hong Kong player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung appeared on the official Taiwanese Hearthstone stream for his post-game interview wearing a gas mask. He lifted the mouthpiece and shouted, in Chinese: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” — a rallying cry of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, Blizzard announced their ruling, claiming that Blitzchung violated one of the Hearthstone Grandmasters rules against “engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image.”

The penalty they imposed was expelling Blitzchung from Grandmasters entirely, including retroactively revoking the prize money he had earned throughout the season, and additionally banning him from competing in events for a year. They also announced that they would no longer work with the casters involved in the controversial interview.

I want to start by saying that I feel what Blitzchung did was very brave. He knew that his actions would likely have serious consequences, not just for his future in Hearthstone but possibly even for his personal safety, and I commend him for the fortitude that takes.

Even so, I do think that Blizzard was correct in issuing him a penalty for his actions. They do not want to set the precedent for their official broadcasts being used as political tools. The players agreed to particular rules for behavior, and he violated those rules.

I have seen many descriptions of the situation claim that Blizzard took action against Blitzchung “for his support of the Hong Kong protests”, but that’s not an entirely accurate description. They did not penalize him for his political stance — they penalized him for breaking the rules by using their official broadcast to promote that stance.

Anyone who pays attention to my social media feeds knows that I am not someone who shies away from politics. I am frequently quite vocal about my views about what’s going on in the United States. I have kept a deck titled “Election 2016” in my collection for the past three years, full of cards like Corruption, DOOM, and Validated Doomsayer. I would rather risk alienating those who disagree with me rather than stay silent on matters I consider important.

But when I am on the desk for an official Hearthstone broadcast, I leave those views at home. Maybe I’ll make a subtle snide remark on occasion, but I know that I am representing Blizzard in addition to myself. If I were to close a show with speech about how I feel like Trump should be impeached, I wouldn’t expect to be invited back for future events.

All that having been said, there are additional factors at play here. The punishment meted out to Blitzchung is incredibly harsh. I could understand a fine, or even a short suspension from competitive play, but removal from Grandmasters, clawing back the prizes he already earned, and banning him for a full year seems completely overboard to an extent that feels completely unwarranted and unfair.

I won’t pretend to understand either the intricacies of the geopolitical situation in China and Hong Kong or the full extent of Blizzard’s business interests there, but to me this penalty feels like it is deeply rooted in both. The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself.

That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with. When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward

However, I want to make clear that not everyone involved in GM has this luxury. Do not take your anger out on the other casters, or streamers, or employees of Blizzard. This is not the kind of decision that comes from the rank and file. Most likely they’re just as angry as you are. I know I am.

Brian Kibler

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