United States senators and representatives have penned a letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, condemning Blizzard’s decision to punish a Hearthstone pro for voicing support of ongoing protests in Hong Kong during an interview.
That letter, dated October 18 and readable here, is signed by senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) along with representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ). In it, lawmakers chide Blizzard for its decision to penalize that player, a move they say “is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.”
“Activision Blizzard benefits from China’s growing market for e-sports, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China’s largest technology firms,” continues the letter. “As you and your company are no doubt aware, the Chinese government uses the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions with which it disagrees.”
For its part, Blizzard has stated previously that its issue with the actions of the Hearthstone player Blitzchung, or Ng Wai Chung as referred to in the letter, were unrelated to the specific content of his message. In that statement, Blizzard instead said that it would have taken the same action had a streamer voiced an "opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way.” The goal, explained Blizzard president J. Allen Brack several days after the incident, is to keep event broadcasts “focused on the game and […] not a platform for divisive social or political views.”
Despite the intent outlined by Blizzard after the fact and a subsequently reduced punishment for those involved, the controversial action led to protests across Blizzard’s esports circuit and player communities, as mentioned in the lawmakers’ letter. An American college Hearthstone team notably shared a similar “Free Hong Kong” message (with the addition of “Boycott Blizz”) days after Blitzchung’s comment and ban, and were met with their own ban nearly one week later.
Those earlier protests from Blizzard’s community caught the attention of Senators Wyden and Rubio last week. Both shared concerns that Blizzard’s reaction sets a troubling precedent for the game industry, a sentiment echoed in the letter.
“As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values—like freedom of speech and thought—or to give in to Bejing’s demands in order to preserve market access,” continues the letter. “We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it.”