The American University hearthstone team that held up a sign saying “Free Hong Kong Boycott Blizz” during a tournament stream last week has now been banned from competition for six months, according to a tweet from team member Casey Chambers†
“We expect all players to hearthstone Collegiate Championship Rules,” the letter reads in part. “Every vote matters at Blizzard, and we strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their views in the many places available to express themselves. However, the official broadcast should be about the game and the competition and be a place where everyone is welcome.”
The language in the AU’s criminal letter closely matches that in a statement Blizzard released last Friday regarding Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung and an on-stream statement he made in support of protesters in Hong Kong after winning a hearthstone Grandmasters tournament last week. Blizzard’s statement reduced Blitzchung’s sentence to a similar six-month suspension and reinstated tournament winnings denied in the immediate aftermath of Blitzchung’s protest earlier that week.
But the AU’s on-stream protest, which took place the day after Blitzchung’s, did not lead to immediate punishment from Blizzard. That led to one member of the AU team almost demanding that he face retaliation from Blizzard, while simultaneously calling out the company for hypocrisy in a Reddit post:
This shows Blizzard’s hypocrisy in how it treats different regions. They are hesitant to suppress free speech when it happens in America, on an English-language stream, but will throw casters and players under the bus if they come from Hong Kong or Taiwan. It should also dispel the idea that Blitzchung was being punished for bringing politics into Hearthstone, because our message was clearly political and we weren’t touched. Blitzchung was punished because China was watching.
In a follow-up tweetChambers supported that position, saying: “This one was pretty curt. We knew what we were doing and expected the penalty. The problem was Blizzard ignored our protest for PR reasons, but went after Blitzchung.”
In an interview with Vice last week, Chambers confirmed he was quitting hearthstone after more than 15,000 matches, suspension or not. “The game we lost last night was my last game of hearthstone ever,” he said.
Fellow AU team member Corwin Dark also spoke of the impetus behind the protest in that same interview: “When we met to practice that day before the tournament, we all thought the same thing: that we wanted to do something. Because, of course, we were the first in Blizzard’s stream after they made the decision. If we didn’t act, we missed a pretty big opportunity.”
Since the AU protest, Blizzard has turned off the usual “team cams” that show images of the players during collegiate matches. hearthstone matches and stopped doing the standard post-match interviews with winners in those livestreamed tournaments. And the company canceled a planned promotional event at the Nintendo World NYC store last week, presumably due to concerns about fan protests like the kind being actively planned for November’s Blizzcon meeting.
But simply denying face time to professional players and fans doesn’t seem like a workable long-term solution to what now appears to be an ongoing movement driven by anger among much of Blizzard’s fan base. As Chambers put it on Reddit, “They can’t keep the cameras off forever, especially at BlizzCon.”