The American University Hearthstone team that held up a sign reading “Free Hong Kong Boycott Blizz” during a tournament stream last week has now received a six-month ban from competition, according to a tweet from team member Casey Chambers.
“We expect all players to follow the Hearthstone Collegiate Championship rules,” the punishment letter reads, in part. “Every Voice Matters at Blizzard, 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 game and the competition, and to be a place where all are welcome.”
The language in the AU punishment letter closely mirrors that found in a statement Blizzard released last Friday regarding Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung and an on-stream statement he made in support of Hong Kong protesters after winning a Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament last week. Blizzard’s statement reduced Blitzchung’s punishment to a similar six-month suspension and reinstated tournament winnings that had been denied in the immediate wake of Blitzchung’s protest earlier that week.
But AU’s on-stream protest, which happened the day after Blitzchung’s, didn’t draw any immediate punishment from Blizzard. That led a member of the AU team to all but demand he face retribution 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’ livelihoods under the bus if they are from Hong Kong or Taiwan. It should also dispel the idea that Blitzchung was 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 tweet, Chambers supported that position, saying, “This one was pretty cut and dry. We knew what we were doing and expected the punishment. The problem was Blizzard ignoring our protest for PR reasons but going after Blitzchung.”
In an interview with Vice last week, Chambers confirmed that he was quitting Hearthstone after over 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 talked about the impetus behind the protest in that same interview: “When we met for practice that day before the tournament, we were all thinking the same thing: that we wanted to do something. Because, obviously, we were the first thing on Blizzard’s stream after they made the decision. If we did nothing, we were missing a pretty big opportunity.”
Since AU’s protest, Blizzard has shut off the usual “team cams” that show images of the players during collegiate Hearthstone matches and ceased doing the standard post-match interviews with winners in those livestreamed tournaments. And the company cancelled a planned promotional event at the Nintendo World NYC store last week, presumably due to worries about fan protests like the kind being actively planned for November’s Blizzcon gathering.
But simply denying face time to pro players and fans doesn’t seem like a workable long-term solution for what now seems like a sustained movement driven by anger among much of Blizzard’s fan base. As Chambers put it on Reddit, “They can’t keep the cams off forever, especially at BlizzCon.”