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What Happened after Hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament?

Last Sunday, professional esports player Ng Wai Chung, who goes by the name Blitzchung, made an appearance on a Twitch Broadcast after concluding a Hearthstone tournament, and ended his streaming segment with a popular protest statement used by many of the Hong Kong protesters, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times." This statement was made with him wearing a gas mask and dark goggles, which resembles the gear worn by many of the protesters. Blitzchung lives in Hong Kong, and received numerous penalties from Blizzard for the act.

About the Hong Kong Protests

China and Hong Kong have been in a tumultuous relationship for years.  To sum up the relationship at high level, Hong Kong is fighting with China over how the colony should be governed.  Until 1997, the colony of Hong Kong was under British rule.  With British rule, came more autonomy and freedom for Hong Kong residents, some of which the residents continue to enjoy to this day even after Chinese rule.  The arrangement is known as "one country, two systems".  As China attempts to further govern and limit freedoms for Hong Kong residents based on how it governs it's mainland residents, protests from Hong Kong residents have arose.

What happened to Blitzchung?

As mentioned above, Blitzchung said "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" and a live Twitch stream, shortly after the conclusion of the Hearthstone Grandmasters Tournament.  Blizzard responded with some stiff penalties for the player, when they banned him from competitions for 1 months and even rescinded his 2019 winnings which was estimated to be over $10,000. 

J. Allen Brack, the President of Blizzard Entertainment, said in a statement that Blizzard's relationship with China "had no influence on our decision" and that the "specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made." Brack said the company wants to remain focused on gaming  and "not a platform for divisive social or political views."

After the penalties, Blizzard received lots of public backlash from the gaming community, saying Blizzard's penalties were too strong, ad that Blitzchung was speaking in his mind, and free speech should be protected.  Blizzard moved to reduce Blitzchung's tournament ban to 6 months from 12, and reinstated his 2019 winnings.  

Blitzchung responded to the reduced penalties by saying, "First of all, 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."

Where do we go from here?

As esports players continue to become stars, build global followings, and develop their respective social platforms, we can expect them to use their platforms to communicate their beliefs on political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, and more.  We've seen this in traditional sports from Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem, Enes Kanter speaking out about his home country to Turkey and the political turmoil there, the Golden State Warriors declining their White House visit after winning the NBA title, and more.  Esports are even more of a global sport than the NFL or NBA, so tournaments organizers will also need to be aware of social and political agendas and conflicts outside of the United States.  

Traditional Sports have collective bargaining agreements between the leagues and players, which provide the players with some guidance on how they need to act.  Since esports remains such a nascent industry, these types of agreements have not been developed.

It's encouraging to see Blizzard listening to the response from the community, and lightened the penalties on Blitzchung, while still making their point that they weren't happy with the behavior of the player.  This is another growing pain in the esports space, but with growth comes maturity for esports, and this is another step in moving esports to the mainstream.

Read Blizzard Presdient, J. Allen Brack's full statement. 

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