Blizzard apologized for mishandling the 'Hearthstone' Hong Kong controversy, but won't lift its ban on the pro-gamer who spoke out in support of the protests
- Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack said he would "accept accountability" for a controversy involving a professional gamer who supported the protests in Hong Kong.
- Last month, Blizzard's parent company, Activision Blizzard, received a letter from a bipartisan group of US congress members accusing Blizzard of censoring professional gamer Ng Wai Chung, or "Blitzchung" to protect its business interests in China.
- Blitzchung was punished by Blizzard after he called for the liberation of Hong Kong during an interview at a Blizzard-sponsored event on October 5. Blizzard initially responded by stripping Blitzchung of his prize money and banning him and the two commentators who conducted the interview from "Hearthstone" competitions for one year.
- The suspension was later reduced to six months - Blizzard said Blitzchung was punished for making political statements that drew attention away from the video game competition.
- Brack said China was not a factor in Blizzard's decision-making, but the punishment garnered widespread criticism and protests at Blizzard's annual fan conference, BlizzCon, on November 1.
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In his first public appearance since Blizzard Entertainment sparked an international controversy, President J. Allen Brack apologized to fans and said he would "accept accountability" for the company's decision to punish a professional gamer who supported the protests in Hong Kong - but the player will remain suspended from competitions until March 2020.
Blizzard suspended "Hearthstone" competitor Ng Wai Chung, or "Blitzchung," and two commentators from "Hearthstone" competitions for six months after Blitzchung called for the liberation of Hong Kong during a post-match interview at a Blizzard-sponsored event on October 5. Blizzard's decision, which originally included a one-year suspension and stripped Blitzchung of thousands in prize money, drew the attention of US lawmakers and left fans threatening to boycott.
A bipartisan group of US congress members accused Blizzard of censoring Blitzchung to protect its business interests in China and sent a letter asking Blizzard's parent company, Activision Blizzard, to reverse the punishment.
Nearly a month after Blitzchung's suspension, protesters lined up outside of BlizzCon, Blizzard's annual fan convention in Anaheim, California, to express their support for the protests in Hong Kong and rally against Blizzard's punishment throughout the BlizzCon weekend.
Tiffany Chang/Business Insider
Brack addressed the situation during the opening moments of BlizzCon, but his comments did not acknowledge the accusations that Blizzard was censoring Blitzchung to satisfy Chinese interests. In previous statements, Brack said China was not a factor in Blizzard's decision-making and Blizzard decided to punish Blitzchung for drawing attention away from the video game competition with political comments.
"Blizzard had a chance to bring the world together in a tough 'Hearthstone' esports moment about a month ago, and we did not," Brack told the audience at BlizzCon. "We moved too quickly in our decision-making, and to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk to all of you."
Brack later re-affirmed Blizzard's stance on the suspension in an interview with PC Gamer.
In the days following the announcement of Blitzchung's suspension on October 8, Blizzard fans organized boycotts of the company on social media, and a group of employees staged a walk-out at the company's headquarters. Critics accused Blizzard of violating its own company value of "Every Voice Matters." The company remained silent for days as the controversy drew the attention of US lawmakers like Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Marco Rubio.
At BlizzCon, Brack said he would "accept accountability" for the situation, and that Blizzard was committed to doing better in the future. He said the company would continue trying to connect people around the world through video games. There was no mention of lifting Blitzchung's suspension.
Outside, protesters continued to chant in support of the professional gamer and his pro-Hong Kong message through the weekend, while Blizzard shifted its focus back to video games.
You can read Brack's full opening statement at BlizzCon below:
"Blizzard had a chance to bring the world together in a tough 'Hearthstone' esports moment about a month ago, and we did not. We moved too quickly in our decision-making, and to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk to all of you.
When I think about what I'm most unhappy about, it's really two things - The first is that we didn't live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves, and the second is we failed in our purpose. And for that, I'm sorry and I accept accountability.
So what exactly is our purpose? BlizzCon is showing it right now. We aspire to bring the world together with epic entertainment, and I truly believe in the positive power of video games. When we get it right, we create a common ground where the community comes together, to compete, connect, and play - irrespective of the things that divide us. BlizzCon has people from 59 countries all around the world here today, that is amazing. And that it the positive power of video games, to transcend the divisions that surround us in so many of our places.
We will do better going forward, but our actions are gonna matter more than any of these words. As you walk around this weekend, I hope it's clear how committed we are to people's right to express themselves, in all kinds of ways, and all kinds of places.
As we've seen, and heard many of you expressing yourselves this morning. You use your vacation and your family time to be here in Anaheim with us, and we are so grateful, that you're here. Our best moments are here in our shared passion for Blizzard games.
So once again BlizzCon has brought us together, and you're going to see a lot of the hard work of the Blizzard team."
In his opening statement for #BlizzCon2019, Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack spoke to the company's decision to suspend @blitzchunghs, saying "we have failed in our purpose." Watch: pic.twitter.com/MprX4GPDKC- ESPN Esports (@ESPN_Esports) November 1, 2019