Blizzard denies reports that it's banning Twitch viewers for pro-Hong Kong chat

Hearthstone on mobileA man plays Hearthstone game on smartphone in Ankara, Turkey on November 26, 2018.Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

  • Blizzard has denied reports it was banning Twitch users who expressed support for the Hong Kong protesters via chat.
  • Twitch viewers complained that they had received 24-hour bans from the "Play Hearthstone" Twitch channel after typing "Free Hong Kong."
  • In a statement sent to Polygon, Blizzard said: "We are not banning people from Twitch chat for specifically using pro Hong Kong speech or any other political statements," and said viewers were banned for spamming the chat with the same message.
  • The US games giant has faced widespread public criticism in recent weeks for its decisions to ban a number of 'Hearthstone' players who've expressed pro-Hong Kong views.
  • Blizzard did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Blizzard has denied reports that it is banning Twitch viewers who express pro-Hong Kong views via Twitch chat.

The games firm hit back at reports suggesting that it was censoring Twitch viewers who typed "Free Hong Kong" into the chat box for the "Play Hearthstone" Twitch channel.

Blizzard told games site Polygon: "We are not banning people from Twitch chat for specifically using pro Hong Kong speech or any other political statements. Bans are being levied by an automated moderating system that's triggered by viewers spamming any phrase repeatedly. We expect to have the issue corrected in the next few hours."

Hearthstone automatic Twitch bansReddit/Please_no_copy

Esports publication Dot Esports first reported anyone who typed the words "Free Hong Kong" on Twitch's chat area during the recent Hearthstone Masters Tour in Bucharest - which ran from Friday to Sunday - saw their message automatically erased. They were also handed a 24-hour ban from chatting on the platform.

But Blizzard said it was only banning people who were spamming the chat with the same message.

In a statement sent to Polygon, Blizzard said: "We are not banning people from Twitch chat for specifically using pro Hong Kong speech or any other political statements. Bans are being levied by an automated moderating system that's triggered by viewers spamming any phrase repeatedly. We expect to have the issue corrected in the next few hours."

Business Insider has contacted Blizzard for confirmation.

The explanation seems to make sense. Per The Verge, the chat bans were inconsistent given some pro-Hong Kong comments appear to have been left undeleted during reruns of reruns of Masters Tour games. And at least one Reddit user claimed the US games giant has also banned Twitch viewers who express pro-China views.

This might be a false alarm, but Blizzard has been at the centre of a political firestorm in recent weeks after meting out a series of bans to Hearthstone players expressing pro-Hong Kong views.

Read more: Blizzard says its 'relationships in China had no influence on our decision' to punish an esports athlete who voiced his support for Hong Kong protesters

Earlier this month, the firm handed professional Hearthstone player Chung 'Blitzchung' Ng Wai a year-long ban and confiscated his prize money after he yelled "Free Hong Kong, revolution of our age" during a live post-game interview, but later reduced the ban to six months and handed back his money amid public outrage.

More recently, it handed six-month bans to three college-level Hearthstone players after they held up a sign that read "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz" during a tournament livestream.

For its part, Blizzard - whose parent company, Activision Blizzard, is part-owned by Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent - has denied that China is the driving force behind its bans. Discussing it decision to ban Blitzchung, Blizzard's president J. Allen Brack released a statement in which he insisted that "our relationships in China had no influence on our decision."

ocasio-cortezERIN SCOTT / Reuters

Brack's statement added that "one of our goals at Blizzard is to make sure that every player, everywhere in the world, regardless of political views, religious beliefs, race, gender, or any other consideration always feels safe and welcome both competing in and playing our games."

Gamers, politicians and even Blizzard's own employees appear unconvinced, however.

Up to thirty Activision Blizzard employees reportedly walked out of work on October 8 in protest at Blizzard's actions over Blitzchung, and on Friday, several US politicians including Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez signed a cross-party letter urging it to rethink its Blitzchung ban.

The company has also become the source of widespread mockery on social media, with the Overwatch character Mei morphing into an unofficial anti-Blizzard mascot.

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