After a player supported Hong Kong, Blizzard illegally and evilly threw him out. Well okay. That’s not quite it.
If you were to read the news, a lot of journalists are making it sound like Blizzard randomly threw a player under the bus simply for supporting Hong Kong’s citizens. However, upon closer inspection, the player clearly violated Blizzard’s rules, and the rule was a reasonable one. The really troubling part is that members of congress have spoken up in response to this event.
Under 2019 HEARTHSTONE® GRANDMASTERS OFFICIAL COMPETITION RULES v1.4 p.12, Section 6.1 (o)
Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.
Honestly, the rule seems a tad bit strict, and it’s a little vague. Blizzard would probably have a had time, in many cases, arguing that an action brought a player into disrepute, that it offended a portion or group of the public, or that it damaged Blizzard’s image. In many cases, a court may rule on the player’s side, even though the rule states “in Blizzard’s sole discretion.”
On October 8, Blizzard announced that Blitzchung, the Hearthstone grandmaster tournament player violated the rule during a post-match interview. Now, I’m not sure that simply making a political statement is enough. Again, the rules are vague. If the rule explicitly stated no political commentary, then things would be different. However, Blitzchung did not simply voice his support of Hong Kong’s protesters, he went all out, put on a face mask and basically had a whole act prepared. With that action in mind, it now becomes a lot easier for Blizzard to argue that the rules were violated.
Here’s the really disturbing part. Members of congress decided to respond to the action. Blizzard is enforcing an internal rule that simply states that a player forfeits rewards and cannot play, if it acts in a way which could jeopardize its public image, and Congress is thinking of stepping in on the issue. That’s not protection of free speech. That’s forcing a company to continue doing business with someone that is a threat to them. An article by The Hill aggregates a lot of tweets by congressional leaders on the topic.
I wonder if Blizzard would have acted any differently, or if people would have acted any differently, if the player threw on a MAGA hat and started promoting Trump, or clamoring about abortion as murder and waved around a dead fetus doll, or expressed any kind of similar theatrics. Blizzard likely would have banned the player, all the same, and people would have been fine. Indeed, I would imagine that many of the same people who are now attacking Blizzard, including The Verge, would be calling for support for the company.
The Hong Kong Issue
The issue isn’t that the player supported Hong Kong. The issue is that the player violated a rule that was meant to protect Blizzard from issues. Unfortunately it backfired because a lot of the population cannot separate the specific rhetoric expressed in the player’s rant with the idea that such rants, no matter the political “side” being expressed, clearly violated Blizzard’s rules. For the record, I want to see complete autonomy for Hong Kong. I want Hong Kong to be its own country, under its own control, without concern for Beijing’s feelings. But I still recognize that the player clearly violated the rules.
Hong Kong should be free from Beijing rule. The peaceful Hong Kong protesters need our support. However, when that support comes at a time when a person is representing another individual or entity, things can get tricky. And that’s exactly what happened for Blitzchung, when he clearly violated the Hearthstone Grand Champion rules, by not only expressing a political view, but also doing so in an unprofessional way.