Blizzard explained Friday that it disqualified Hearthstone player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung for shouting the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” because it was a violation of rules that he had acknowledged. Anything that brings a player into “public disrepute,” offends the public, or damages Blizzard’s image would lead to a ban and loss of prize money, according to the competition rules.
The company said that it will reduce Ng’s suspension to six months from a year, and return lost prize money. Ng told CNN Business it is about $10,000 in winnings.
“We’ve had a chance to pause, to listen to our community, and to reflect on what we could have done better. In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly,” J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment, wrote in a statement published Friday.
Ng responded to Blizzard’s decision in a Twitch livestream Saturday morning. “I’m grateful to Blizzard for reconsidering my ban,” he said. “I think half a year [ban] is still pretty long. It’s still quite a loss to me, as an esports player.”
He said that although he knew airing political views on a broadcast was against the rules, he did so anyway because he wanted to shine a light on the Hong Kong protests.
The money is “not important,” he said on Twitch. “If I really cared about money, I wouldn’t have said anything on the stream during my interview.”
“Activision Blizzard’s statement is totally inadequate given the circumstances,” said Rod Breslau, an esports and gaming consultant, “It took over five days for Activision Blizzard to finally give a response, much more than it took the NBA or Apple, and it can be argued they took the worst possible stance of the three.”
Blizzard stated Friday that “our relationships in China had no influence on our decision” and that if a player had shouted a pro-Beijing slogan, they would also be dealt with the same way.
Riot Games, a video game company owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent, said Friday that it won’t allow any political statements on its broadcasts.
Political and religious “topics are often incredibly nuanced, require deep understanding and a willingness to listen, and cannot be fairly represented in the forum our broadcast provides,” John Needham, global head of Riot’s “League of Legends” esports, tweeted Friday. “Therefore, we have reminded our casters and pro players to refrain from discussing any of these topics on air.”
Riot spokesman Joe Hixson clarified to CNN Business that meant “political statements of any kind — Trump, Brexit, Hong Kong, etc. — won’t be aired.”
“Activision, Riot, the guys who are there are playing by the Chinese rules,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at private financial services firm Wedbush, “The guys who aren’t there either won’t play by the Chinese rules or the Chinese don’t want them there because they don’t trust them.”
CNN Business’ Jessie Yeung contributed to this report.