“Every voice matters,” according to Activision-Blizzard; that is, unless you use that voice to show support for Hong Kong.
Hong Kong-based professional video game player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai learned this the hard way when he said the words, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” following his win at the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament in Taiwan. Blizzard banned him in response.
“We will always respect and defend the pride of China.”
Chung was quickly silenced. Activision-Blizzard, the publisher of Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Call of Duty, cut off the interview and scrubbed the recording. The company fired both of the casters responsible for interviewing Chung, rescinded his prize money, and banned him from the professional circuit for a year.
Activision-Blizzard went as far as to justify their censorship by citing competition rules. They claimed that Chung violated terms that prohibits competitors from performing any actions that “brings [them] into public disrepute” or “offends a portion or group of the public or otherwise damages Blizzard’s image.”
Chung’s statement was clearly a major inconvenience for the company.
A Hong Kong-based player, competing in Taiwan, expressing his support for the ongoing pro-democracy protests—at an event hosted by a company that’s at least five percent owned by Chinese media conglomerate Tencent? The same Tencent with innumerable business interests on the Chinese mainland? And that same company that is currently in partnership with another Chinese company, NetEase, to develop a mobile-based sequel to its popular Diablo franchise?
Well, that just wouldn’t do.
Showing fealty to their Chinese overlords, Activision-Blizzard released an official apology on its Chinese-facing Weibo page that admonished Chung.
“We are very angered and disappointed at what happened at the event and do not condone it in any way,” they declared. “We also highly object the spreading of personal political beliefs in this manner. Effective immediately we’ve banned the contestant from events and terminated work with the broadcasters. We will always respect and defend the pride of China.”
WOKE GAMING’S DEAFENING SILENCE ON CHINA
Much like the NBA, Disney, Apple, Google, and so many other US-based corporations that continue to kowtow to China, Activision-Blizzard has been more than eager to embrace the language of social justice when it comes to stateside politics. In 2017, company CEO Mike Morhaime released a statement condemning Trump’s executive order banning travel from six conflict-ridden countries.
The “woke” gaming industry is fiercely committed to treating one another with respect—unless the person in question is of Muslim Uyghur descent in China or a pro-democracy protester in Hong Kong.
“The executive order strikes an incredibly sharp contrast with the values on which our company was founded,” he wrote. “We are, and will always be, a company that strives for inclusion, embraces diversity, and treats one another with respect. This is the very foundation of what makes not just our company—but America—great, which is why I am so troubled by these actions. Regardless of where you are from or what your religious beliefs are, our strength is in our diversity.”
Activision-Blizzard was joined by numerous other gaming publishers and organizations, including the International Game Developers Association, the Entertainment Software Association, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Insomniac Games to be publicly critical of President’s Trump tough-on-immigration policies. Many pointed to the ESA statement as representative of their condemnation of President Trump’s order.
Indeed, the “woke” gaming industry is fiercely committed to treating one another with respect—unless the person in question is of Muslim Uyghur descent in Xinjiang or a pro-democracy protester in Hong Kong. Then, it’s easily dismissed and brushed aside as the “spreading of personal political beliefs” and disrespectful to the “pride of our country.”
Riot Games, which produces League of Legends, is wholly owned by Tencent. The Chinese company also owns a majority stake in Grinding Gear Games, the makers of the ever-popular Path of Exile, and Supercell, which produces the mobile money-makers Clash of Clans and Clash Royale—among many other companies.
Beyond simply virtue signaling their wokeness, many of these “woke” companies are partially, or in some cases wholly owned by Chinese corporations. This makes their explicit silence in the face of China’s human rights atrocities deafening.
GAMERS PROTEST FOR THEIR RIGHT TO PROTEST
The gaming community hit back against Activision-Blizzard by boycotting the company’s products: cancelling pre-orders of the upcoming Call of Duty game, submitting privacy data requests to waste the company’s time, and shutting down their World of Warcraft accounts.
Gamers produced artwork that depicted Blizzard’s video game characters turned into mascots for the Hong Kong protest movement.
In response, the publisher made it difficult to do the latter, requiring users trying to close their accounts to submit photo IDs and other identifying details. This prompted boycotters to change their usernames to “Free Hong Kong” and variations thereof to force the company to ban their accounts.
Blizzard’s Hearthstone and Overwatch communities saw the strongest protest efforts. Gamers produced artwork that depicted Blizzard’s video game characters as mascots for the Hong Kong protest movement. Fans of Overwatch have turned Mei, a Chinese hero, into a symbol of the resistance. They’re doing so in the hopes that the Chinese government will ban the game, much as it has with imagery of Winnie the Pooh.
Three students from American University, who participated in the Hearthstone Collegiate Championship, held up a sign that read “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz,” forcing the company to shut down the stream. Unlike its response to Chung, Blizzard refused to reprimand the players—prompting anger from gamers who called out the company’s double standards in dealing with the Hong Kong-based player.
Two popular Hearthstone casters, Brian Kibler and Nathan Zamora, have boycotted the company in support of the Hong Kong protest. They were both slated to cast Hearthstone Grandmaster events, and will not be taking part in any future broadcasts or attend the company’s yearly BlizzCon gaming convention.
In a statement, Zamora explained his decision: “[f]or me, this is a large part of my livelihood. This is my passion. This pursuit has been my life, and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to make it a career. But I cannot compromise my conviction. Without change that would convince me that Blizzard will uphold their core value ‘Every Voice Matters,’ I cannot continue casting the game.”
In an attempt to quell the outrage, the publisher responded by halving the length of the suspensions for Chung and the two casters who were swept up in its banning spree, and promising to return Chung’s prize money. But gamers are not quick to forgive or forget, and so the protests continue.
The protests against Blizzard are now spilling over into other video game communities. Hardest hit is League of Legends, which is owned and operated by Riot Games, a company fully owned by Tencent. Much like Blizzard, Riot is clamping down on pro-Hong Kong statements, warning its casters not to discuss “sensitive topics.”
“Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights.“
The only Chinese-entangled company to stand up for the right to free speech, thus far, has been Epic Games, which told the press that it would never ban players or content creators for political speech.
Its founder and controlling shareholder, Tim Sweeney, says Tencent’s 40% stake in the company will not influence Epic’s position on political speech. “That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO, and controlling shareholder.”
“Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights,” he said. “Epic is a US company and I’m the controlling shareholder. Tencent is an approximately 40% shareholder, and there are many other shareholders including employees and investors.”
Others game producers like Activision-Blizzard, however, are keen to capitulate to their Chinese investors.
SOCIAL JUSTICE FOR AUTHORITARIANS
China’s ability to project its totalitarianism onto corporations and nations outside its borders is astounding. Corporate silence over China’s horrific human rights record says it all.
Simply put, these corporations care more about raking in Chinese Yuan than they do about upholding American values. Those that often promote the virtues of social justice are now completely silent in the face of Chinese totalitarianism.
Social justice is a low stakes sham designed to make its corporate advocates appear virtuous. When push comes to shove, and their financial interests are at stake, they bend over and prostrate themselves before actual tyranny.
The mask of virtue is just that—a mask.
As for those who claim that “political reality” requires Blizzard, the NBA, and other American corporations to bow to Chinese totalitarianism—they miss the point.
After all, why should Americans have to budge on the issue of free speech, but not the Chinese?