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Hearthstone Esports and Mitsubishi Motors Parts ways over controversial player ban

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Hearthstone Esports sponsor Mitsubishi Motors Taiwan, a branch of the Japanese auto company, cuts ties following a contentious decision to ban one of hearthstone’s elite game players Chung Ng Wai who publicly expressed support for Hong Kong protests in an interview when he said, “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our age!” Blizzard Entertainment, Taiwan later responded by taking down Chung’s interview from its official Twitch channel which airs many esports events, pulled his prize money, removed ‘BLITZSCHUNG’, as he is popularly known as, from Grand Masters, and finally banned him for 12 months from Hearthstone. Blitzschung hinted that he did what he did because it was just his way of participating in the ongoing protest and it was his duty to say something concerning the issue. Overwatch and Hearthstone are examples of Blizzard’s most successful properties in the country.

Fans of Hearthstone first noticed on Reddit that the Mitsubishi logo was nowhere to be seen on the signage in the official broadcast during a recent Asia Pacific Hearthstone tournament. In a report, Mitsubishi spokesperson Erica Rasch confirmed the action. Mitsubishi Motors also told The Daily Beast that the company had withdrawn its support from Blizzard’s esports leagues.

Blizzard has withdrawn some sanctions

And even though Blizzard has taken back a few of the sanctions placed on Blitzschung by giving him his monetary winnings and cutting his ban short to 6 months which by speculation was influenced by ‘Access Now’, an international NGO that is known to protect the digital rights of users everywhere, who urged Blizzard, in an open letter the company issued, to portray respect for human rights and withdraw the sanctions imposed on the player. Well Blizzard was not fast enough to escape the widespread of intense backlash and protests from other players swearing of the game, employees walking out, statements from US Senators like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Mario Rubio and eventually the loss of a top commercial sponsor of its international gaming competitions, all in the space of 2 days. Blizzard’s annual convention Blizzcon scheduled to come off on November 1 and November 2, promises to be an action-packed event but has a high tendency to be overshadowed by the demonstration that has been planned to take place outside the Anaheim Convention Centre. Blizzard Entertainment suddenly canceled its Overwatch launch event in New York City and inasmuch as they did not state the company’s reasons, I think we already know where it spiraled from. Twitch also indicated that its relationship with the collegiate league was not affected by the issue on any level. Apparently, the controversy started early in October.

The many types of pressure Blizzard faced were brought to light following its high-profile punitive action.

Blizzard President: “China did not influence our decision”

Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack, in a statement where he said, “I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision”, has denied the company’s decision having anything in any way to do with its relationships in China in spite of being 5% owned by Tencent, he later said that an opposing message would also receive punishment if delivered in a similar way. Reports confirmed that Blizzard had continued to dish out bans to other competitors who happened to have pulled similar stunts. Three Hearthstone collegiate competitors followed in Pro player Chung’s footsteps when they held up a sign that read, “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizz” close the ending of a live-streamed match, they were immediately served 6 months bans each.

Is Blizzard’s Hong Kong censorship a symptom of gaming’s deep-rooted fear of politics?

It’s ironic how Blizzard’s values were “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters”; it was emphasized in a silent staff protest which was literally papered against the decision.

On the account of self-censorship, developers and publishers in most cases, are scared stiff of “Politics”. They are scared of engaging in it, talking about it, or even poking the worst sections of its followers by involving its games in any form of political feud. So in a way, it makes sense why Blizzard banned Blitzschung for making a political statement, because in the gaming world, aside from being sexist, transphobic, racist or sexist, being political is simply the worst thing you can be.

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