First it was the NBA. Now it is esports that has found itself in the middle of the standoff between Chinese leaders and the Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters.

The mega-U.S. gaming company Activision Blizzard is under fire after its one-year suspension of a top professional esports player after he spoke out in favor of the Hong Kong protesters during a postgame interview.

Ng Wai Chung, known as Blitzchung, lives in Hong Kong and is one of the top players in the Asia-Pacific region of the online card deck game Hearthstone, which is based on Activision Blizzard’s widely popular World of Warcraft and has a user base of more than 100 million people.

After Ng won a Hearthstone game in a recent Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament, he appeared for a post-game interview in a respirator mask and goggles, much like those worn by the Hong Kong protesters, and shouted a popular pro-democracy slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

That protest cost him. According to Yahoo News, Ng said on Twitter that he lost $10,000 of prize earnings from the tournament.

You can see the interview below:

In a statement to gaming blog Inven Global,  Ng said:

As you know there are serious protests in my country now. My call on stream was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention. I put so much effort in that social movement in the past few months, that I sometimes couldn’t focus on preparing my Grandmaster match. I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it’s my duty to say something about the issue.

Activision Blizzard, which in 2018 had $3.5 billion in revenue and ranked as the fifth-largest video game company worldwide, said its actions against Ng were based on  a tournament rules that prohibits players from “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.” According to Quartz, the company posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo a Chinese statement that went further, saying it would “as always, resolutely safeguard the country’s dignity.”

According to CNN, those in the gaming community took to social media to defend Ng’s actions, with many advocating for a boycott against Activision Blizzard and its games. “Players have posted images of them uninstalling or canceling subscriptions to hugely popular (and profitable) Blizzard games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo and Overwatch,” CNN reported.

This comes the same week as the NBA is also being dragged into the Hong Kong pro-democracy standoff, as it continues to grapple with a huge backlash from China and Chinese companies over tweets made by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey. Morey, in a now deleted tweet, showed support of Hong Kong anti-government protests by saying “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

In response, the Chinese state-run television network CCTV said it would suspend the broadcast of the upcoming NBA preseason games in China. Also, NBA media partner Tencent, which currently has a $1.5-billion deal for streaming rights in China, said it will no longer show Rockets games.

The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers are scheduled to play an NBA game in Shanghai on Thursday, but so far, a player meet and greet was canceled, and a press event was postponed, a spokeswoman for the league said late Wednesday.

Since the deleted tweet, Morey has tried to make amends by tweeting:

I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives. I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.

Many U.S. companies appear to be trying their best to not risk and anger the Chinese market in light of the Hong Kong protests. Companies such as Vans and Tiffany & Co. have both altered their marketing campaign this week, fearing potential backlash from Chinese customers.


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