Activision Blizzard, Inc. (NASDAQ: ATVI) acknowledged Friday that it acted too quickly and harshly in sanctioning an esports competitor who used a livestreamed post-match interview to express solidarity with Hong Kong protesters, but defended the need to regulate player behavior.
Blizzard said the company’s interests in the Chinese market and the content of the player’s speech had no bearing on its original decision.
Blizzard Entertainment President J. Allen Brack said in a statement that Blizzard was reducing the penalties on the player, Hong Kong-based Chung Ng Wai, who plays under the name “Blitzchung.”
The company will now ban Chung from its tournaments for six months instead of a year and will allow him to collect prize money.
But Brack defended the sanctions, saying the rules are meant to keep the focus on the excitement of the games it produces. The incident occurred during a "Hearthstone" tournament in Taiwan.
The content of Chung’s message didn’t cause the penalty, the exec said.
“The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor,” Brack wrote.
"I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision ... if this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same."
What Might Be Behind The Reduction
After Blizzard punished Chung, initially by banning him from its tournaments for a year and denying him prize money, there was a backlash from Blizzard customers, with some saying they would boycott its games.
It was unclear how many might actually follow through, but Cowen analyst Doug Creutz said it did appear to have some impact on "Hearthstone" sales. He cited iPhone data analysis that suggested bookings were down about 20% since the incident.
— Dennis (@Lyntex_GIT) October 11, 2019
“In hindsight, our process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly,” Brack said.
"There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast."
Encouraging Use Of Other Platforms
Brack also hinted at something other companies have wrestled with as they’ve tried to navigate the line on employees’ rights to express political beliefs in forums like social media platforms.
That issue made news earlier this month when a Houston Rockets official tweeted views on Hong Kong that caused Chinese officials to move to penalize the NBA.
Blizzard will "strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many [other] places available to express themselves," Brack said.
“However, the official broadcast needs to be about the tournament and to be a place where all are welcome,” he said. “We want to keep the official channels focused on the game.”
The company also said it would reduce penalties on two “shoutcasters” it hired to provide tournament commentary and do post-match interviews, suspending them for six months instead of a year.
Activision Blizzard shares were up up 0.35% at $55.01 at the time of publication.
Blizzard Games Caught Up In Free Speech Question Over Hong Kong Protests, Bans Gamer Over Remarks
Houston Rockets, NBA Face Backlash In China After GM Tweets About Hong Kong Protests
Photo by Dinosaur918 via Wikimedia.
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