- An assistant coach in Blizzard’s Overwatch League was instructed to delete a tweet criticizing Blizzard‘s punishment of Hong Kong-based esports competitor Blitzchung, according to a report from the Dallas Morning News.
- Blitzchung shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age” in Chinese amid a post-match interview at a Blizzard-sponsored “Hearthstone” tournament in Taiwan on October 5.
- Blizzard responded by stripping Blitzchung of his prize money and barring him from “Hearthstone” competitions for one year. Blizzard said Blitzchung’s comments had violated the competition rules by damaging the company’s image.
- On October 9, Justin “Jayne” Conroy, an assistant coach for the Dallas Fuel, criticized the severity of Blizzard’s punishment and called the punishment an act of censorship in a tweet that has since been deleted.
- It’s unclear who told Jayne to delete the tweet in question — Blizzard, the Dallas Fuel and Jayne have not commented further on the situation.
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A coach for a Dallas-based esports team in Activision Blizzard‘s Overwatch League was reportedly ordered to delete a tweet that criticized Blizzard’s punishment of a gamer supporting protesters in Hong Kong, the latest jolt to the league as it tries to navigate a contentious political issue.
In a tweet that has since been deleted, Justin “Jayne” Conroy, an assistant coach for the Dallas Fuel, accused Blizzard of “censorship” and draconian enforcement of its rules, according to a report from Tommy Magelssen of the Dallas Morning News.
Blizzard is currently the target of harsh criticism, boycotts, and widespread scrutiny for its decision to ban “Hearthstone” player Chung Ng Wai, better known as Blitzchung, from competition for one year and withhold approximately $3,000 of prize money he earned.
Blitzchung shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age” in Chinese while wearing a gas mask during a post-match interview at a Blizzard-sponsored “Hearthstone” tournament in Taiwan on October 5. In the blog post announcing Blitzchung’s ban, Blizzard said he had violated the rules of the competition by making statements that were harmful to the company.
The controversy within the world of esports parallels a dispute playing out in the NBA, after a manager with the Houston Rockets caused an international outcry by tweeting, and then deleting, support for the protests in Hong Kong.
Over the last four months, millions of people in Hong Kong have marched to demand sovereignty from mainland China and protest increasingly poor socioeconomic conditions. The ongoing protests have already garnered international attention, with the territory’s increasingly complex relationship with China’s communist government as a core issue.
In a tweet that has since been deleted, Justin “Jayne” Conroy acknowledged Blizzard’s rights to enforce the rules of the competition, but condemned the company’s as an act of censorship. Jayne is an assistant coach for the Dallas Fuel, one of the 20 franchises in Blizzard’s Overwatch League.
Jayne reportedly told the Dallas Morning News that he was instructed to delete the tweet, and it disappeared within a few hours of appearing online. He declined to comment further on the situation.
Based on a screenshot taken by @ben_orlebeke on Twitter, Jayne’s deleted tweet originally read, “While I recognize the right that Blizzard_Ent has to enforce their rules and standards on competitors such as @blizchungHS, I condemn the censorship and severity of consequences brought against an individual who was campaigning for a human rights social movement.”
A few hours before Jayne’s tweet, “Hearthstone” commentator Brian Kibler announced that he would decline working with the company for the finals of its Grandmasters competition. Though Kibler agreed that Blitzchung had violated the company’s policies, he said the punishment seemed too harsh for the situation. About 30 Blizzard employees also staged a walkout the same afternoon to protest Blitzchung’s punish
“The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself,” Kibler wrote. “That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with.”
Blizzard’s response has also garnered attention from US. lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Both senators implied that Blizzard’s decision was an act of censorship.
“Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party,” Wyden tweeted. “No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
Blizzard is just the latest American company to have its relationship with China come under scrutiny. The NBA is also embroiled in its own controversy involving Hong Kong and China after the Houston Rockets general manager Darryl Morey shared a tweet in support of the protests. Morey later apologized and deleted the tweet, but the situation has strained the league’s relationship with China.