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Blizzard pulls Blitzchung from Hearthstone esports tournament over support for Hong Kong protests

Blizzard also canceled the pro gamer's prize winnings and banned him from Hearthstone esports for 12 months.

Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong
Demonstrators disperse as tear gas is fired by police during a protest in Hong Kong.
Getty Images

After making a statement in support of the 2019 Hong Kong protests during a "Grandmasters" competition for the video game Hearthstone, pro player Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai has been removed from the tournament by Blizzard. The company also ruled that he's "ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months."

Blizzard, the company behind both the game Hearthstone and the competition, said in a statement that Blitzchung had broken a rule. The rule in question involved "engaging" in an act that "in Blizzard's sole discretion" brings into "public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public or otherwise damages" Blizzard's image. 

"While we stand by one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions," the statement continued, "players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules."

Blizzard is part-owned by Chinese company Tencent. As of 2017, the company owned 4.9% of shares in Activision Blizzard. It also has stakes in video game companies like Ubisoft, Epic and Riot Games among others.

The Hong Kong protests, initially focused on a now-suspended bill that would have allowed people arrested in Hong Kong to be transferred to and tried in mainland China, have been ongoing since March 2019, and are now more focused on general democratic rights

Blitzchung was removed for showing his support for these protests by wearing a mask, similar to ones worn by protesters in Hong Kong, and shouting, "liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our age!"

Blitzchung declined to comment but said before the ban, in a statement sent to InvenGlobal, that he felt it was his "duty to say something about the issue."

Immutable, developer of rival card game Gods Unchained, tweeted Tuesday its support for Blitzchung and said it'll pay "all of his lost winnings." The developer will also invite him to its $500,000 tournament. 

"Immutable was founded on principles of censorship resistance," the company said in an email Tuesday. "That's not marketing fluff, it's code in the fundamental technology we've developed to build real market economies with in-game items which can't be seized or manipulated at will. Game developers shouldn't be able to act as the judge, jury and executioner. Blitzchung stood up for something he believed in, and we think that deserves recognition."

In the wake of this news, it appears as though some Blizzard employees have made their own silent protest by covering up key parts of a statue at the centre of Blizzard's campus in Irvine California. The statue has parts of the companies core values written on it. The "think globally" and "every voice matters" parts have been covered up, seemingly in protest to the news.

US Sen. Ron Wyden also commented on the situation. "Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party," he tweeted. "No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck."

Blizzard didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

CNET's Oscar Gonzalez contributed to this report.

Originally published Oct. 8, 3:04 a.m. PT.
Updates, 11:27 a.m.: Adds tweet from Immutable; 3:26 p.m.: Includes image and tweet from Blizzard campus; Oct. 9: Adds quote from Immutable.