Talking about politics is always going to be controversial. Ever since former 49’ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract after the 2016-2017 season, he has been unable to play. Many supporters are saying he isn’t playing due to how he expressed his protests against police brutality towards African Americans by kneeling during the national anthem. In the 60’s, Muhammad Ali had the heavyweight title stripped from him and his license revoked due to refusing induction during the Vietnam War. As crazy as it sounds, politics has now entered the world of gaming as Blizzard/Activision recently suspended and refused to provide the prize money of one of its champions, Chung Ng Wai, a Hong Kong based player who spoke in support of the demonstrations.
The Hong Kong Protests
For a good majority of 2019, citizens of Hong Kong have been demonstrating their opposition to the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill, which is intended to allow Hong Kong authorities to extradite alleged criminals back to where they are wanted, most notably China. Though on paper this sounds like a good thing, what has sparked concerns is that it’ll allow mainland officials to come in and take people, thus negatively affecting Hong Kong’s sovereignty. It all comes down to Hong Kong fearing that they’ll be under the full sanctioning of China and the ruling Communist Party.
In October 2019, Chung Ng Wai, a champion of the Hearthstone Grandmasters regional tournament, vocally expressed his support for the protests and shortly after, Blizzard banned him from playing up to a year, and that he wouldn’t receive his $10,000USD prize money. Blizzard justified their decision by saying Chung violated one of their rules by engaging in activities that would negatively affect the reputation of the company.
Mainland China’s Censorship
Immediately after Chung’s punishment was made public, many gamers extended their support for him. So, in what ways does Blizzard think they’re being negatively affected by Chung’s support for his home? It goes back to how Blizzard is partially owned by a Mainland Chinese based company. In case some of you may or may have not known, Mainland China is known to be a big offender when it comes to censorship. Popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are all BANNED within China (another topic for another time).
Profit Over Freedom
With Chinese companies now investing into international media, it has affected how Hollywood movies are portraying certain images. If you’ve seen the recent trailers to Top Gun Maverick, you’ll notice there are certain changes made to the patches of Tom Cruise’s bomber jacket. In the 1986 movie, he had the flags of Taiwan and Japan patched onto his jacket. If you look closely at the trailer to 2020’s sequel, you’ll notice alterations have been made to those jackets as the Rising Sun is now shaped like a triangle, and Taiwan’s flag has also been notably changed. Due to a Chinese company investing in the movie, these changes are allegedly at their insistence due to how China doesn’t recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, and their troubled relations with Japan. So in order to keep Chinese investment and to be successful in China, many critics are accusing Hollywood of appeasing to them.
Due to how Chung’s statements were critical of the Chinese government, many critics feel that Blizzard’s punishment towards him were motivated by Chinese interests, or they were pressured by the Chinese to act.
Shortly after Chung’s situation made news, many from around the world expressed their support for his right to free speech. Many were quick to point out Blizzard’s Chinese interests having a big influence, and felt that making money off the Chinese was more important than protecting free speech (though Blizzard insists that’s not the case). Even US politicians such as Marco Rubio (a Republican) and Ron Wyden (a Democrat) came to Chung’s defense as they accused Blizzard of kowtowing to the Commies. Shortly after #BoycottBlizzard became a movement, Blizzard reversed its stance by allowing Chung to collect his prize money, and shortened his suspension to six months.
By no means did Blizzard show any evidence how Chung’s statements negatively affected their company’s image. On the same token, there is nothing in lets say any US Civil Rights Acts that protects you from being discriminated against due to your political views. While the acts may protect you from being discriminated against based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or national origin, your political affiliations aren’t (though some states do have such laws). Meaning in some US states, you can get fired for being pro-gun and/or being pro-choice.
When it comes to free speech, that only applies to the government. Chung made a statement against the Chinese government, and not against Blizzard or its organized events despite. We’re by no means experts on lets say Hong Kong’s constitution, but under Article 27 of the Basic Law and Article 16 of their Bill of Rights, they do have free speech. Chung was exercising his right to criticize the government, and it wasn’t fair for Blizzard to do such a thing. Yes, Blizzard may technically have the authority to do that, but this is an instance where their intentions are going to backfire because gamers can see what their motivations are.
On the other hand, we understand the need people shouldn’t use their positions to share their politics. Chung used an official event to make his statement as Kaepernick did. Do political statements have a place in gaming? We understand the need that we all want to make others aware of the issues. We all have our positions on something whether it would be on abortion, gun control, education, or climate change. Undeniably, they’re divisive issues but if we feel we’re in a position to speak up, maybe we should, but we should be ready for consequences on numerous fronts as well.