Gaming company Blizzard Entertainment said it punished a e-sports competitor who voiced support for anti-government protests in Hong Kong because he took the focus off the game and not because of his political views.
Defending the decision on Saturday, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack said the company’s relationship with China was not a factor.
“We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took,” Brack said.
“If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.”
Blizzard stripped competitor Ng “blitzchung” Wai-chung of his prize money and banned him from competitions for a year after he shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” in Mandarin during a live-streamed interview in Taipei on October 5.
Ng, who represents the Asia-Pacific region and was wearing goggles and a gas mask, was being interviewed on an official competition broadcast channel after won a crucial match at the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament.
He pulled down his respirator to broadcast his message. The online stream was cut off mid-interview soon after and the video has since been taken down.
Hearthstone is a hugely popular online card game in which two opponents take turns to deploy different characters with different abilities to try to defeat each other.
Blizzard later reinstated Ng’s prize money and halved his ban from Hearthstone competitions.
Supporters of the protests in Hong Kong accused Blizzard of compromising its principles to protect its business interests in China, with US Senator Ron Wyden accusing the company of censorship.
But Brack said the specific views expressed by Ng were not a factor in the ban.
While admitting that the case could have been handled better, Brack said Ng “acknowledged and understood” that he violated game rules.
“When we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses,” he said.
“There is a consequence for taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.”
Ng said he was not surprised at being kicked out of the competition, but said: “I don’t regret saying that stuff. And even now, I don’t regret it at all.”
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse