U.S. Senators Condemn Activision Over Hearthstone Hong Kong Controversy

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Following the pro-Hong Kong protest statements from professional Hearthstone player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai and Blizzard Entertainment’s suspension of the player, the outcry has been palpable among some gamers. The issue has grown so big, even US politicians from both sides are speaking against it.

On October 8th Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Senator Marco Rubio both made tweets condemning Blizzard’s banning of Blitzchung.

Senator Wyden stated “Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.” While Senator Rubio stated “Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in U.S. politics today is gone.”

Both parties were likely highly charged due to similar events in other mediums at the time. NBA Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey showed his support for the Hong Kong protests, resulting in the Chinese government refusing to broadcast NBA games in China. Since then NBA officials have been doing their best attempts at damage control. South Park‘s “Band in China” episode also mocked entertainment companies such as Disney attempting to appeal to Chinese government censors.

The controversy seems to have created a bipartisan issue. On October 18th, Senators Wyden and Rubio sent a letter to Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, condemning Blizzard’s actions. The letter was also co-signed by congress members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski.

You can read the letter here (via Rod Breslau) and below:

 “We write to express our deep concern about Activision Blizzard’s decision to make player Ng Wai Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voices support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. This decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.

Activision Blizzard benefits from China’s growing market for e-sports, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China’s largest technology firms. As you and your company are no doubt aware, the Chinese government uses the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions with which it disagrees. Last week along, the Chinese government targeted Apple for hosting an app to help peaceful demonstrators evade repression and the National Basketball Association because on team’s general manager tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protests.

Your company claims to stand by “one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions,” yet many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzard’s decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values. Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers around the world who seek to use their platfom to promote human rights and basic freedoms. Indeed, many gamers around the world have taken notice of your company’s actions, understandably calling for boycotts of Activision Blizzard gaming sites.

As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values- like freedom of speech and thought- or to give in to Beijing’s demands in order to preserve market access. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it. “

Blizzard had already returned confiscated prize money and reduce Blitzchung’s suspension prior to the letter, on October 11th.

On October 16th, the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019” Bill passed the House of Representatives. The bill aims to have “The Department of State shall report annually to Congress as to whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous from China to justify its unique treatment. The report shall assess whether China has eroded Hong Kong’s civil liberties and rule of law as protected by Hong Kong’s Basic Law.”

In addition, other departments and the President shall provide reports and assessments relating to China’s influence over Hong Kong, how to protect US citizens in Hong Kong, national security interests, allow people from Hong Kong to obtains visas for work or study “even if the applicant had been arrested for participating in certain nonviolent protests supporting human rights or the rule of law,” and more.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

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Ryan was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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