Activision Blizzard Suspends Esports Player Who Backed Hong Kong Protesters -- 2nd Update
By Sarah E. Needleman
Activision Blizzard Inc. suspended an esports competitor from
one of its tournaments for backing antigovernment protesters in
Hong Kong as tensions intensify between Beijing and the National
Basketball Association over a similar expression of support.
Activision Blizzard, one of the world's biggest videogame
companies, on Tuesday said in a blog post that "Hearthstone"
competitor Ng Wai Chung, known as "Blitzchung" in the game,
violated its rules that bar players from actions it considers
offensive to a public group or that could damage the company's
The gamer, in a live online interview after winning a match on
Sunday, said "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time," a slogan
commonly associated with the protests. He wore a gas mask and
goggles while he spoke. Hong Kong last week banned protesters from
Activision Blizzard said the player, who had no immediate
comment, won't be allowed to compete in the second season of the
digital card game's Grandmasters competition and will be banned
from playing any of the game's company-run competitions for one
year. He also lost the $7,000 awarded for making it into the
tournament's second season plus the chance to win up to $200,000 in
A spokeswoman for California-based Activision Blizzard declined
further comment. The company's shares closed down 2.3% Tuesday.
"Hearthstone" is one of the most popular franchises from the
company's Blizzard Entertainment unit. It launched in 2014 and is
played on computers and mobile devices.
How to deal with the Hong Kong protesters -- who claim Beijing
is exerting ever-more political control over the city -- has become
a minefield for companies. The chief executive of Hong Kong's
flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd., resigned in August
after criticism from Beijing because some airline employees
participated in the protests.
China has canceled broadcasts of preseason National Basketball
Association games after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey
posted a message on Twitter Friday night also in support of the
Hong Kong protesters. Even though Mr. Morey quickly deleted the
tweet, it touched off a firestorm in China, where many consider the
demonstrators unpatriotic. The basketball league's commissioner
said he wouldn't apologize for the tweet hours before China said it
was canceling the broadcasts.
The controversy has threatened the future of the NBA's carefully
cultivated China franchise, with merchants halting sales of the
organization's merchandise and many Chinese celebrities pulling out
of an NBA event in Shanghai, among other negative outcomes.
China is a big market for esports, though the segment globally
still represents only a fraction of the videogame industry's
roughly $150 billion in expected sales this year. Professional
videogame competitions are projected to generate $1.1 billion this
year, mostly from sponsorships and media rights, with sales
expected to reach $1.8 billion by 2022, according to research firm
In recent years, Activision Blizzard has invested significant
resources into building out its presence in esports. In addition
hosting "Hearthstone" tournaments, it runs professional leagues
around its blockbuster franchises "Call of Duty" and "Overwatch."
Chinese videogame giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. has a 4.9% stake in
Activision Blizzard's decision to suspend a protest-supporting
esports competitor comes at a time when the company is seeking the
Chinese government's approval to release a new Call of Duty game in
the country. The free-to-play game launched in the U.S. and several
other markets on Oct. 1 and amassed more than 35 million downloads
in its first three days, according to the company.
The move against the "Hearthstone" player also highlights a risk
in taking such actions publicly. After announcing the player's
punishment, the hashtag #boycottblizzard began trending on
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 08, 2019 17:43 ET (21:43 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.