Blizzard Entertainment has suspended Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung, a Hong Kong–based Hearthstone pro, from Hearthstone Grandmasters for using his post-game interview on Oct. 6 to support protesters demonstrating in Hong Kong. The casters hosting the interview — both of whom attempted to hide their faces during blitzchung’s statement — were also removed from their positions.
Blitzchung appeared on the Taiwanese Hearthstone broadcast wearing a gas mask and goggles following a win against South Korean player Jang “DawN” Hyun Jae. Blitzchung said, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” a slogan associated with the protests. The broadcast quickly cut away from the interview and a video of the stream was later pulled offline. The English broadcast of the day’s Hearthstone matches remains available, though the interview segment was not aired.
In a ruling on Oct. 8, Blizzard said blitzchung’s statement violated tournament rules — specifically, a rule against doing anything that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard’s image.”
Blitzchung has been removed from the Hearthstone Grandmasters program, and money he earned this season — $3,000 plus $500 for each win — has been knocked down to zero. Blizzard also banned the player from participating in Hearthstone esports for one year.
“While we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players, and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules,” Blizzard said in a statement.
Blitzchung told Polygon on Oct. 7 that “there will definitely be negative consequences” for expressing support for Hong Kong, noting that Chinese netizens were calling for punishment from Blizzard. He said he wanted to “contribute to the protest [Hong Kong is] having right now. Not only to grab more attention, but also telling some of the protesters who were watching the stream that I’m on their side. I have got a lot of supportive messages from my local community, so I’m glad that my statements became a kind of energy for them.”
Protests in Hong Kong have been ongoing since June, following proposed amendments to an extradition law in the region. (The amendments have since been suspended.) Demands from demonstrators have expanded to include “universal suffrage” and an investigation into Hong Kong’s police force, according to Vox. The Hong Kong government issued a ban on face masks — like the one blitzchung wore on screen — “in an attempt to crack down on the months-long protest movement that’s gotten increasingly tense in recent weeks,” Vox reported. Demonstrators wear face masks to protect themselves from tear gas used by the police, but they’ve also become a symbol of the protests.
This week, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been under fire for tweeting in support of the Hong Kong protests. Chinese media company Tencent, which has the rights to stream NBA digitally in China, “temporarily suspended” its preseason NBA broadcast, according to CNBC. The company previously said it would not stream Houston Rockets games. Tencent has a 4.9 percent stake in Activision Blizzard, as well as other video game companies.
Correction: We’ve updated this story with the correct order of blitzchung’s name.