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‘Free Hong Kong’: Hearthstone team risks career in solidarity with banned player

‘We believe that the risk we face is nominal compared to what people in Hong Kong have to deal with,’ team says

American University Hearthstone players holding a sign that reads “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz” Blizzard Entertainment via Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Three students from American University in Washington, D.C. stood in solidarity with banned Hearthstone player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung by holding a “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizz” sign following their collegiate Hearthstone match last night.

Participating under the AU Gamers team name, 19-year old Casey Chambers, 19-year-old Corwin Dark, and a third player called TJammer — who asked Polygon to use his tag — appeared on stream during their Hearthstone Collegiate Championship Fall 2019 match against Worcester Poly on Oct. 8. At the end of the match, which was broadcast on the Hearthstone Twitch stream, the three players pulled out the sign. The match is no longer available on the Hearthstone Twitch channel, but a mirror is available on YouTube.

The players told Polygon they believe Blizzard’s decision to suspend blitzchung and fire two Taiwanese casters was “unfair and draconian.” They continued: “We are also outraged that a company we trust would try and renege on the values they claim to hold.”

Like the American University Hearthstone team, Hong Kong–based Hearthstone player blitzchung used his time on the official stream to express support for protests in his region. Blitzchung shouted “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” a slogan associated with the protests, before the broadcast quickly cut away from his interview. Similarly, the collegiate Hearthstone broadcast cut away from the screen that showed the players’ camera view. According to esports insider Rod Breslau, Blizzard did not allow player interviews for the rest of the broadcast.

“We expected to lose our accounts before the protest,” the players told Polygon. “We have not heard anything from tournament admins since the match — which raises questions about how Blizzard intends to apply their standards — but we still expect some form of sanction. However, we believe that the risk we face is nominal compared to what people in Hong Kong have to deal with.”

Blizzard declined to comment, and Tespa has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment. The three Hearthstone players said their accounts remain unbanned at this time.

“We knew from the moment we saw the news that the Hearthstone community, as well as the gaming community in general, would not accept Blizzard’s decision to support authoritarianism. We acted not only due to our own beliefs, but to represent the dissatisfaction felt by everyone.”

Gamers have come together online to call for a boycott of Blizzard’s games. Elsewhere on the internet, protesters are using Overwatch hero Mei as a symbol of Hong Kong’s resistance.

Protests in Hong Kong are ongoing, following a proposed amendment — now suspended — that would put Hong Kong residents at risk for extradition to China. Demonstrator demands have since expanded to include “universal suffrage” and an investigation into Hong Kong’s police force, according to Vox.

In parallel to Blizzard’s response to blitzchung’s protest, the NBA has distanced itself from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who tweeted over the weekend in support of Hong Kong. (Morey deleted the tweet shortly after.) Chinese media — including Tencent, which has a 4.9 percent stake in Blizzard — has vowed to temporarily suspend its preseason NBA coverage.

Update (Oct. 10): Clarke told Polygon on Thursday that the team received its match assignment from Tespa for the week. The American University players will forfeit the match. “We’re pretty concerned by the hypocrisy of punishing blitzchung but not us,” Clarke said.

Correction: We’ve updated this story with the correct order of blitzchung’s name.

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