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Blizzard insists controversial Hearthstone ban will remain in place despite public backlash 

Blizzard has confirmed it will not reverse its decision to ban Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai and two Taiwanese casters despite pledging at BlizzCon over the weekend that it was “committed to everyone’s right to express themselves in all kinds of ways and all kinds of places”.

Despite an on-stage apology from Blizzard CEO J. Allen Brack, much of Blizzard’s annual expo, BlizzCon, was overshadowed by protests about the company’s decision to suspend a Hearthstone player for supporting the Hong Kong protests during a livestream event.

Although it initially banned Ng Wai from online tournaments for a year, the company later revised the player’s suspension from 12 to six months. However, the reduction wasn’t enough to satisfy many pro-free speech fans critical of the ban, which meant much of BlizzCon was dominated by protests outside the event.

Many in the community have accused Blizzard of giving into Chinese censorship, though the company denies that their business interests in China had any impact on their decision. 

When asked by PC Gamer if the company intended to revisit the decision to ban the three personalities, CEO J. Allen Brack said “we are not” but insisted: “the content was not the problem. It was the fact that it was not about the game in question, it was something very specifically different. I think – and I don’t want to speculate around if he had said this, that, or the other, and how would it have gone – I think that’s a difficult thing to think about, but it’s not about the content of his message.”

When asked if the bans came about due to the company’s connections with NetEase and other Chinese partners, Brack insisted this was not the case. 

“There is a massive amount of either confusion or non-understanding around what the regulations are in China,” Brack said. “Blizzard is not legally allowed to operate or to publish games in China. You must have a partner. That is the regulation, that is law. NetEase is our partner. NetEase is not a government agency, NetEase is a company. They are the publisher. One of the things that has kind of come up around this is the Blizzard Weibo post and the text around that. We are not legally allowed to operate those channels. We are not legally allowed to contribute. That is a NetEase decision, they are the publisher in China. 

“Was NetEase in conversation around this issue? They were, certainly. As were the [Blizzard] Taiwan team, as was the Hearthstone leadership team, as was the esports team. All those various constituencies came together and one of the things that we said was we acted very rapidly and we acted very quickly. And that’s certainly the failure of this story is those groups coming together and deciding in a very short amount of time what the right action to take forward was.”

As for the casters ban?

“There’s a lot of different interpretations around the [Taiwanese] casters and whether they were involved […] with Blitzchung or not, [but] that’s not really something we considered,” Brack added. “What we considered with them was that they are hired by Blizzard to do a job, and in this case that job is to keep the broadcast focused on what it needs to be focused on, which is the games, the winners, and the stories coming out of there. They were not successful in their job. That’s how we made the decision on that.”

The protests about the ban also resulted in Blizzard making a last-minute decision to pull out of its planned event at Nintendo World. The event was intended to celebrate the launch of Overwatch on the Nintendo Switch, and the company had planned a meet and greet with some of the game’s voice actors for the first 150 fans to sign up for the event, which was cancelled just a day before it was due to take place, with no explanation.

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond, including Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, IGN, MTV, and Variety.

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