In a partial reversal, video game giant Activision Blizzard reduced the suspension length of a professional gamer after he expressed support for Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters, and it has restored previously revoked winnings to the player.
On Tuesday, the company suspended Chung Ng Wai for a year and revoked all his winnings — approximately $3,000 — after he shouted “Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!” during a post-match interview at a tournament for the game “Heartstone.” Chung, known by his gamer handle Blitzchung, is a native of Hong Kong and was also wearing clothing similar to Hong Kong protesters during his interview. He later told TheWrap that he “is not afraid” of the Chinese government.
But on Friday, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack said the company now believes Blitzchung “played fair” and that “he should receive his prizing.” Brack added that “when we think about the suspension, six months for blitzchung is more appropriate, after which time he can compete in the Hearthstone pro circuit again if he so chooses.”
The incident received heightened scrutiny because it happened just days after the NBA provoked a contentious discussion about China’s influence on American businesses when it apologized for a tweet from one of its executives that supported Hong Kong protesters. China canceled or postponed several NBA-related events, and the league was heavily criticized for appearing to favor money from an authoritarian regime over U.S. constitutional rights.
Blizzard was similarly accused of caving to Chinese pressure at the expense of constitutional rights, including by a bipartisan group of congressional representatives. And on Wednesday, Blizzard employees staged a walkout to protest the suspension. But in his statement announcing the partial reversal Friday, Brack said China had nothing to do with its initial decision.
“The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision,” he wrote, adding that the company’s “only consideration” in the initial suspension was for tournament rules “to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience.”
Brack also asserted that the company would have taken the same action even if “it had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way.”
Chung did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TheWrap.