A top online gamer from Hong Kong was booted from an international eSports tournament and stripped of his winnings after showing support for the city’s protest movement, prompting outrage online and even calls for real-world revenge against the game’s developer.
Ng Wai Chung, who represents the Asia-Pacific region under the name Blitzchung, had just won a crucial match at the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament when he exclaimed in Mandarin “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” during a livestreamed interview with hosts in Taipei.
Hearthstone is a hugely popular online card game in which two opponents take turns to deploy different characters with different abilities to try to defeat each other.
The 21-year-old university student, who was wearing eye goggles and a gas mask — equipment frequently used by protesters in Hong Kong — pulled down his respirator to broadcast his message.
The online stream was cut off mid-interview shortly afterwards and the video has since been taken down.
Ng said he was not surprised at being kicked out of the competition, adding: “I don’t regret saying that stuff. And even now, I don’t regret it at all.”
The Hongkonger said he had been distracted by the sometimes-violent unrest in his home city over the past four months.
“Quite a number of large-scale protests overlapped the competition time,” he said. “Sometimes, I couldn’t focus on the competition.”
The makers of Hearthstone, Blizzard Entertainment, wrote in a statement Ng had broken their rules and said he will not receive any prize money — US$10,000 according to Ng — and will be banned from Hearthstone eSports for a year.
Those rules say players must not engage in acts that bring themselves into “public disrepute,” offend anybody, or damage the developer’s image.
Ng said his removal from the competition was “a pity” after spending four years in eSports.
“I sacrificed time hanging out with my friends and studying because of this competition. Even though it seemed that I had wasted four years of time, I have something more important in my heart — if we lose the movement, Hong Kong will end forever.”
The video game industry last year generated more than $135 billion globally — $43.4 billion of that in the United States alone.
According to Bloomberg, a small stake of Activision Blizzard — the parent company of Blizzard Entertainment — is owned by the Chinese holding company Tencent, and Ng believes the game developer could be bowing to Beijing’s world view by silencing him.
Doing so would put the developer in the dubious company of Vans, the NBA, and Tiffany & Co., all of whom in recent days have tripped over themselves in a rush to avoid offending the mainland’s delicate sensitivities with regards to Hong Kong.
Some gamers took to Hong Kong’s Reddit-like forum LIHKG to express their displeasure with Blizzard.
“I had been supporting the Blizzard Entertainment for nearly 20 years. I bought most of its games. I’m uninstalling all its games. I will not support Blizzard anymore.”
Meanwhile, over on the actual Reddit, one user was disseminating a plan that would enable anyone unhappy with Blizzard’s decision to hit them where it hurts, at least in the EU.
“I know a lot of people, myself included, are upset by Blizzard/Activisions spineless decision to ban Blitxchung [sic]. After personally uninstalling all of my Blizzard games, I thought, ‘what else can I do?'” user randomwordbot wrote. “The answer, is GDPR requests.”
Randomwordbot went on to explain that under EU privacy regulations, companies like Blizzard are required to disclose what information they are holding on an individual, and why, if that individual makes a formal request. Complying with the requests, he said, is time consuming, and failing to comply can bring costly fines.
Randomwordbot goes on to note that “if a company gets a significant amount of requests, it can be incredibly expensive to deal with,” before including a form letter others can use to formally make such a request.
The post had been up-voted more than 3,000 times since last night, with one user thanking randomwordbot for “doing god’s work [with] that premade letter.”
“I’m totally gonna do that first thing after I wake up,” the user added.