Blizzard President J. Allen Brack has issued a statement in response to this week’s controversy regarding a professional Hearthstone player making pro-Hong Kong comments in a post-match interview and his, and the casters’, subsequent punishment. He made three primary points:
First, Brack said that blitzchung used the platform of a tournament to “share his views with the world,” which was “in violation of rules he acknowledged and understood, and this is why we took action.”
Second, he said that the role of the casters was “to amplify the excitement of the game” and to “elevate the watchability and help the esports viewing experience.” As he put it, “That didn’t happen here.”
Third, he said that Blizzard’s actions were not related to the content of the message, saying that “our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” “If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.”
Brack also addressed where things went wrong from Blizzard’s point of view, saying that the process for determining the punishment “wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly.” As such, blitzchung’s suspension was reduced from one year to six months, and he will receive the prize money he earned from the event. The casters, who were initially hit with a lifetime ban from performing at Blizzard events, will also each receive six-month suspensions.
It’s late on a Friday night as I write this, so I’m not quite up for a full-length editorial about it, but my initial feelings are that I’m only slightly mollified by these new measures. Like, if I was at a 10 on the Outrage-o-Meter, this maybe brings me down to an 8, if only because Blizzard has admitted that some mistakes were made and that the penalties have been lessened. As initially described in the rules regarding tournament conduct, it is Blizzard’s sole discretion to determine if behavior such as blitzchung’s would be punished. Other companies, such as Epic Games and Hi-Rez Studios, likely have similar “sole discretion” clauses in their tournament rules, which they’ll only apply in the case of major and obvious transgressions, as the leaders of both companies have said that political speech will be allowed at their events. Blizzard could choose to follow that example, and the company has chosen not to do so.
Does it open a major can of worms if Blizzard doesn’t issue any punishment? Would it, as a commentor on the initial article put it, make the company have to deal with people offering views such as “Trump is a great president” or “Trump is a terrible president” in post-game interviews? What if someone says something universally regarded as heinous, such as a racial slur?
Yes, Blizzard would have to decide how to deal with those, but it should be the content of the words and not the category they fall into that is the deciding factor. Saying “God bless America!” is political and probably wouldn’t get you in trouble. Saying “I f*****g love Hearthstone, this game is the god**** s***!” isn’t political but might get you into trouble. Again, it’s all part of that “sole discretion” policy, one that Blizzard can choose to apply however it wants. (And if you think that Blizzard should punish the “God bless America” person for being political, well, imagine that backlash…)
In any case, while Blizzard has offered a little more clarity on what its surrogates — pro players and casters — can do or say at events, it’s still going to have a much harder time dealing with the fan base as a whole. BlizzCon’s going to be interesting, that’s for sure.