There is politics in esports. The competitive nature of esports has taken the world by storm and has also attracted legal and government oversight. As esports grows to be a billion-dollar industry, it is only inevitable that it has come into the spotlight. Recently one of the titles, Hearthstone, has attracted some negative attention in the industry because of the Hong Kong liberation movement. Let’s have a look at the incident and evaluate if politics should be involved in esports.
In October 2019, Blizzard was at the center of a scandal when it disqualified player, Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung from the 2019 GrandMasters Hearthstone Championship for political statements: He supported protesters in Hong Kong. The esports athlete was deprived of prize money and suspended for a year from the professional scene. Because of this, players announced a boycott of the company and began to delete accounts in Battle.net. The company also banned two Taiwanese casters.
Let’s explore both sides of the question.
We asked Tom Reakes of TomReakes.co.uk to weigh in on the question, “Like it or not politics is something that affects all of us to some degree. Some people use esports and games as a form of escapism from matters such as these. However if a player like Blitzchung uses his platform to show support or raise awareness for the protests in Hong Kong it should be commended, not punished like Blizzard did.”
Argument 1 for Politics in Esports: Blizzard made a poor decision only for China and money. Blizzard usually bans players for cheating, but this is not cheating. This ban-move from the gaming company shows the public if you criticize China, you run the risk of going bankrupt. Tencent, one of the biggest companies in the world, owns 5% of Blizzard’s parent company, Activision.
Moreover, NetEase is a game operator in China and Blizzard’s only option to operate in the country and making them unhappy will ban the developer from the nation. Lastly, In 2018, China contributed to 31% of Hearthstone’s mobile earnings. In financial figures, Blizzard earned around $50 million more than the $31.2 million that title made in the U.S. owing to these astonishing statistics it only shows Blizzard’s thirst for greed.
Why ban the casters?
Blizzard banned Blitzchung in section 6.1, which is not entirely clear as any speech or action can “offend a portion or group of the public”. This seems okay, but what’s confusing is the ban of the Taiwanese casters. They did not violate any rule of the developer but still got fired.
“Even if I agree, I don’t want to have a personal opinion forced on me when I don’t expect it or ask for it. I’m not for squelching freedom of speech and respect his right to enact his freedom. However, give me the respect of choosing when I want to learn about your point of view. If you break the rules of conduct, no matter how vague they may be, take the punishment whatever it is and chalk it up to accepting the burden of fighting for your cause.” stated VengaDragon twitch.tv/vengadragon
Argument 2 No Politics in Esports: Blizzard made the right call!
Section 6.1 specifies that the decision is solely Blizzard’s decision. The ban only means that Blitzchung breached the contract, and he was penalized accordingly.
Blizzard is a game developer that produces exciting titles. It is not a sociopolitical forum. The most prestigious tournament in Hearthstone is no place to push an agenda, and it is a competition where the best compete for supremacy. The ban exhibited that Blizzard doesn’t want to get involved in the whole China-Hong Kong agenda. The developer hasn’t made any statement to whether or not they support Hong Kong.
Blizzard has even reduced the ban from 12 to 6 months and also gave him the prize. Let’s not forget that it is the same company that brought us some of the most exciting games. Deleting accounts and burning merchandise of the platform that brought us millions of hours of entertainment is not the answer. Esports and gaming is no place for politics, and the ban is the right decision made by Blizzard.
Politics in Esports, Yes or No?
Which side of the argument you think is the right one? Do let us know in the comments.