Blizzard made headlines for their reaction toward a Hong Kong Hearthstone player’s post-match interview comment supporting the Hong Kong protest. I need to make the most of my tiny platform to speak up on this topic.
This incident has high personal relevance. I was born in Hong Kong. I am a Blizzard fan. I am an academic who investigates the influence of consumers’ political ideologies on their behaviors. It goes without saying I’ve a strong opinion on this incident.
The purpose of this piece is threefold. First, I want to inform the community about the Hong Kong protest. The conversations I had recently made me realise how little many people knew about the protest. Second, I want to highlight the broader implications of Blizzard’s stance on the matter. The whole fiasco is bigger than Hong Kong and Blizzard. Third, voice up. The notable community figures in StarCraft largely remain silent. This is understandable because they have much at stake. However, it is at a time like this, when values are challenged and leadership is tested, we need to stand firm and speak up for what we truly believe.
I am going to lay down the facts about the Blizzard incident and the background of the Hong Kong protest before I express my opinion. Separating facts and opinions is important.
Hong Kong Hearthstone player, Blitzchung, said “光復香港，時代革命” (translation: “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times“) in a Asia-Pacific Grandmasters broadcast (see tweet below). It is one of the main slogans used in the Hong Kong protest. Grandmasters is the highest tier of Hearthstone Esports.
Blizzard responded by:
- removing the vod;
- removing Blitzchung from Grandmaster, rescinding his prize money, banning him from participating in Hearthstone tournament for 12 months; and
- ceasing to work with the casters.
Later in a Collegiate Hearthstone Championship broadcast, American University held up a sign saying “Free Hong Kong; Boycott Blizz” (see vod below). Blizzard switched the screen immediately.
Hong Kong protest
Trigger and background
The Hong Kong protest was triggered by the introduction of the extradition bill, which is intended to send fugitives from Hong Kong to Taiwan, Macau, and mainland China. The bill was a reaction to the homicide in 2018 when Hong Kong resident Chan Tong-kai allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing in Taiwan. Chan admitted to the Hong Kong police he murdered Poon, but he could not be charged for murder or extradited to Taiwan.
Hong Kong people do not see the bill as a way to close the legal loophole, rather, they perceive it as a serious threat to the civil liberty of average Hong Kong residents and visitors. The high profile Causeway Bay Book disappearances incident in 2016 is often mentioned as a reason why people do not trust the bill. Five booksellers were taken into custody by the Guangdong provincial authorities in mainland China. The bookshop sold books banned in China. They reappeared in Hong Kong months later. One of the booksellers gave an interview about what happened during the detention in China (see vod below). Many, including British officials, see the disappearances as a violation to the Basic Law and a breach to the Sino-British Joint Declaration. These two are fundamental to the principle of one country, two systems.
Protests started with peaceful rallies. The early notable rallies were in March and April with approximately 130,000 people took to the street protesting against the extradition bill. The Hong Kong government reacted by resuming the second reading of the bill in a full Legislative Council meeting on 9 June, bypassing the Bills Committee, whose role was scrutinising the bill. As a response, more than one million people joined the next rally on 9 June demanding the bill to be withdrawn. Despite this, Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, insisted the reading of the bill to resume on 12 June. This led to another protest on 12 June, which the Hong Kong police reacted with rubber bullets, tear gas, and bean bag rounds. The Hong Kong police also declared the clash a “riot”.
These earlier events led to the biggest rally to date on 15 June with an estimated two million people participating. The protesters listed five demands:
- Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process.
- Retraction of the “riot” characterisation.
- Release and exoneration of arrested protesters.
- Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct and use of force during the protests.
- Resignation of Carrie Lam and the implementation of universal suffrage for Legislative Council and Chief Executive elections.
On 15 June, Lam announced the suspension, not withdrawal, of the bill. Peaceful protests and violent clashes continued for months. There are two particularly note worthy incidents during this period.
On 21 July, more than one hundred men dressed in white indiscriminately attacked civilians in Yuen Long MTR station(later known as the 721 incident). Despite 24,000 emergency calls, police arrived at the scene more than 30 minutes later. Further, police stations in that area closed their gates when many residents wanted to report the crime. No arrest was made that night. The vod below showcases the incident in the station (various sources). The interaction between the men in white and the police can be seen between 6:45 and 7:30 of the vod.
Junius Ho, a pro-Beijing legislator, was filmed shaking the hands of those men in white and thanking them for their hard work. See vod below.
On 31 August, police and protesters clashed in multiple locations in Hong Kong. In one particular incident (later known as the 831 incident), police charged into Prince Edward MTR station and used their baton and pepper spray on the commuters (see vod below). During the incident, the MTR Corporation closed the station and denied firefighters and medics from entering the station. Report stated that ten people were injured in the station, but the figure was later changed to seven. There were rumors about people being killed in the station. Despite public demand, the MTR Corporation refused to release the CCTV video footage.
I am disappointed at the way Blizzard handled the incident, but I am not surprised given the circumstances.
It seems to me that people have different opinions on the meaning behind Blizzard’s actions. Anti-freedom of speech, anti-democracy, and anti-human rights are some of the common perceptions. I do not think these intangibles were on top of the minds of the decision makers in the company, at least not at the time when they made the decision. It is easier to make decisions based on a quantifiable goal like maximising profit than the complex moral meanings attached to an implied stance. Such tendency is likely to accentuate with a group of decision makers (vs. a single person). This is because the involved individuals are likely to favor different moral values based on their ideologies [1 – academic references at the end of the article], so an easily agreed upon goal like maximising profit is likely to be given a lot more weightage in the decision making process.
Importantly, when judging what Blizzard’s actions imply, do you think you have a good grasp of the meaning behind the Hong Kong protest? How many of you are familiar with everything I wrote above about the protest? What I wrote above does not do justice to the complexity of the movement. Many other unthinkable incidents happened since the protest started; public sentiments changed; attribution of responsibility shifted; protester’s slogans evolved. If you make a strong stance about what Blizzard did, I truly hope you did your research and understood why you decided to do what you did.
In fact, many Hong Kong people who support the protest wholeheartedly have diverging opinions themselves. This is a common phenomenon in protesting, which is associated with liberalism. Liberals, in comparison to conservatives, have lower desire to converge to a common belief [2, 3]. This results in not having a clear message and a common cause to unite people. “S/he does not represent me” is a common sentiment during the Umbrella Movement in 2014.
However, the current Hong Kong protest has proven to be something different. The message is clearly stated with the five demands. A recent survey highlights the consensus among protesters, with 98.8% of the participants say the call for withdrawal of the extradition bill as “quite important” or “very important”, and 98.1% say the call for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry as “quite important” or “very important”. The results suggest the government’s persistence push for the extradition bill and the lack of consequence for police brutality unite the Hong Kong people. Unlike the Umbrella Movement, this Hong Kong protest is leaderless, and this further highlights the solidarity of the Hong Kong people.
To me, Blizzard made it clear where their priorities lie, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out their rationale. Blizzard is not the first and will not be the last company to bow down the pressure of the Chinese government. However, recent news of NBA and South Park standing up against the Chinese government gave me a little bit of hope. It is unthinkable if a country with a detestable human right standard gets to dictate what the rest of the world can say and do.
Will I boycott Blizzard? Probably not in the extreme manner many fans are advocating. Will I buy a new game from Blizzard? Extremely unlikely. I planned to buy WarCraft III: Reforged when it is released, but I changed my mind now. WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos was the first Blizzard game I played. Not buying the Reforged feels like I’m rejecting the new Blizzard who adds glitter over its old self and tells you it is better. Poetic.
Will I still play and watch StarCraft? I rarely play the game now, so it is hard to play even less. Will I watch the tournaments? I doubt I’ll stop completely all of a sudden. My educated guess is that my actual behaviors may not change as much in the future as I anticipate now. A recent research suggests consumers have a systematic bias to remember ethical information better than unethical information of a brand . This is because consumers want to avoid the negative emotion associated with ethical attributes but believe they should remember it in order to do the right thing. Having a biased memory reduces this conflict. We also tend to be willfully ignorant of ethical attributes so as to avoid the negative information associated with it . But given how emotionally involved I’m with the Hong Kong protest, I doubt I will feel less negative about Blizzard in the future.
The willful ignorant effect may explain why some people choose to play down the moral significance of Blizzard’s actions. Comments like “he broke the rules”, “politics has no place in esports”, “it happens to other companies” seem to shift the responsibility away from Blizzard and normalise their actions. My reply to these comments is simple. Politics and moral values are intertwined . Our consumption choices that may not seem explicitly related to politics are in fact associated with our intrinsic political beliefs . You’re naive if you think politics can be disentangled from esports. Like it or not, politics is related to everything.
There are concerns about the unintended damage to innocent stakeholders (see tweets below). First and foremost, this very blog as of now is about StarCraft. Feel free to stop supporting it if you feel this is the right thing to do; no offense taken. I previously lost some patrons, because they wanted to boycott Patreons for censorship (for reference). It is okay. I will not guilt you. Stand up for what you believe in. As for supporting other content creators, streamers, and players, just do what you feel comfortable.
I know some will point out that it is easy for me to speak freely, because I do not need Blizzard for a living. That’s absolutely true, and I do not deny it. Like I said at the start, I understand why the community figures do not comment. When I say I understand, I mean it emotionally. I talked about democracy at the peak of the Umbrella Movement, and I received threats. I questioned a decision that did not align with the value of gender equality, and I upset someone who could make things ugly for me. I was scared every time. I understand what I do have consequences, but like Jim Raynor says:
Because some things are just worth fighting for.
 Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1029-1046.
 Stern, C., West, T. V., Jost, J. T., & Rule, N. O. (2014). “Ditto Heads” Do Conservatives Perceive Greater Consensus Within Their Ranks Than Liberals?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(9), 1162-1177.
 Stern, C., & West, T. V. (2016). Ideological Differences in Anchoring and Adjustment During Social Inferences. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(11), 1466-1479.
 Reczek, R. W., Irwin, J. R., Zane, D. M., & Ehrich, K. R. (2018). That’s Not How I Remember It: Willfully Ignorant Memory for Ethical Product Attribute Information. Journal of Consumer Research, 45(1), 185-207.
 Ehrich, K. R., & Irwin, J. R. (2005). Willful Ignorance in the Request for Product Attribute Information. Journal of Marketing Research, 42(3), 266-277.
 Jost, J. T. (2017). The Marketplace of Ideology:“Elective Affinities” in Political Psychology and Their Implications for Consumer Behavior. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 27(4), 502-520.
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