Blizzard has finally suspended the US Hearthstone collegiate team that held up a "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz" sign during a tournament stream, following accusations from the community (and the team itself) that its failure to punish the players was hypocritical.
The on-stream incident occurred last week, as a direct response to Blizzard's announcement that it would be suspending Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung 'blitzchung' Ng Wai from competitive play for one year, following his decision to express support for protesters in Hong Kong during a streamed post-match interview. Blizzard also fired the casters involved in the stream, and denied Blitzchung his winnings - a heavy handed punishment that many fans saw as Blizzard kowtowing to the Chinese government.
The following day, the American University team staged its own protest by holding up the Free Hong Kong sign, an action which was not punished by Blizzard, despite the company claiming that it would censure all teams that engage in acts that "brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image".
The collegiate team responded by forfeiting the tournament and withdrawing from future competitions in protest at Blizzard's inconsistent treatment of players.
In a post on Reddit, one of the American University players involved in the incident wrote, "This shows Blizzard's hypocrisy in how it treats different regions. They are hesitant to suppress free speech when it happens in America, on an English language stream, but will throw casters' and players' livelihoods under the bus if they are from Hong Kong or Taiwan.
"It should also dispel the idea that Blitzchung was punished for bringing politics into Hearthstone, because our message was clearly political and we weren't touched. Blitzchung was punished because China was watching."
After a week of silence, and rapidly escalating tensions between Blizzard and fans, the company finally released a statement last Friday, refuting claims that its relationships in China had influenced its decision to punish Blitzchung so severely, and admitting that it had reacted too quickly following Blitzchung's protest. As a result, it said it would reduce Blitzchung's suspension (alongside that of his fellow casters) to six months, and reinstate his winnings. However, the American University team remained unpunished.
Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition. While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules. pic.twitter.com/mZStoF0e0t— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_GU) October 16, 2019
Now, though, team member Casey Chambers has revealed that Blizzard is finally taking steps against the American University players. "Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition," Chambers wrote on Twitter, "While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules."
Whether Blizzard's slow, shuffling moves to remedy the situation will be significant enough to appease fans unhappy with its recent actions remains to be seen.
The company has been blocking player cams and post-game interviews from its livestreams since last week, and even cancelled an Overwatch Switch launch party at Nintendo's New York store. Time will tell how it plans to deal with any potential discontent during this year's BlizzCon, which begins in a few short weeks.