United States politicians have co-signed a letter sent to Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick expressing concern about the punishment given to Hong Kong Hearthstone pro Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai.
The strongly-worded bi-partisan letter, signed by senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio, as well as members of Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher and Tom Malinowski, urges Kotick to reconsider the punishment of Blitzchung dished out after the Hearthstone player voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong during a live post-match interview.
"We write to express our deep concern about Activision Blizzard's decision to make player Ng Wai Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong," reads the letter.
"This decision is particularly concerning in light of the Chinese government's growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to help stifle free speech.
"Activision Blizzard benefits from China's growing market for esports, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China's largest technology firms. As you and your company are no doubt aware, the Chinese government uses the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions with which it disagrees. Last week alone, the Chinese government targeted Apple for hosting an app to help peaceful demonstrators evade repression and the National Basketball Association because one team's general manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong protests.
"Your company claims to stand by 'one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions,' yet many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzard's decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values.
"Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms. Indeed, many gamers around the world have taken notice of your company's actions, understandably calling for boycotts of Activision Blizzard gaming sites.
"As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values - like freedom of speech and thought - or to give in to Beijing's demands in order to preserve market access.
"We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it."
Blizzard has suffered a torrid time of late, with #BoycottBlizzard trending on Twitter, a protest by its own employees, and the cancellation of a number of events.
Not everyone at Blizzard agrees with what happened.— Kevin Hovdestad (@lackofrealism) October 8, 2019
Both the "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" values have been covered up by incensed employees this morning. pic.twitter.com/I7nAYUes6Q
Blizzard president Jay Allen Brack issued a statement last week insisting the action taken against Blitzchung had nothing to do the company's relationships in China, and stressed its tournaments and events are a no-go for politics.
That statement has done little to calm growing tension, however. This week Blizzard finally suspended a US Hearthstone team that also staged a Hong Kong livestream protest, and it has been forced to cancel events, such as the New York launch of the Nintendo Switch version of Overwatch, and a 15th anniversary World of Warcraft event in Taiwan.
Blizzard has suffered a backlash from gamers for some time now, but the letter from US politicians levels up the pressure the company finds itself under. All eyes now turn to BlizzCon and the perhaps inevitable protests it will see.