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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Activision Blizzard and the Hearthstone Hong Kong Liberation Controversy

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - They knew exactly what they were doing.

Around Sunday October 6, Activision Blizzard's Blizzard half (in Taiwan) was hosting a Hearthstone competition—at the Grandmasters level, which is apparently a big deal. Blizzard says it's the highest level of Hearthstone eSports, and it's invitation-only. Personally, it's not something I know about, since I've been boycotting Activision for 18 years. More on that later.

A fellow from Hong Kong, named Ng Wai Chung (gamer name Blitzchung), declared in his victory interview on Blizzard's Taiwan stream, “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times.” (Except in Chinese.) The interviewing casters (named Mr. Yee and Virtual, which sound like auto-generated computer player names) hid under the table like weirdo cowards, and Blizzard cut the stream. Then they announced the banishment of Blitzchung for one year from Grandmasters tournaments, as well as forfeiting the cash he's won up to that point, under the basis of this rule in their rulebook:
“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.”
Update October 11: Blizzard has put out a statement from their president, J. Allen Brack, apparently announcing that the casters will be reinstated after six months, Blitzchung's ban will be reduced to six months, and he'll get his prize money. That doesn't substantively change the jive of the rest of the article, however. /end update

I suppose the mainland Chinese, whom Hong Kong wants liberation from, would be offended, yes. The big question is whether or not Blizzard would make the same decision if someone went on stream and took the opposite position against Hong Kong's freedom. I think they would make the same basic decision, but they went extra for this. For a reason.

Let me go into some... background about China and Hong Kong, in case you're just really unaware of this stuff. (Even I, all the way from Koopa Kingdom, know about it, but maybe you're not so well-read.)

Once upon a time, Hong Kong was a colony of Great Britain. They took it from China in the 1800s. Like most colonies of Great Britain, it was doing pretty fantastic, and they even added more land back in 1898. One day in the 1970s–1980s, however, China decided they wanted Hong Kong back. Great Britain got that 1898 land on a 99-year lease that was kind of a joke number (back in the 1800s), but China was insisting that they were going to conquer Hong Kong if Britain didn't honour it. If you ever try looking at a map sometime, you can figure out that it'd be pretty hard for Britain to defend Hong Kong from a Chinese invasion, and Hong Kong depends on China for basic necessities.

China Hong Kong United Kingdom Google Maps
This article needed a picture in it, so I'm going to force you to look at a map.
Also, note Taiwan on the map, also next to China. China wants to bully them into submission, too.
(Map courtesy of Google Maps, which has its own China controversies.)

So Britain gave up Hong Kong in 1997, but negotiated a stupid “One country, two systems” principle that'd last for 50 years. In other words, Hong Kong will become a communist hellhole in 2047, as opposed to Hong Kong being a very free capitalist centre of global commerce and happiness.

Hong Kong folks aren't very happy about their impending doom. Britain handing Hong Kong back to the Chinese was one of the worst decisions ever made in the history of humanity. It's basically the equivalent of telling millions of people the day that they're going to die.

Anyway, there's been protests in Hong Kong for some time now over a now-tabled extradition treaty that China wanted against Hong Kong people. China's becoming more authoritarian and less human-rights-y than usual. So, boom, protests from unhappy people who want freedom against authoritarian jerks.

Now, Activision Blizzard know exactly what's going on. Activision is evil. They know they're evil. They know consumers know they're evil. That doesn't necessarily mean that Activision is going to side with the evil China.

I believe that Activision Blizzard was quite aware of the reaction that'd happen from their decision to not only ban Blitzchung, but to discontinue their contract with the two Taiwanese casters, Virtual and Mr. Yee. ...Well, forget about the casters, they're losers. But let's focus on Blitzchung and his message.

Fire Emblem Path of Radiance Norris Blood Runs Red Crimean villagers reward worms vile enough to sell Princess Elincia
Virtual and Mr. Yee are pretty much the two Crimeans here who are
greedy enough to sell Princess Elincia (of Crimea) to the invading Daein army.
(Taiwan and Hong Kong should be natural allies in their mutual disdain for China trying to conquer them and ruin their freedom.)

What if Blizzard knows about the Streisand effect after being in the digital communication space for decades? By shutting down this Hong Kong player, who is clearly acting as a martyr and is fully aware of the consequences of his actions (including possible bodily harm back in Hong Kong?), so he's probably on-board with whatever happens to him, Blizzard ended up circulating his message of Hong Kong liberation much farther than if they never did that to begin with.

Since Blizzard IS savvy enough to know that was going to happen in advance, it follows that this was actually their intended effect, and they are in fact supportive of the movement. But in typical cartoon villain fashion (which may or may not include mustache-twirling or being manipulated by Chinese business interests), they can't go ahead and make that support straightforward. They have to do the most extra, ridiculous stuff possible, like discontinuing the casters and subsequent things like supposedly trying to prevent people from ending their accounts with them. That's why I think they'd do the same decision of punishing a pro-China player, but they'd go extra for Hong Kong as a deceptive way of actually showing support while being in-line with their reputation.

They won't lose much business from their overly-evil ways, because, hey, if customers were concerned about that sort of thing (or concerned about the quality of the games outside of corporate morality), they wouldn't be buying their games to begin with. Seriously, there are tons of better games out there than Call of Duty or Hearthstone.

It's just as likely a theory as “evil Activision continues to be evil and believes in evil, so of course they side with the most evil country.” But it makes for more interesting article material than, “Activision Blizzard sucks, but I'm already boycotting them. So nothing changes.” 

Ludwig strongly dislikes Activision, as well as China and any communist group. He has favourable views of Taiwan and Hong Kong, though. Unlike Blizzard, KoopaTV welcomes political speech, and will even accept and perhaps even publish your guest articles regardless of your viewpoint.

If Blizzard's behaviour bothers you, how much more-so does it bother you when the president of the United States diminishes the Hong Kong protesters?
Two weeks later, Activision is accused of being too mean to the Russians.
The situation in Hong Kong has gotten even worse in 2020, and KoopaTV is declaring full support for Hong Kong.

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