Activision Blizzard has suspended three collegiate gamers for expressing support for the Hong Kong protests and advocating for a boycott of the company.
The three players—American University students identified by Vice as Casey Chambers, Corwin Dark, and one only by his handle TJammer—held up a sign that read “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizz” during an official Blizzard broadcast of a tournament for the strategy card game Hearthstone. Now, they’re barred from the league for six months.
The students were expressing their support for Chung Ng Wai, who goes by Blitzchung in-game, for speaking out in support of Hong Kong protesters during an official tournament broadcast from Taiwan. Blizzard initially banned Chung from the league for a year but later reduced his sentence to six months, a decision many saw as too harsh and bowing to censorship pressure from Beijing.
In making the determination, Blizzard said the broadcasts need to be free from politics.
“Our official broadcast needs to be about the game and the competition, and to be a place where all are welcome,” Blizzard spokesman Dustin Blackwell said in an email to the Daily Beast. “If we allow the introduction of personal views about sensitive issues into the channel, it ceases to be what it’s meant for—esports.”
“Blitzchung’s initial punishment was insane,” Chambers told the Daily Beast. “Both of us getting punished is largely more equitable, though. I would say that us calling for a boycott of the company deserved more severe punishment than his because his was entirely human-rights-focused.”
Blizzard has been mired in controversy since banning Chung, which added fuel to the fire of the NBA’s own imbroglio involving China. Chinese tech giant Tencent owns a stake in Blizzard, and the company generates a 12 percent of its revenue in the Chinese video game market.
Blizzard issued a statement Friday saying that its relationship with China was “not a factor” in its decision to ban Chung. The company’s own employees had walked out of work October 9th to protest its treatment of the player.
Chambers told the Beast he’d never play Hearthstone again.
“[Blizzard’s] messaging Friday didn’t apologize for the initial ban, which was far beyond the pale of what could be considered reasonable. There was no apology for that,” he said.