After gaming giant Activision Blizzard banned a pro gamer who expressed support for Hong Kong protesters, the company has taken heat on all sides. Players boycotted Blizzard games. Employees walked out of work. Lawmakers lambasted the company for caving to pressure from China. And Blizzard faced another problem it didn’t reveal at the time: a sponsor pulled out of its pro gaming league amid the controversy.
Two days after the company announced that it would ban Hong Kong-based professional Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai, Mitsubishi Motors Taiwan ended its sponsorship of Blizzard’s esports events, according to Erica Rasch, a spokesperson for Mitsubishi.
The company declined to comment further, and Blizzard did not respond to requests for comment. Speculation that the car company had pulled its dollars first began on Reddit when users saw that the Mitsubishi logo had seemed to disappear from the backdrop of an official tournament broadcast.
Coca-Cola and the computer manufacturer ASUS, which sponsor the collegiate Hearthstone league, did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the livestreaming company Twitch said “nothing has changed” about the company’s relationship to the collegiate league. Three collegiate players protested Blizzard’s treatment of Chung during an official broadcast and were later suspended for their conduct.
During a post-game interview in early October, Chung, who uses the handle “blitzchung,” said “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” on a live broadcast out of the Hearthstone Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament. The event, held in Taiwan, is an elite competition comprised of the game’s best players in the region.
The day after his statement, the company barred Chung from pro play for a year and withheld his prize winnings, though it later reduced the sentence to six months and allowed him to collect the money. Blizzard’s president J. Allen Brack said the player could not go unpunished for “taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event and disrupting or derailing the broadcast.”
Blizzard has struggled to appease players in its two biggest markets, the U.S. and China, while still complying with Chinese censorship laws. According to Blizzard’s most recent earnings report, the company made 12 percent of its quarterly revenue in the Asia Pacific market. Chinese tech giant Tencent owns a five percent stake in the company.
Blizzard’s president has attempted to dispel any appearance of impropriety. “The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made,” Brack said. “I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” But one current Blizzard employee previously told The Daily Beast, “I think that it's a flat-out lie that our relationships in China had nothing to do with the decision.”