Hearthstone and China

Back to Article
Back to Article

Hearthstone and China

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Hearthstone is a collectible card game published by video game company Activision-Blizzard. In the game, players collect cards to create decks and duel other players. The cards feature different minions and spells that all have different effects when played.

Dr. Boom, a legendary minion featured in Hearthstone. Card art by Alex Garner.

The main goal in a game is to reduce your opponent’s life total to zero. Hearthstone was originally released in 2014, and it has received many expansions since. It features colorful, bombastic characters such as the mad scientist Dr. Boom or the reckless treasure hunter Reno Jackson.

Activision-Blizzard has also supported Hearthstone by holding its very own esports scene, named the Hearthstone Championship Tour. In HCT, competitors from around the globe compete against each other to claim the title of Grandmaster. There is often prize money involved for winners of HCT tournament. Competitors are often given interviews after matches to discuss their in-game decisions and playstyle. In one of these interviews, though, things did not play out how Activision-Blizzard was hoping. 

On October 6, 2019, Hong Kong competitor Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung appeared in one of his post-game interviews wearing a gas mask and goggles. This broadcast was appearing to several thousand people around the globe. Realizing what Blitzchung was doing, the two hosts interviewing him tried to duck under their desk. Blitzchung then proclaimed “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” and the broadcast was quickly cut into an ad break by the producers.

A photo of Blitzchung taken from his interview.

Unfortunately, this protest was not taken well by Activision-Blizzard. An important thing to note is that they have a large player base in China. The Chinese government is infamous for their extremely strict censorship policies. In order for media companies to keep their stake in the Chinese market, they have to adhere to the rules or risk being banned in China. Examples of this were seen before Blitzchung’s statement; some of the art for cards within Hearthstone have been revised to cut out depictions of blood or undead creatures. With the protests happening in Hong Kong, it has obviously been a very sensitive topic for the Chinese government.

The video of the interview was promptly taken down from the streaming website by Activision-Blizzard. Just two days later on October 8th, they released a ruling for Blitzchung’s actions. He was removed from participating in any HCT tournaments for twelve months, and Activision-Blizzard removed all of his prize money from prior tournaments. The Hearthstone community was outraged after learning about such a harsh punishment. On the Hearthstone subreddit, usually dedicated to discussion about the game, many people declared they were quitting Hearthstone. Several streamers and content creators also released their own statements showing their sympathy for Blitzchung. Even some of the developers working at Activision-Blizzard disapproved of the corporate decision. Many of them could be seen protesting outside of the publisher’s headquarters. Acitivision-Blizzard released a second statement in an attempt at damage control, even reducing Blitzchung’s punishment, but most of the community rejected it, claiming it was untruthful.

A drawing of Mei from the Overwatch community. It was created by an anonymous Reddit user

 

The outrage continued to bleed out into other communities around Activision-Blizzard’s other games including the MMORPG World of Warcraft and the class-based multiplayer shooter Overwatch. Humorously, the Overwatch community has been trying to turn Activision-Blizzard’s obedience to the Chinese government against them. Following Blitzchung’s statement, several community members have drawn Overwatch character Mei, a Chinese climate scientist, as a symbol for the Hong Kong protests. The idea is to get the character and consequently the game banned in China. Currently, neither Activision-Blizzard nor the Chinese government have taken any action against these attempts.

 

The controversy has certainly had some impact on Activision-Blizzard, and the incident could not have come at a more inopportune time. Blizzcon, a conference where Activision-Blizzard celebrates and features their games and communities, is set to happen on the weekend of November 1st. Many people have been planning and preparing to stage a large protest at the event. Whether such a protest will occur and how effective it will be is still to be determined. The whole situation has been a public reputation nightmare, and it is unclear if Activision-Blizzard will be able to recover from it.

 

Further Reading

Video of Blitzchung making his statement – https://twitter.com/InvenGlobal

Blizzard Ruling on Blitzchung’s statement – https://playhearthstone.com/en-us/blog

Blizzard’s Second Statement after the controversy – https://news.blizzard.com