The protests that broke out in Hong Kong and the subsequent crackdown by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was the most talked-about social issue in the world in 2019. Hong Kong’s citizens are struggling for freedom, and Mainland China’s response has been universally condemned by the international community. There are several issues that stem from this Hong Kong issue.
Our editorial board discussed these issues and took interest in one related to eSports, which has also become a hot topic in recent years.
An incident occurred at a Hearthstone World Championship competition hosted by Blizzard Entertainment, a major American game company. Hong Kong professional gamer Blitzchung, who was participating in the tournament, spoke in support of the Hong Kong protests in a post-game interview. In response, Blizzard banned Blitzchung from participating for six months for violating the rules of the event.
The incident sparked controversy on social media and news outlets worldwide. Blizzard eventually backpedaled due to pressure from players and agreed to return the prize money to Blitzchung in addition to reducing his suspension. The controversy centers around the fact that Tencent, a Chinese multinational conglomerate, own’s a 5% stake in Blizzard and Blizzard’s claim that the decision to punish Blitzchung was not influenced by the its Chinese business relations.
Our board also discussed the 8 core values of Blizzard which include “think globally” and “every voice matters” along with the company’s support of issues such as LGBT rights. In this context, we have decided to discuss the legitimacy of Blizzard’s position.
To sum up, the issue is that Blizzard has not punished its competitors make statements supporting human rights issues in some cases but did choose to punish the Hong Kong issue.
For this reason, it appears to some that Blizzard is simply catering to its Chinese business interests rather than upholding the company’s values; this brings into question the validity of their rules.
According to the 2019 Hearthstone Grandmasters Competition Rules section 6.1, which Blizzard has cited as a reason for the conflict,
“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.”
Under this rule, anything Blizzard deems in appropriate can be banned and does not make explicitly clear what kind of content is permissible.
For example, saying “I hate bananas” could mean that the banana industry could get angry and damage Blizzard’s image. Under this rule, it is quite possible that Blizzard’s sole discretion could be used arbitrarily to make saying, “I hate bananas” a violation of their terms.
It is no wonder that Blizzard is criticized for its consistency on punishments. The wording in their own policy has created a completely arbitrary set of rules that delegitimize the Hearthstone eSports league.
Our board argues that these rules lack transparency and similarly do not consistently apply these rules to all players. There are several ways the transparency and consistency of the ruleset could be improved. Comprehensively banning non-sports-related claims, like in the Olympic Charter, could be an option. Strictly defining prohibited activities rather than using the broad language in the current ruleset would also be beneficial.
Lastly, a Hearthstone (or even e-Sports-wide) third-party committee for transparency are possible solutions our editorial team discussed.
Through this discussion, we were able to think fundamentally about the validity of the rules. This problem seems difficult at first glance. It is normal to be punished for breaking the ruleset by the organizer, just as a person would be punished for breaking the country’s laws.
It might be considered out of place to levy criticism on Blizzard, but for rules to be rules we have to feel free about criticizing them.
Observing the rules and criticizing the rules are not incompatible with one another, in fact they help make the game strong and better for all.
Kohei Miyauchi, Yusuke Kazamaki, Toko Sone, Jacob Wagnon, Kaito Ichinose