A bipartisan group of American lawmakers, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), have sent Activision Blizzard a letter condemning the company, expressing “deep concern” about its censorship of players who spoke out in favor of Hong Kong protesters. They said the company should “reconsider” its recent punishments, but otherwise made no specific demands or threatened any follow-up actions by Congress.
“We write to express our deep concern over Activision Blizzard’s decision to make player Ng Wai Chung forfeit prize money and ban him from participating in tournaments for a year after he voiced support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong,” the letter said.
Activision Blizzard punished Chung after he said “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” on a post-match stream on October 6. The punishment upset fans, politicians, and commentators, who condemned Activision Blizzard for censoring a player over his politics. The perception was that Activision Blizzard took action because it does a lot of business in China and didn’t want to upset Beijing.
“Your company claims to stand by ‘one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions,’ yet many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzard’s decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values,” the politicians said in their letter.
The letter comes after a week of controversy for Activision Blizzard. Some employees felt that the gaming company had abandoned its core values and failed to communicate its workers. Streamers and commentators publicly cut ties with Blizzard. Late on a Friday night last week, a time when most people have logged off for the weekend, Activision Blizzard broke its silence in a public statement and promised to return Chung’s prize money and half the length of his suspension. But it still reserved the right to silence players at will.
Access Now, a group that campaigns for human rights around the world,condemned Blizzard after it the gaming company made its public statement. Blizzard canceled a public event to celebrate the of the Switch port of Overwatch, postponed a World of Warcraft event in Taiwan, and suspended three more Hearthstone players for additional pro-Hong Kong protests..
Two Blizzard employees spoke with VICE on condition of anonymity, due to fear of retaliation for speaking out and said that the mood in the office has been “negative” and it only got worse after Blizzard made its official statement.
“It's hard to understand how we waited so long for such a tepid, timid, and frankly tone-deaf response,” one employee said. “I just feel that much more forlorn knowing that this was the best effort after four tense days, particularly since we're unlikely to see further action. I'm sure many headed home today feeling even more bewildered at the state of things and merely relieved that this seemingly endless week is finally over.”
"The mood around the offices initially appeared to be...‘The situation sucks, but it was the better choice for the business as otherwise it could severely hurt our growth in China,’’ another employee said. “After the post, everything seemed to change. Far more employees were willing to speak out on Slack about how the message was tone deaf, not well thought out, and overall negative views toward leadership.”
“My thoughts keep returning this week to Colin Kaepernick,” one Blizzard employee said, recalling the football player’s protest of police violence during the National Anthem at NFL games. “It really seems that in running our esport, we've learned exactly the wrong lessons from the NFL's handling of another courageous man speaking up for so many who can't.”