A group of Republican and Democratic party congress members have come together to condemn Hearthstone publisher Activision Blizzard for punishing a player that criticized China. In a separate letter, the same group lambasted Apple for removing an app from its store at the request of China. The group includes Senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio as well as House members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski.
Earlier this month, Blizzard banned Hearthstone pro Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung for saying “liberate Hong Kong — revolution of our age” during a post-match interview. The publisher also banned the two broadcasters who interviewed Blitzchung. Blizzard originally banned all three for a year and rescinded Blitzchung’s cash prize for the Grandmasters tournament. The company has since reduced those punishments to six months and restored Blitzchung’s winnings.
Blizzard also claimed that it did not punish the player and casters to satisfy China, which is an important market for the company.
“The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were not a factor in the decision we made,” Blizzard president J. Allen Brack wrote in a blog post. “I want to be clear: Our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.”
Bipartisan group calls out Activision Blizzard
But few fans believe Brack. And neither does the bipartisan group (although the letter does not acknowledge the reduced punishments).
Here’s a snippet from their letter to Activision Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick:
“Activision Blizzard benefits from China’s growing market for esports, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China’s largest technology firms. As you and your company are no doubt aware, the Chinese government use the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions with which it disagrees. Last week alone, the Chinese government targeted Apple for hosting an app to help peaceful demonstrators evade repression and the National Basketball Association because one team’s general manager tweeted in support of Hong Kong protests.”
“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. Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms. Indeed, many gamers around the world have taken notice of your company’s actions, understandably calling for boycotts of Activision Blizzard gaming sites.”
The group goes on to urge Activision Blizzard to reverse its decision. That is something that the publisher has not seemed willing to do as it has since punished another group of collegiate players for holding up a “free Hong Kong” sign during a match.
The group also sent a letter to Apple
In its letter to Apple chief executive Tim Cook, the bipartisan group struck a similar tone.
“Late last year, you were widely quoted as saying, ‘At Apple, we are not afraid to say that our values drive our curation decisions.’ For those us who support the promotion of basic human rights and dignity, it was refreshing to hear a tech titan say that priorities were more important than profits. So you can imagine our disappointment to read that Apple had removed HKMap, a crowdsourced mapping app used by Hong Kong residents, from the App Store this week.”
As with the Blizzard letter, the bipartisan group asks Apple to resist Chinese governmental interference in the future.
We’ve reached out to Blizzard and Apple for comment. We’ll update this story if either provides a statement in response to the bipartisan group.