Video game company Blizzard banned three college students who held up a Hong Kong protest sign during the Hearthstone Collegiate Championships last week.
Blizzard suspended American University Hearthstone players Casey Chambers, Corwin Dark, and TJammer for a duration of six months after the trio displayed a "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz" sign during the streamed tournament, Chambers tweeted on Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Blizzard confirmed that it took disciplinary action against the trio after they intentionally violated the company's official rules. Chambers and his teammates violated a set of rules pertaining to sportsmanship, which state that players must abstain from making gestures or signs that could offend a group of people or provoke others to act in a way that is "abusive, insulting, mocking, or disruptive."
"We strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves," Blizzard wrote in its email to Chambers. "However, our official broadcast needs to be about the game and the competition, and to be a place where all are welcome."
The ban means that the players will be disqualified from the ongoing competition and will not be able to participate in Hearthstone esports for the duration of the ban, starting from Oct. 8, 2019 to April 8, 2020.
The students held up a sign to show their solidarity for fellow professional Hearthstone player, Ng "Blitzchung" Wai Chung, who was banned for a year by Blizzard after he voiced his support for Hong Kong protesters during an interview after Hearthstone's Grandmaster tournament last week.
The player was not only suspended from participating in pro tournaments but his $3000 winnings from the tournament were also retracted.
The US-based game developer's decision was met with widespread criticism from fans, the gaming community, and within Blizzard as well. The backlash led Blizzard to reduce Blitzchung's ban to six months last week.
In the wake of the incident, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack also issued a statement asserting that the company's business interests in China had no influence over its decision to ban the player, saying "we will continue to apply tournament rules to ensure our official broadcasts remain focused on the game and are not a platform for divisive social or political views."