Activision Blizzard is a big fan of free speech.
When then-California governor and current Mortal Kombat 11 star Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law making it illegal to sell violent games to minors, Activision was opposed. When that law was challenged before the Supreme Court, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick was emphatic about the importance of this fight for freedom.
"We are thrilled to be able to be an important part of this historic effort to protect our Constitution and to ensure that video games remain [a] vibrant form of expression for every gamer in our constituency," Kotick said, adding, "The sheer breadth of support exhibited by public interest organizations, civic and media groups, legislative leaders, academia and interested parties demonstrate both the importance video games have assumed in the hearts and minds of our nation and the sacredness of certain basic tenets of our Constitution. We will never give up the fight for the freedom of expression our industry deserves and we will never forget this support."
When former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega sued the company in 2014 for using his likeness in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Activision Blizzard once again fought for that sacred freedom of expression, this time with the help of its legal counsel and kindred spirit in the fight for free speech... [checks notes] Rudy Giuliani?
"I'm not interested in giving handouts to a convicted murderer and drug smuggler like Manuel Noriega who is demanding money from Activision and its popular Call of Duty franchise for simply exercising its right to free speech," Giuliani said. "Noriega's attack on the rights of Call of Duty comes as no surprise considering he's a lawless tyrant who trampled over the rights of his own people."
I can't remember why I started talking about this in the first place, but the key takeaway is that Activision Blizzard has no time for those who would curb free expression. Now to take a big sip of coffee and look at what's going on in gaming this week...
QUOTE | "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!" - Hearthstone pro player Chung 'Blitzchung' Ng Wai, showing support for protesters in Hong Kong during a post-match interview during the Asia-Pacific Grandmasters tournament .
QUOTE | "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." - The rule cited by Blizzard as it explained Blitzchung's punishment: rescinding his prize money, banning him from Hearthstone esports for a year, and severing all ties to the two broadcasters who were interviewing him.
STAT | $2,000 and a four-game ban - The punishment Blizzard handed down to Overwatch League pro Felix "xQc" Lengyel in January of 2018 for homophobic remarks he made during a livestream. Lengyel had been temporarily banned from playing Overwatch numerous times for previous infractions.
QUOTE | "While we stand by one's right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules." - In the same blog post, Blizzard explains that it totally stands by rights of expression, it's just that its hands were tied in this case by the rules that it deliberately created and enforced specifically to prohibit expression.
QUOTE | "The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising. Blizzard makes a lot of money in China, but now the company is in this awkward position where we can't abide by our values." - An anonymous Blizzard employee was one of several to question the company's judgment after Blitzchung was banned.
QUOTE | "I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward." - Later in the same story, Hearthstone broadcaster Brian Kibler explains why he won't work the game's Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon in protest for how Blitzchung was treated.
QUOTE | "We feel it's hypocritical for Blizzard to punish Blitzchung but not us. The response from Blizzard shows that as soon as the messaging is out of the view of China they don't care about 'political' messaging." - After not being punished for holding up a "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizzard" sign during a recent livestream, the collegiate Hearthstone team for American University says it will forfeit its next scheduled match in solidarity with Blitzchung.
QUOTE | "Recognize what's happening here. People who don't live in China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. Implications of this will be felt long after everyone in US politics today is gone." - U.S. Senator Marco Rubio was not the only American politician directly addressing Blizzard's actions on Twitter.
QUOTE | "Epic supports everyone's right to express their views on politics and human rights. We wouldn't ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics." - An Epic Games spokesperson attempts to get ahead of concerns that the company would follow Blizzard's behavior. Chinese firm Tencent has a 4.9% stake in Activision Blizzard, but 40% in Epic Games.
QUOTE | "We aren't telling anyone to avoid saying 'Hong Kong.' We'd just rather the team be referred to by its full name. There's been some confusion internally about this as well and we're working to correct it." - Riot communications lead Ryan Rigney addresses concerns after League of Legends broadcasters went out of their way to avoid saying 'Hong Kong,' referring to the team Hong Kong Attitude only as "HKA" this week.
QUOTE | "The more exposed a western firm is to Chinese business interests, the more likely it is to be forced to kowtow to CCP censorship and propaganda lines, even in its overseas dealings—and the more likely it is to find itself in the line of fire for whatever regulatory and legislative response the US and other developed countries eventually devise. Blizzard's awful week is only the first in what will be a long, long chapter of cautionary tales." - GamesIndustry.biz's Rob Fahey explains how publishers like Blizzard predictably placed themselves in their present predicament.