The winner of the first professional Hearthstone World Championship tournament has commented on Blizzard's recent actions. Following a Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament in China in which the winning player spoke out against the communist government's oppression of Hong Kong, the company stripped the player of both his title and prize money and banned him from participating in future tournaments for at least a year, prompting the hashtag #BlizzardBoycott to trend on Twitter and sparking outrage from Hearthstone players, politicians, and even Blizzard employees around the globe.
Reportedly, some Blizzard employees walked out of their offices early last week in protest of the company's actions, and although eventually Blizzard released a statement explaining their decision and consenting that they may have acted too harsh too quickly, many players are not letting them off the hook so easily. Multiple upset fans even attempted to delete their Blizzard accounts but were inexplicably barred from doing so at the time, prompting even more anger at the company.
As reported by Gamespot, even the first ever Hearthstone World Champion, James "Firebat" Kostesich, doesn't agree with Blizzard's decision-making process. Although he consented the player in question, who goes by the handle Blizchung, definitely violated the rules of the Grandmasters tournament by voicing his opinions, he thinks the degree of punishment Blizzard handed out was far stricter than need be. "It's definitely ridiculous how much he was punished for it," Firebat said of Blitzchung. "It's very sad to see. I wish they would support their players more."
Although the president of Blizzard Entertainment, J. Allen Brack, reiterated in his statement their company's relationship with China had nothing to do with their decision to suspend Blitzchung for voicing his support of the Hong Kong protesters, many players, including Firebat, don't seem to be buying it. "I agree that there's probably something else going on," Firebat said. "They want to make an example of him or something, because it's just so unreasonable."
In their statement, which was curiously released late in the day on Friday, Blizzard's president said there are consequences for disrupting game broadcasts and taking the conversation away from the purpose of the event, a message eerily reminiscent of another politically-charged sports controversy. A few years ago, players in the NFL who began kneeling and sitting during the national anthem to protest racial injustice were treated in much the same way as Hearthstone players are being treated now, perhaps because sports league owners don't want their players to have opinions on anything other than the sports they are playing. Opinions are bad for business because they tend to separate fans, but something even worse is separating fans from the product itself. With BlizzCon only a few weeks away, it will be curious to see how Blizzard handles any other Hearthstone controversies which may arise before then.