Activision Blizzard Suspends Player Over Hong Kong Protest Support
Activision Blizzard became the latest U.S. company to find itself "caught between its business interests in China and the values of its core customers after it suspended an e-sports player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protests during a live broadcast," according to Daniel Victor of the N.Y. TIMES. The decision to "suspend Chung Ng Wai, a professional Hearthstone player in Hong Kong, for a year, while forcing him to forfeit a reported $10,000 in prize money, prompted a backlash" in the U.S. "similar to the public relations debacle the NBA has faced this week." Activision Blizzard said that Chung had "run afoul of a rule barring players from any act that 'brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages' the company’s image." In Q2 of '19, Activision Blizzard earned $173M from the Asia Pacific region, about 12% of its $1.4B "worldwide total revenues." It was "not yet clear what commercial impact the backlash to Blizzard would have, but many of its users reacted strongly" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/9).
FAR EAST TIES: During a post-match interview on the official Taiwanese Hearthstone stream, Chung, wearing a gas mask, said in Mandarin, "Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!" In DC, Cindy Boren notes at that point, the stream "cut to a commercial break." Like the NBA, Blizzard is "heavily invested in China through its Overwatch League and it has sought to balance those business interests with the right to free expression." China-based Tencent owns a 5% stake in Activision Blizzard, Blizzard's parent company. And Blizzard has "long had a partnership" with China-based NetEase (WASHINGTON POST, 10/9). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sarah Needleman notes China is a "big market for esports, though the segment globally still represents only a fraction" of the videogame industry’s roughly $150B in "expected sales this year" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/9).
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