Blizzard’s top developer for Overwatch, Jeff Kaplan, says the suspension handed to a Hearthstone pro — who voiced support for Hong Kong protesters in an official stream — should be “reduced more or eliminated,” in an interview with The Washington Post.
In October, Hearthstone pro Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung shouted support for Hong Kong demonstrators on a Blizzard-sponsored livestream, and was suspended from competition, originally for a year, but later revised to six months. The suspension drew worldwide protest, both online and at last week’s BlizzCon, the publisher’s annual fan convention.
At BlizzCon, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack apologized for its quick decision regarding blitzchung and others, but still said the company will not revert his punishment. Fans disagreed, vehemently.
Apparently Kaplan, Overwatch’s game director is with them. In an interview Friday with The Washington Post, Kaplan said he was “relieved” to hear blitzchung’s suspension was reduced, but still thinks the punishment should be “reduced more or eliminated,” he said.
“I’m obviously a huge supporter of free speech,” Kaplan said. “It’s something that’s very important to me. It got to me personally. I think the punishment was too harsh and I was greatly relieved when they gave his money back. I think that was extremely important.”
Kaplan told The Washington Post that there are many “differing opinions” among the Overwatch team regarding blitzchung’s suspension.
Blitzchung’s suspension has already drawn the attention of U.S. lawmakers. In October, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) wrote an open letter urging Blizzard to reconsider the penalty.
“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,” the lawmakers wrote.
Blitzchung is still suspended from all Hearthstone esports events until next year. For now, he’s got the backing of esports organization Tempo Storm. Blitzchung joined the team on Oct. 31, days before BlizzCon. Tempo Storm CEO Andrey Yanyuk said blitzchung “exemplifies what Tempo Storm believes in.”
“I had been thinking about whether to continue my Hearthstone career in the past few weeks,” blitzchung said in a statement. “Since I haven’t reached my professional goals yet, and I don’t want to fall by the wayside, I will start competing again after I am unbanned.”
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