Hearthstone caster and analyst Brian Kibler has pulled out of calling the Grandmasters finals at the upcoming BlizzCon and future events after Blizzard punished Ng "blitzchung" Wai Chung for his recent comments offering support for protesters in Hong Kong.
On Monday, Blizzard banned blitzchung, who is from Hong Kong, for one year after he called for the area's liberation from China in a post-game interview. He also was expelled from Grandmasters, and his prize money for the year was taken away.
"The punishment meted out to Blitzchung is incredibly harsh," Kibler wrote on social media on Wednesday. "I could understand a fine, or even a short suspension from competitive play, but removal from Grandmasters, clawing back the prizes he already earned, and banning him for a full year seems completely overboard to an extent that feels completely unwarranted and unfair."
Backlash began shortly after Blizzard's decision with players declaring they were ending their subscriptions to World of Warcraft.
In the meantime, Epic Games -- the developer of Fortnite -- said Wednesday it will NOT take action should players or others make similar statements.
"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 told The Verge.
CEO Tim Sweeney took it one step further, responding to a commenter on Twitter who pondered whether Epic would succumb to foreign pressure and punish players: "That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO, and controlling shareholder," he wrote.
In a statement released on social media, however, Blizzard said it had no choice other than to ban blitzchung.
"We are very angered and disappointed at what happened at the event and do not condone it in any way. We also highly object the spreading of personal political beliefs in this manner."
Kibler said he agreed that blitzchung broke rules set for Grandmaster competitors but that Blizzard had a different motive: to protect its financial interest in China.
"The heavy-handedness of it [the punishment] feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself.
"That kind of appeasement is simply not something I can in good conscience be associated with. When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. 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."
Additionally, social media has taken to utilizing Mei, who is canonically from China from Blizzard's game Overwatch, as a symbol for a pro-Hong Kong stance through hashtags, fan art and videos. Lastly, during the Hearthstone Collegiate Championship Fall 2019 broadcast from Tuesday night, three students from the University in Washington, D.C. held up a sign which read "Free Hong Kong Boycott Blizz."
The NBA also has been caught in the ongoing dispute between China and Hong Kong. A tweet last week from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that voiced support for Hong Kong has led to backlash from China, especially since commissioner Adam Silver said the league supports the right to free speech.
An event in Shanghai scheduled for Wednesday to benefit the Special Olympics featuring the Los Angeles Lakers was canceled hours before it was to begin, and state television broadcaster CCTV announced Tuesday that neither of two Nets-Lakers preseason games in the country will be televised.
--Field Level Media