Blizzard’s decision to suspend pro Hearthstone player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung over his statement in support of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong continues to rattle the American games industry at-large. Today, Epic Games and its CEO Tim Sweeney came forward to say the company supports players’ rights in regards to political speech.
In a statement to The Verge, an Epic spokesperson said the developer “supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights,” adding that Epic “wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics.” On Twitter, Sweeney responded similarly to a user who noted that Chinese company Tencent owns 40% of Epic.
When asked directly if Epic would not sever ties with a figure in the manner Blizzard did with Chung, Sweeney responded in the affirmative. “Yes, absolutely. That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO, and controlling shareholder,” says Sweeney.
Epic is a US company and I’m the controlling shareholder. Tencent is an approximately 40% shareholder, and there are many other shareholders including employees and investors.
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) October 9, 2019
In addition to its stake in Epic, Tencent owns roughly 5% of Activision-Blizzard and has stakes in other game companies such as Riot Games and Ubisoft. Earlier this year, a pernicious rumor about the Epic Games Store being spyware was driven largely by anti-Chinese sentiment directed towards Epic because of Tencent’s stake in the company.
Chung’s suspension from Hearthstone has kicked off a growing boycott campaign across social media, spurred quiet protest within Blizzard, and inspired a collegiate Hearthstone team to voice its own support for the Hong Kong protests on a Blizzard stream. Blizzard maintains that Chung violated the company’s esports competition rules, which state that any comment which brings a player “into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard” can result in removal from a competition.
The suspension of Chung comes mere days after the NBA became embroiled in a controversy over Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s statement in support of the Hong Kong protests. Yesterday, the NBA’s general commissioner issued a statement saying that the organization won’t “put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees, and team owners” can say on political issues. Now Epic, makers of one of the world’s biggest games, has followed suit—and all eyes are on Blizzard to see whether it will hold to its decision.