While protests against Blizzard continue after the company’s decision to suspend a pro Hearthstone player for making a pro-Hong Kong statement on air, League of Legends developer Riot Games is trying to avoid creating a similar situation. According to a new statement from John Needham, League’s global head of esports, Riot has asked players and casters not to discuss “sensitive issues” (“political, religious, or otherwise”) on air during this weekend’s League of Legends World Championship games.
Needham’s statement, posted to the official League of Legends esport Twitter, does not directly reference the past week’s events concerning Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung. A professional Hearthstone player from Hong Kong, Chung’s recent post-match statement addressing the ongoing protests in Hong Kong (“Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age”) led Blizzard to suspend Chung for a year and rescind his earnings from Hearthstone’s current competitive series. Needham does reference “places like Hong Kong,” saying that the company has fans and employees “in regions where there has been (or there is risk of) political and/or social unrest.” Needham frames the decision as Riot seeking to not “escalate” unrest:
We believe we have a responsibility to do our best to ensure that statements or actions on our official platforms (intended or not) do no escalate potentially sensitive situations.
The statement also comes shortly after Riot communications lead Ryan Rigney released a short comment on how League of Legends team Hong Kong Attitude has been referred to on streams and official social media as of late. Rigney says Riot is not refraining from saying the team’s full name and uses the abbreviation “HKA” interchangeably in the same way it swaps full names and abbreviations for other teams.
Riot’s decision is already receiving pushback in replies on Twitter and the League of Legends subreddit. With Blizzard fans, employees, Hearthstone players, and at least one prominent caster protesting Blizzard’s decision, Riot’s stance on political or otherwise “sensitive” statements may attract a similar response.
Blizzard and Riot share a tie to mainland Chinese business interests through Tencent. Tencent fully acquired Riot in 2015 and own approximately 5% of Activision-Blizzard. Tencent also owns approximately 40% of Epic Games; on October 9, Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney weighed in on the Blizzard controversy by saying that Epic would not sever ties with a player or content creator over expression of “views on politics and human rights.”