A top professional gamer from Hong Kong who was expelled from an international esports tournament after showing support for the city's protest movement said on Tuesday he had no regrets.
Chung Ng Wai, who represents the Asia-Pacific region under the name Blitzchung, had just won a crucial match at the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament when he exclaimed in Mandarin "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times" during a live-streamed interview with hosts. in Taipei.
Hearthstone is a hugely popular online card game in which two opponents take turns employing different characters with different abilities to try to defeat each other.
The 21-year-old university student, who was wearing eye goggles and a gas mask – equipment frequently used by protesters in Hong Kong – pulled down his respirator to broadcast his message.
The online stream was cut short mid-interview shortly afterwards and the video has since been taken down.
Chung told AFP he was not surprised at being kicked out of the competition, but said: “I regret saying that stuff. And even now, I will regret it at all. ”
The Hongkonger said he had been distracted by the sometimes violent unrest in his home city over the past four months.
"Quite a number of large-scale protests overlapped the competition time," he said. "Sometimes, I don't focus on competition."
The makers of Hearthstone, Blizzard Entertainment, wrote in a statement that Chung had broken their rules and said he would not receive any prizemoney – $ 10,000 according to Chung – and would be banned from Hearthstone esports for a year.
Those rules say players should not engage in acts that bring themselves into "public disrepute", offend anyone or damage the developer's image.
The video game industry last year generated more than $ 135bn globally – $ 43.4bn of that in the United States alone.
Chung said his removal from the competition was "a pity" after spending four years in esports.
“I sacrificed time hanging out with my friends and studying because of this competition. Even though it seems like I've wasted four years of time, I have something more important in my heart – if we lose the movement, Hong Kong will end forever. "
According to Bloomberg, a small stake in Activision Blizzard – the parent company of Blizzard Entertainment and one of America's largest gaming companies – is owned by Chinese holding company Tencent and Ng believes the developer could be bowing to Beijing's world view by silencing him.
"I expect my comments will make a huge impact," he said. “Just expressing myself and why should i be afraid of this kind of 'white terror'? This is my freedom of speech.
“I should be scared. I hope my act can inspire other gamers like me to continue to support the movement in Hong Kong. ”
The gamer drew received support from the gaming community, some of whom wrote on the Reddit-like forum LIHKG.
“I really don't think of any reason why developers in esports would offend youngsters. Good luck to them, ”wrote one user in Cantonese.
Another wrote: “I have been supporting Blizzard Entertainment for nearly 20 years. I bought most of its games. Very uninstalling all its games. I won't support Blizzard any more. ”
The incident is similar to a controversy in the NBA sparked last week when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a now-deleted comment on Twitter supporting protesters, as well as elicited reactions from politicians.
"Recognize what's going on here," posted Florida senator Marco Rubio in a tweet. “People who don't live in #China must either self-censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally. ”
"Blizzard shows it's willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party," said Oregon senator Ron Wyden in a tweet. "No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck."
At Blizzard's headquarters in Irvine, California, a plaque bearing inspirational messages such as "Think Globally" and "Every Voice Matters" has been reportedly covered, while English-language fan forums and subreddits have been flooded with support for Chung.
Additional reporting by Patrick Lum