SAN FRANCISCO: After a week of backlash from players, employees and US politicians, gaming company Blizzard Entertainment said an e-sports champion who voiced support for Hong Kong protesters will be given the prize money he was stripped of.
Ng Wai Chung will also have his ban from competing in tournaments halved to six months, said the California-based unit of Activision on Friday (Oct 11).
Ng, who represented the Asia-Pacific region under the name Blitzchung, had just won a crucial match at the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament when he was claimed in Mandarin "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" during a livestreamed interview with hosts in Taipei.
READ: 'No regrets' for Hong Kong gamers kicked out of the e-sports tournament
Blizzard said China had nothing to do with its decision to punish Ng.
"The specific views expressed by Blitzchung were not a factor in the decision we made," Blizzard president J Allen Brack said in an online post to the gaming community.
"I want to be clear: Our relationships in China have no influence on our decisions."
Brack contended the player violated rules "he acknowledged and understood".
The company would have taken the same decision if the "opposing viewpoint (had been) delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way", he said.
Blizzard became the target of a boycott by gamers and a walk-out by employees this week after it decided to deny Blitzchung US $ 10,000 in prize money and ban him for a year.
"In the tournament itself Blitzchung 'played' fair," Brack said.
"We now believe he should receive his prize. But playing fair also includes appropriate pre-and post-match conduct, especially when a player accepts recognition for winning in a broadcast."
However, a six-month suspension seems more appropriate in retrospect, so Blitzchung will be allowed back in the Hearthstone pro circuit after that time, Brack said.
READ: China punishes the NBA after Hong Kong fallout tweets
READ: Sports brand Vans removes Hong Kong sneaker in design competition
Hearthstone is a hugely popular online card game in which two opponents take turns to deploy different characters with different abilities to try to defeat each other.
"We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took," Brack said.
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 off mid-interview shortly afterwards and the video has been taken down since.
Ng told AFP he was not surprised at being kicked out of the competition, but said: "I don't regret saying that stuff. And even now, I don't regret it at all."