A small group of Activision Blizzard employees left work on Tuesday afternoon to protest a player who expressed support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong during an official livestream.
The game publisher behind online multiplayer hits such as World of Warcraft and Overwatch have banned Hong Kong-based pro Hearthstone player Chung Ng Wai from the game's lucrative pro-league for one year on Tuesday. Chung, using the Blizzchung handle, challenged the ban after saying in an interview about his tournament victories "Liberating Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Time." The actions of Blizzard forced him to lose the already won prize money of $ 1
"The action Blizzard took against the player was quite appalling, but not surprising," said a longtime Blizzard associate to The Daily Beast. "Blizzard earns a lot of money in China, but now the company is in a difficult position where we can not stick to our values."
"I'm disappointed," said another current Blizzard employee. "We want people around the world to play our games, but with political neutrality, that can not be done." The employees spoke under the condition of anonymity for fear of professional consequences.
Protest against Blizzard staff from several departments gathered at An Iconic Statue of an Orc Warrior charging for battle at around 10 am Pacific time in the center of the company's main campus in Irvine, California. The number of demonstrators fluctuated throughout the day, the two employees said and eventually left in the late afternoon. The demonstrators would have been visible to executive offices overlooking the main square, the two employees said. The company did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Chinese technology giant Tencent owns a 5% stake in Blizzard, and the gaming company generated 12% of its Asia Pacific revenue in the last quarter.
The decision triggered a backlash between players and non-players, and intensified the fire sparked by the National Basketball Association's own controversy surrounding China and the protests in Hong Kong.
A person claiming to be a Blizzard employee and using the handle "Standingwhk" sent an image to Reddit and Imgur, which showed about 20 employees involved in the demonstration. Several employees held umbrellas in their hands, a visual symbol adopted by demonstrators in Hong Kong. Two current Blizzard employees have authenticated the photo to The Daily Beast.
Blizzard has placed badges with the most important corporate values along a circular compass around the orc. According to the two employees and photos the protesters had printed one with the inscription "Every vote counts" on paper.
The demonstrators also requested signatures for a petition in which they expressed their displeasure over the Blizzard leadership's planned treatment of the matter, executives said the two employees. The discussion about the actions of Blizzard and the protest continued on Wednesday. The two employees said Blizzard executives had not taken any public action against the demonstrators.
Blizzard's actions have triggered a negative reaction among legislators denouncing the gaming giants. On Twitter, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said the company was ready to humble themselves to please China. Marco Rubio explained that "the implications of this will be felt long after the death of everyone in today's US politics."
One of the staff members who spoke with The Daily Beast thought the protest ushered in a new era for Blizzard. The company has responded to government demands for censorship within its games to continue doing business in one of the largest markets, he said.
"When doing business in China, it was easier to ignore the authoritarianism of the government because it was them. For example, ask us to remove a skeleton [from a game]," he said.
"The stakes are so much higher now. What used to be an obvious decision is now much less obvious. "