In a rare show of bipartisan action, Democrats and Republicans have joined forces in the US House of Representatives and the Senate to strongly reprimand Activision Blizzard Entertainment. The video game giant has been criticized for being a censored approach to the protests and crisis in Hong Kong.
The letter that Congress sent to Blizzard on October 18 was signed by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Tom Malinowski and Republican Representative Mike Gallagher.
They first stress their concern over Blizzard's treatment of Ng Wai Chung, the Hearthstone professional player who lost tournament money and was banned from Blizzard tournaments for a year after publicly supporting the Hong Kong protest movement. Blizzard's move and the subsequent silence for a week caused a tumult among the players and found worldwide favor.
Members of the Congress from the outset suggested that Blizzard's decisions were linked to their business interests in China. Their letter reads:
We express our deep concern over Activision Blizzard's decision to block player Ng Wai Chung from participating in tournaments for a year after voting in favor of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. This decision is particularly worrying given the Chinese government's growing appetite for pressure on American companies to suppress freedom of speech. Activision Blizzard benefits from China's growing e-sports market, along with an investment from Tencent, one of China's largest technology companies. As you and your company undoubtedly know, the Chinese government uses the size and strength of its economy to suppress opinions it disapproves of.
Your company claims to uphold the "right to individual utterance" thoughts and opinions, and yet many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzard's decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to these values. As your company is such a pillar of the gambling industry, your disappointing decision could have a disquieting effect on gamers trying to use their platform to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. Indeed, many gamers around the world have taken note of your company's actions and understandably demanded boycotts of Activision Blizzard gaming sites with certainty:
As China intensifies its intimidation campaign, you and your company need to decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values such as freedom of expression and thought, or yield to Beijing's demands to preserve market access. We urge you to reconsider your decision regarding Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse the course. We urge you to accept it.
You can read the entire congress letter addressed to Robert Kotick, CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, in PDF format here on Senator Wyden How closely connected Internet communities track Blizzard's activities. "CONGRESS JUST VIBECHECKED BLIZZARD", the Tumblr user wrote yourfavisawarcriminal when he published the letter on the social blogging site. The post office took off; Support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the demonstrators involved is broadly universal in the various online community areas, as well as bringing together unlikely congressional allies.
Other users of Tumblr have added to the original post and enjoyed having Ocasio-Cortez and Rubio fight together, but also underline how serious the problem is. The fact that such prominent, often polarized lawmakers blatantly annoy Blizzard together shows how poorly the company has cut off on the international stage.https://einstein-on-a-beach.tumblr.com/post/188454742282/kittyinhighheels- nunyabizni-memeseverdie
Oli Welsh, the editor of Eurogamer has a sharp piece about the "Impossible choice" facing Blizzard going to work; This is not Diablo Immortal. It's not about canceling an account that could never make the difference in a nation of 1.4 billion people on the other side. But it's about a fight for Blizzard's values, his identity, his soul. It will lose talent about it. It will lose loyalty. It will lose the respect. More such incidents will inevitably ensue, and Blizzard is gradually becoming a smaller business, a more common business, a business that has lost touch with its sense of purpose. Eventually, the games will suffer. They will be less good and players will not abandon them for ideological reasons, but because they are not so much fun anymore. The magic will be gone.
This is a situation that, as Welsh points out, undoubtedly continues to dissipate over many incremental incidents and even years for Blizzard, and there may not be any easy answers or solutions. But we can come up with something when we know that prominent names in the US government are currently aware of what's happening, and that they have overcome partiality to reject Blizzard's moves so far. The whole world is watching.
(via PCGamesN, Eurogamer, Tumblr, photos: Blizzard / Alex Wroblewski / Getty Images)
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