Games firm Blizzard is attracting criticism for its decision to fine and ban an esports player who expressed support for the current pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong during a post-match interview.
Chung Ng Wai was a competitor in an esports tournament for Blizzard’s game Hearthstone, and the publisher (which also runs the event) quickly stripped him of his prize money and banned him for a year. Observers were just as quick to note that one of Blizzard’s shareholders is Chinese tech giant Tencent: it owns 5% of the company. Cue reports of gamers boycotting Blizzard games and employees walking out in protest.
There’s a bigger issue here around western companies doing business (and/or taking investment from) China, and their policies when it comes to speech and content that would fall foul of Chinese laws. The Hong Kong protests are sparking several controversies at once around this. Besides Blizzard, Apple is facing questions over its removal from its App Store in Hong Kong of an app that enabled protestors to track police movements; and also of the removal of news app Quartz from the Chinese App Store, reportedly because of its coverage of the protests. Basketball body the NBA is also being heavily criticised for its reaction to a tweet by the coach of the Houston Rockets in support of the pro-democracy protestors.
What does all this have to do with music? Syracuse University’s Bill Werde has already written a guest column for Billboard suggesting that the music industry should be watching these dramas carefully. “What will Universal do when Lady Gaga decides to share her thoughts on human rights violations in China and Tencent plays hardball?” he wondered.