When Activision Blizzard made the decision to ban a Hearthstone player for expressing support for Hong Kong protestors earlier this month, we’re sure it didn’t think the US congress would get involved.
Unfortunately for Activision Blizzard that is exactly what happened last week when, on Friday, two US senators and three members of Congress wrote to Blizzard chief executive officer Bobby Kotick.
The letter is signed by senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio. Congress members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher and Tom Malinowski also signed the letter.
The letter starts off by saying that Activision Blizzard’s decision regarding blitzchung a few weeks ago was deeply concerning “in light of the Chinese government’s growing appetite for pressuring American businesses to stifle free speech”.
As you may be aware, pressure from China prompted Apple to remove an app that was being used to avoid police during protests in Hong Kong. The NBA in the US also fired a coach after they tweeted support for Hong Kong.
The lawmakers also make it clear they are aware of Activision Blizzard’s ties to China in the form of investment from Tencent.
All of this culminates in the senators and congress people criticising the banning of blitzchung and questioning the firm’s statements.
“Your company claims to stand by ‘one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions,’ yet many of your own employees believe that Activision Blizzard’s decision to punish Mr. Chung runs counter to those values,” the group writes.
Ultimately Activision Blizzard has a choice to make and, while it’s not expressly said, the letter implies that the publisher is on thin ice with US lawmakers.
“As China amplifies its campaign of intimidation, you and your company must decide whether to look beyond the bottom line and promote American values – like freedom of speech and thought – or to give in to Bejing’s demands in order to preserve market access. We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung. You have the opportunity to reverse course. We urge you to take it,” the letter concludes.
Activision Blizzard has not responded to the letter directly although it did lessen blitzchung’s punishment slightly following widespread public outcry.
That doesn’t seem to have helped folks from boycotting the publisher.
The company is likely sweating bullets at the moment given that Blizzcon 2019 is two weeks away. Many players have planned protests at the convention including our favourite – arriving in the iconic red T-shirt worn by Red T-shirt Guy and chanting “Free Hong Kong” incessantly.
One thing is for sure, Blizzcon may just be the most interesting event to date.