The competitive Hearthstone team from American University has been handed a six-month ban from competition by Blizzard in response to the team’s show of support for Hong Kong protestors and a boycott of Blizzard.
On October 8th, during a match against the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, three members of the American University Hearthstone team held up a sign during the official broadcast that read “Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz.”
The feed was quickly cut by Blizzard, and the video game developer announced that no more post-match interviews would be held that night:
in tonight’s Collegiate Hearthstone championship, American University held up a “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizzard” during the broadcast, which was quickly cut away by Blizzard pic.twitter.com/Y9eXtLfuGw
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 9, 2019
Blizzard has notified Collegiate Hearthstone teams that there will be no more interviews tonight
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) October 9, 2019
Despite taking punitive action against Blitzchung for the same action, Blizzard initially took no action against the players and scheduled them as normal for their next match.
In response to the scheduling, the three players- Corwin “GiantDwarf” Dark, Casey “Xcelsior” Chambers, and “TJammer”-forfeited their upcoming match, telling USGamer that they were pulling out from the tournament and abstaining from Blizzard games because they “feel it’s hypocritical for Blizzard to punish Blitzchung but not us.”
“We feel it’s hypocritical for Blizzard to punish Blitzchung but not us. The response from Blizzard shows that as soon as the messaging is out of the view of China they don’t care about ‘political’ messaging.”
The lack of punishment was short-lived, as Chambers, “happy” that all players were “being treated equally,” announced on October 15th that the three players had been banned from competing in Hearthstone eSports for six months:
Happy to announce the AU Hearthstone team received a six month ban from competition. While delayed I appreciate all players being treated equally and no one being above the rules. pic.twitter.com/mZStoF0e0t
— Casey Chambers (@Xcelsior_hs) October 16, 2019
An official announcement regarding the bans was also posted to the Hearthstone Rules and Policies page:
During week 4 of the Fall 2019 Hearthstone Collegiate Championships, players GiantDwarf, TJammer and Xcelsior were in violation of section 7.1.B of the Hearthstone Collegiate Championship rules for engaging in behavior disruptive to the official esports broadcast. The players are disqualified from the ongoing tournament and will be ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 6 months, beginning from October 8th, 2019 and extending to April 8th, 2020. Following the 6 months suspension, the players may, at their discretion, continue to participate in Hearthstone esports.
In the current version of the Hearthstone® Collegiate Championship Fall 2019 Official Rules, section 7.1.B specifically states that “Participants shall treat all individuals watching or participating in a Tespa event with respect” and prohibits players from being intentionally disruptive:
“1.B. Participants shall treat all individuals watching or participating in a Tespa event with respect. Participants may not take any action or perform any gesture directed at another Participant, Tespa Admin, or any other party or incite others to do the same which is abusive, insulting, mocking, ordisruptive. Players may not use obscene gestures or profanity in their account names, player handles, team names, game chat, lobby chat or live interviews. This includes abbreviations and/or obscure references.”
After the ban was announced, video game news outlet IGN reached out to Blizzard asking why the decision to ban the AU team took a week to make while Blitzchung’s ban was almost immediate.
Blizzard replied with a standard statement regarding broadcasts which did not address IGN’s specific question:
“Thanks for reaching out. We strongly encourage everyone in our community to share their viewpoints in the many places available to express themselves. However, our official broadcast needs to be about the game and the competition, and to be a place where all are welcome. If we allow the introduction of personal views about sensitive issues into the channel, it ceases to be what it’s meant for – esports. We have rules in place to support this, to which these competitors, as well as others at all levels, have agreed. They knowingly broke those rules and we’ve suspended them from Hearthstone esports for six months. The ruling is available here.”