To recap: Blizzard banned blitzchung on Tuesday for 1 year and took away his prize money.
Late in the day on Friday, Blizzard reverses course… a little bit. Basically, J. Allen Brack releases a non-apology hitting on Core Values and mission statements like it was co-authored by a guy desperately applying to the last open position in Human Resources. The brass tacks are that Blitzchung gets his prize money and he and the shoutcasters are only banned for six months.
Blizzard also very much wants you to know that while “the process wasn’t adequate, and we reacted too quickly,” that this speedy, inadequately processed response was not due to China:
The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.
We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.
If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same.
That’s certainly in line with the Official Blizzard-China social media account of the incident back on Thursday (translated by IGN):
“We express our strong indignation [or resentment] and condemnation of the events that occurred in the Hearthstone Asia Pacific competition last weekend and absolutely oppose the dissemination of personal political ideas during any events [or games]. The players involved will be banned, and the commentators involved will be immediately terminated from any official business. Also, we will protect [or safeguard] our national dignity [or honor].”
Oh, wait, no it’s not.
The broader context of the drama is also instructive. Specifically, the General Manager for the Houston Rockets tweeted a pro-Hong Kong message that threatened to upend billions of dollars in NBA deals and merchandise in China. That tweet went out on October 4th, and the Chinese backlash – including banning broadcasts of Rockets’ games – started on October 6th.
The NBA sent out this tweet on October 7th:
“While Daryl has made it clear that his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA, the values of the league support individuals educating themselves and sharing their views on matters important to them,” NBA said in a statement, adding: “We have great respect for the history and culture of China and hope that sports and the NBA can be used as a unifying force to bridge cultural divides and bring people together.”
Then on October 8th, after considerable domestic backlash, the NBA basically said “just kidding, we’re totes in favor of free speech.” To which China responded by immediately halting all NBA preseason broadcasts and issuing this statement:
“We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Silver’s stated support of Morey’s right to free speech. We believe any remarks that challenge national sovereignty and social stability do not belong to the category of free speech,” the network said. “We will also immediately examine all other cooperation and exchanges with the NBA.”
Then, October 9th, all official Chinese partners with the NBA suspended ties.
…only to reverse course on October 10th, per the New York Times. The speculation is China started to realize how visible its hand up the asses of these puppets had become, and started to worry maybe things were becoming a bit too counter-productive. Indeed, China’s insane overreaction certainly has brought Hong Kong protests and China’s ethnic cleansing of Muslims into greater awareness, if only for a little while.
So, to summarize:
- Oct 4th: Pro-Hong Kong tweet by Rockets’ General Manager
- Oct 6th: Chinese backlash | blitzchung’s pro-Hong Kong interview statement
- Oct 7th: NBA apologizes to China
- Oct 8th: NBA takes it back, China angry | Blizzard apologizes to China, bans blitzchung
- Oct 9th: China suspends relationship with NBA
- Oct 10th: China unsuspends relationship with NBA
- Oct 11th: Blizzard lessens ban on blitzchung
Funny how that all works out.
In fairness to Blizzard, it is possible that everything is just a big coincidence. I doubt it was Brack himself who decided on the punishment – whomever made the call did already have a set of rules in black & white to follow, including the bit about zeroing out prize money. Beyond the bullshit, Blizzard also has a vested interest in not having the winner’s interview becoming a political podium. Imagine a parade of “Make America Great Again” and “Black Lives Matter” and “But Her Emails!” After seeing the wide-ranging backlash, it’s also entirely plausible to need a few days to properly vet a review and response.
The deeper concern here is how much American companies and institutions may have internalized Chinese (government) values along the way. It is one thing for China to threaten to shut down access if a punishment is not meted out. It is a far more pernicious thing if the NBA and Blizzard preemptively overreacted on behalf of China, in anticipation of the belt. Their behavior this time has been very visible. What is less visible is when they change rules, company culture, and otherwise align themselves in subtle ways such that it becomes impossible to offend China in the first place.
No amount of free speech will overcome self-censorship, the Great Firewall in your mind.