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Blizzard says China had "no influence" on move to ban Hearthstone video gamer

What keeps the Hong Kong protests going?

Blizzard Entertainment says China had "no influence" in its decision to ban a Hong Kong video game player last week for openly expressing support for Hong Kong protesters during a Hearthstone tournament. Following public criticism of the ban, however, the gaming company said it will reduce his suspension from a year to six months and return the player's $10,000 in winnings from the contest.

"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," J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment, said in a company blog post on Friday, referring to the player, Ng Wai Chung, by his gaming handle.  

"If this had been the opposing viewpoint delivered in the same divisive and deliberate way, we would have felt and acted the same," Brack added. 

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Chung on Saturday responded to Blizzard's statement. The player said on Twitter that he appreciated the company's reconsideration of his ban and decision to return his winnings.

"I knew I might have penalty or consequence for my act, because I understand that my act could take the conversation away from the purpose of the event," he wrote. "In the future, I will be more careful on that and express my opinions or show my support to Hong Kong on my personal platforms."

The player also said he has "no idea" whether he will continue to compete in Hearthstone in the future. 

Calls for boycott

During a Hearthstone tournament in early October, Chung shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" in an interview with two Taiwanese online video game show hosts. Blizzard banned him and seized $10,000 he had won in the competition. The company also fired the two Taiwanese hosts. On Saturday, Blizzard said it would instead suspend them for six months. 

The controversy prompted backlash and calls for a boycott from the video game community. According to The Daily Beast, a small group of Blizzard employees staged a walkout last week and papered over the slogans from popular game "Overwatch" to protest the controversy. 

China is a critical market for Blizzard's parent company, Activision, which is seeking Chinese approval to launch the mobile version of its biggest game, Call of Duty, in the world's second-largest economy. Chinese technology giant Tencent also holds a 4.9% stake in Activision, which is based in Santa Monica, California. 

Analysts expect Call of Duty to generate $1.1 billion in revenue for Activision in the final three months of 2019, or more than 40% of its revenue in the key Christmas quarter.

The controversy also comes as Activision is struggling to boost results at Blizzard, which primarily makes games for PCs. Blizzard's titles last year made up just over 30% of Activision's overall $7.2 billion in sales. But sales, led by its aging World of Warcraft game, have been falling. 

The incident has also prompted questions regarding how other video game makers will navigate their business ties with China. Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, whose company makes popular game Fortnite, said on Twitter last week that his company will not punish political speech. Tencent owns a 40% stake in Epic.

"That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO, and controlling shareholder," Sweeney wrote, alluding to Blizzard's decision to ban Chung. 

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