Blizzard says it’s not banning Hearthstone viewers on Twitch for pro–Hong Kong messages

Hearthstone developer Blizzard Entertainment says it’s not censoring pro–Hong Kong messages on its official Twitch channel. Reports from earlier today suggested the company was banning Hearthstone viewers during its Hearthstone Masters Tour broadcasts, but Blizzard insists that’s not the case.

Twitch viewers are getting banned, but for spamming the chat — not for posting a certain message, Blizzard said. This is evident when looking at the Twitch chat; it’s still getting spammed with messages in support of Hong Kong. The Hearthstone Twitch channel, which is currently airing a rerun of the Hearthstone Masters Tour in Bucharest, Romania, is also operating in “Follower’s-Only” mode. This moderation tool requires viewers to “follow” the channel on Twitch for two days before chat permissions are enabled.

Here’s the statement Blizzard sent to Polygon:

We are not banning people from Twitch chat for specifically using pro Hong Kong speech or any other political statements. Bans are being levied by an automated moderating system that’s triggered by viewers spamming any phrase repeatedly. We expect to have the issue corrected in the next few hours.

The $500,000 tournament is ongoing through Oct. 20.

Blizzard is facing criticism for suspending Hong Kong–based Hearthstone player Chung “blitzchung” Ng Wai after he expressed support for protesters in Hong Kong on an official Hearthstone broadcast. Chung appeared on stream wearing a gas mask after winning his Hearthstone match and shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.” Blizzard initially banned Chung for one year and revoked $10,000 in prizing. It also fired two Taiwanese casters that hosted the interview. A week later, the company reduced Chung’s suspension to six months, returned the money, and suspended the casters for six months.

Criticism is coming from all angles — including from within the company itself, from fans, and lawmakers. United States Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mike Gallagher (R-WI), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) published a letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick on Friday, asking the company to reverse its decision. “We urge you in the strongest terms to reconsider your decision with respect to Mr. Chung,” the legislators wrote.

All this comes as Blizzard is preparing for its annual fan convention, BlizzCon, held in Anaheim, California in early November. People are already boycotting Blizzard games and planning protests for the convention weekend. Overwatch hero Mei, a Chinese climatologist, has also become a symbol of ongoing protests in Hong Kong, both online and in the region.

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