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Last week the esports industry in China went through a bit of turmoil as a decision by Blizzard Entertainment against a Hearthstone Grandmasters player related to ongoing protests in Hong Kong made international news. The protests also touched the NBA, who had to defend comments made by the Houston Rockets GM on Twitter about the political situation in the city. That ultimately led some NBA partners in the region to back away from doing business with the league.
Among the top stories: Blizzard suspended a Hearthstone Grandmasters player and fired two commentators for a Hong Kong liberation statement that was broadcasted live during the event; a former Blizzard China marketing director made public comments about the situation; Hero Entertainment ended its partnership with NBA for the mobile game NBA Live after the GM for the Houston Rockets made public comments about the protests; LGD Gaming fired its “Instagram Specialist” for stealing the official account; China’s CCTV featured a League of Legends player and a streamer for China’s National Say documentary; and Drodo Studio closed the game servers for Auto Chess to open new ones on Tencent’s platform.
Every week The Esports Observer presents the biggest esports business news in China, including investments, acquisitions, sponsorships, and other major news from the region.
Hero Entertainment Ends NBA Partnership, Former Blizzard Exec Comments on Hearthstone Suspensions
On Oct. 8, Chinese game publisher Hero Entertainment announced that the company has ended its partnership with the NBA for distributing the mobile game NBA Live. Hero Entertainment is also the parent company of tournament organizer Versus Programming Network (VSPN). Ying Shuling, the CEO of both Hero Entertainment and VSPN, reposted the announcement on his social media Weibo.
After Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey made comments about the Hong Kong liberation protests on Twitter and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended his right to free speech, multiple Chinese companies and governmental bodies temporarily suspended or even fully-ended partnerships with the NBA, including Tencent and CCTV for broadcasting, Chinese phone brand Vivo, apparel brand Li-Ning, and game publisher Hero Entertainment.
China’s government-backed television network, CCTV, expressed its displeasure with the NBA and also announced that it would examine all partnerships and communications related to the league going forward, which means the esports titles like NBA 2K20 could potentially be affected. Gen.G Esports recently announced that it will field a Chinese team based in Shanghai for the NBA 2K League 2020.
During a post-match interview on Hearthstone’s Asia-Pacific Grandmasters broadcast, player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai wore a mask and goggles and shouted “Hong Kong liberation statements.” The casters were seen ducking behind the desk before ending the interview. On Oct. 8, Hearthstone game publisher Blizzard Entertainment issued punishments for all involved: Ng Wai was suspended from all Hearthstone esports for a full year and would receive no prize money from the Grandmasters, while the two casters were fired.
This announcement has led to massive discussions in both China and the West. Blizzard stated that the company stands by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, but also noted that players and other participants that elect to participate in its esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules. Some have expressed frustration with Blizzard, seeing the ruling as showing support for the Chinese government.
On Oct. 9, Zhang Dong, a former Blizzard China marketing director, made comments on Chinese social media Weibo explaining why he thinks Blizzard made this decision:
“If someone tries to use this platform [esports] or audiences to spread his/her own political purposes, this is not allowed,” he stated in a Weibo post. “It’s [the Hearthstone situation] actually more terrible than the Houston Rockets stuff. Because it has been from the use of personal access to get traffic, to steal esports traffic, and spread [their] own political opinions. And of course, it violated Blizzard’s written esports rules.”
“Esports shouldn’t be used for political purpose,” Dong said in conclusion.
Dong left Blizzard Entertainment China on Sept. 8.
CCTV Features League of Legends Players on China’s National Day Documentary
On Oct. 2 during China’s National Holiday (Oct. 1-7), the Chinese government-backed television network CCTV posted a celebratory documentary on its mainstream platform showcasing comments from Chinese people ages 1-70. Royal Never Give-Up (RNG) League of Legends player Jian “Uzi” Zihao and former Invictus Gaming LoL player Liu “ppd” Mou were featured and represented ages 22 and 28, respectively.
Both players have massive influence in the country: Mou is a League of Legends streamer on Douyu, and has used some of his earnings to invest in a primary school for poor students. Zihao is currently competing at the League of Legends World Championships in Berlin, and won a gold medal for China’s League of Legends team in 2018 at the Jakarta Asian Games.
LGD Gaming Fires Instagram Specialist for Stealing Official Account, Creates New One
On Oct. 2, Chinese esports organization LGD Gaming announced that the company has fired its Instagram specialist Stoyan “Staka” Stoyanov for stealing LGD’s Instagram account and refusing to return it, as well as allegedly exhorting LGD for extra money to get it back.
According to the announcement, LGD created a new Instagram page called “teamlgdgaming” and announced that the old account “teamlgd” has no relationship with the organization.
“We are ready to get our legal team involved if Stoyanov doesn’t publicly apologize to LGD Gaming for the damage he has made with this tweet” and “we will not compromise,” the organization said.
Other Esports Business News:
- On Oct. 8, TJ Sports, a joint venture of Tencent and Riot Games, released a new version of its KFC co-branded digital mascot, “KFC KI Colonel,” for the League of Legends World Championship Chinese broadcast. The Colonel is a part of the partnership between League of Legends Pro League (LPL) and KFC, and will mainly appear on data analysis segments of the World Championships.
- On Oct. 9, Auto Chess maker Drodo Studio announced that the company has closed its original game servers and will open new ones on Tencent’s platform today. The game accounts will be fully-integrated into Tencent’s WeChat and QQ social media platforms.
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