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While the Hong Kong demonstrators are fighting for their personal freedoms, American corporations are clamping down on their own employees, in order to protect their Chinese investors.
While the Hong Kong protests have emboldened the downtrodden (and safer populaces abroad), the merit of the demonstrations has changed somewhat, as their fight for freedom has gone corporate elsewhere.
On Friday stateside, Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets published a singular tweet.
“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” it read, but you could make the argument that it’s a fairly bland, toothless comment. In the land of the free, brave and the verified on Twitter, you would imagine such a thing would pass without fanfare. Morey is just doing the American thing, plucking for freedom in the face of oppression.
Well, no. The tweet was subject to the other great American thing, the colour of money. The Houston Rockets are heavily affiliated with China (perhaps more than any other NBA team), who celebrate Chinese Lunar New Year and often play preseason exhibition games in the country. For the Rockets (and the famously non-political NBA) China represents a valuable revenue stream, and Morey’s (quickly deleted) tweet soon morphed into an international incident.
Per Brian Phillips of The Ringer, “Morey first deleted his tweet, then issued a statement that was several times longer and far more detailed than the original statement. The Chinese Basketball Association formally suspended its relationship with the Rockets. With the NBA’s preseason Global Games underway—including two games in China this week—Rockets merchandise disappeared from Chinese e-commerce platforms, and Chinese telecom companies stopped showing Rockets games. The NBA released an incoherent response, in English, that said all it wanted to do was bring people together; then a more sternly incoherent version appeared on the league’s Chinese social media account, in Mandarin, that said the NBA was extremely disappointed in Morey’s inappropriate tweet and all it wanted to do was bring people together.”
For the Rockets, it gets a trifle murkier, as the owner of the franchise declared that the Rockets are a “non-political organisation”. One could make the argument that forcing an employee to delete a political tweet is a political act. Further to that point, as Phillips wrote, “whom you choose to take money from, and what you do to get it, are political questions.”
Which neatly brings me to Blizzard Entertainment. This morning, the company suspended professional Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for showing support of the anti-government protestors in his home city.
— 🎃 Inven Global 🎃 (@InvenGlobal) October 6, 2019
For speaking his mind, Blitzchung has been removed from competitive play for twelve months, and all prize money won will be withheld.
As Kotaku noted, “Blizzard, clearly aware of the political repercussions in the Chinese market for such a statement, have determined that Blitzchung violated a competition rule, which states: ‘…engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD ($0), in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.'”
Blizzard finished off their swing of the ban hammer with a trite epithet, saying that “while we stand by one’s right to express individual thoughts and opinions, players and other participants that elect to participate in our esports competitions must abide by the official competition rules.”
Soon thereafter, Blizzard’s subreddit was moved to invite-only, with all conversation moving to Twitter, much of it calling for a boycott of Blizzard products.
The duality is probably best articulated by a commenter called ‘WronglySteven’, stating that “Blizzard will parade all the pride flags in the world, and all that corporate focus tested activism, but when the Chinese market is threatened, their real colours come to the front – and that colour is green”.