Activision Blizzard suspended a professional player from an esports tournament and stripped him of his earnings after he made a statement over the weekend in support of protests in Hong Kong.
In a post-match interview on the Taiwanese stream of Blizzard Entertainment game Hearthstone, Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai wore a gas mask and goggles and appeared to shout a slogan often associated with Hong Kong protesters: "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time."
On Saturday, a ban on face masks went into effect after Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers. The global financial center has been slammed with four months of protests, which periodically degenerated into violence. The destruction of property and infrastructure has taken a toll on the embattled city and its trade-reliant economy, which has already taken a hit from the ongoing U.S.-China tariff fight.
In a statement to esports blog Inven Global, Chung said that the incident "was just another form of participation of the protest that I wish to grab more attention."
"I know what my action on stream means. It could cause me lot of trouble, even my personal safety in real life. But I think it's my duty to say something about the issue," Chung said in a statement to Inven Global.
Chung's comments during the stream sparked swift action from Blizzard, a subsidiary of Santa Monica, California-based Activision Blizzard.
"Effective immediately, Blitzchung is removed from Grandmasters and will receive no prizing for Grandmasters Season 2. Additionally, Blitzchung is ineligible to participate in Hearthstone esports for 12 months beginning from Oct. 5th, 2019 and extending to Oct. 5th, 2020. We will also immediately cease working with both casters," Blizzard said in a Tuesday statement.
The game publisher said Chung violated its competition rules, emphasizing that it was "individual behavior which does not represent Blizzard or Hearthstone Esports." As a result, Blizzard said it took down video replay of the match, during which Chung shouted the protest slogan.
"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," the firm said.
Activision Blizzard's Nasdaq-traded shares dropped 2.31% in Tuesday's session amid a wider market selloff. They edged into a further decline in extended trading.
Blizzard said Chung violated the following rule:
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, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard's Website Terms.
U.S. politicians weighed in on the issue, with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., saying in a Tuesday tweet: "Recognize what's happening here. People who don't live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions."
Chung's suspension comes after a similar incident rocked the NBA, highlighting the challenges foreign companies face while operating within the world's second largest economy. As businesses look for opportunity in China, they often can't risk upsetting the country's autocratic government.
Chinese state media and tech juggernaut Tencent have announced suspensions of NBA preseason games in China following a since-deleted tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey where he showed support for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Morey quickly drew strong criticism in the world's second largest economy. The NBA is China's most popular sports league.
— Reuters and CNBC's Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.