ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A few dozen people gathered Friday at BlizzCon to protest against Blizzard Entertainment for its bans of Hearthstone player Ng "blitzchung" Wai Chung and three Hearthstone competitors from American University who showed support for Hong Kong in that territory's protests against the Chinese government.
As BlizzCon attendees made their way to the Anaheim Convention Center through a long, centered walkway between the Hilton and Marriott hotels, protestors clad in black clothing, face/gas masks and bandanas greeted them with loud chants over megaphones and the swaying of American and Hong Kong flags. Messaging in the protest ranged from chants for "Free Hong Kong" to "People over profit" and "Blitzchung did nothing wrong."
Blizzard did not directly address the protests, but during the opening ceremony's keynote speech on Friday, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack said the company did not handle the situation with blitzchung properly and he took responsibility for his company's actions.
"We didn't live up to the standards we set for ourselves," Brack said. "We failed in our purpose. And for that, I'm sorry, and I accept accountability."
Brack's statement was met with a round of applause from the audience.
During the afternoon, Fight for the Future -- an organization that recently launched a new initiative called Gamers for Freedom -- led a lineup of speakers outside ranging from cosplayer Zephronica, whose Hong Kong-themed rendition of Overwatch character Mei went viral in October, to two of the American University students who were banned by the California-based game developer.
Those two students, Torin Wright and Casey Chambers, were the center of attraction for the protest and gave individual speeches that were met with loud applause in support of Hong Kong and boos in response to Blizzard's actions.
One of Wright's professors, he said, inspired him to come to BlizzCon for the protests.
"A lot of people tend to take the easy way out when looking for solutions," Wright said. "Coming here, in my mind, was taking the harder way and trying to create some pressure. I didn't know initially, and even holding up the sign, I was like, 'How can I create some pressure, and how can I make my voice heard enough where I'm not just sitting around sulking about Blizzard [not] giving [blitzchung] his money back?'"
Many of the protestors who participated were not gamers but were galvanized online after blitzchung's ban made international news in early October. During a tournament livestream, blitzchung appeared in a postmatch interview with a gas mask -- a symbol of the Hong Kong protesters -- and said, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time."
Blizzard then banned blitzchung from competing for one year and revoked the prize money he had earned for competing in the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament. That punishment was shortened to a six-month suspension and blitzchung's prize money was honored after online outrage, international news coverage and mass cancellation of Blizzard's subscriptions and deletion of accounts on Battle.net, Blizzard's client for access to its games.
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Following the blitzchung ban, Wright, Chambers and their third teammate, Corwin Dark, held a sign up on a collegiate Hearthstone livestream that said, "Free Hong Kong. Boycott Blizzard." Those three also were met with a six-month suspension from collegiate Hearthstone play.
On Oct. 18, a bipartisan Congressional delegation wrote a letter to Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick asking him to reinstate blitzchung's eligibility and return the prize money. That letter included signatures from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).
"I play Overwatch. I played StarCraft in the past. I used to play World of Warcraft," said Blake, an attendee who asked that his last name not be used. "But it's been difficult, of course, because you have this thing, and you want to play with your friends; but at the same time, you don't want to support or give money to Blizzard and reward them for their actions."
-- Paul Kix contributed to this report.