At this weekend’s Magic: The Gathering Mythic Championship, pro Lee Shi Tian used his moment in the spotlight to draw attention to the protests in his hometown of Hong Kong.
Tian entered the tournament stage wearing a red scarf over his face, indicating his support for the pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong. (Protesters in Hong Kong wear masks to obscure their identity from government surveillance and stay safe from tear gas.) Tian was also covering one of his eyes like an eye patch—another symbol of the resistance.
Running a highly aggressive red deck, Tian was one of the few top players in the tournament who swerved away from the dominant decks in the format: predominantly green- and blue-based strategies dependent on ramping up to bigger creatures and effects. The popular deck type is so oppressive that some believe one of its key cards, Field of the Dead, will be banned today. Tian’s deck is only part of what made his win against Carlos Romao and entry into the Mythic Championship’s Top 8 so exciting.
In an emotional interview after his victory, Tian explained, “Life has been very tough in my hometown in Hong Kong.” Apparently overwhelmed with emotion, Tian added, “It feels so good to play as a free man!”
On October 8, Hearthstone publisher Blizzard suspended Hearthstone pro Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai after he voiced his support for Hong Kong on stream. Citing a Hearthstone esports rule, Blizzard also pulled his prize money. The punishment, which many considered far too harsh, spurred a huge backlash against Blizzard and resulted in a significant movement to boycott the company and its games.
Days later, Blizzard reduced Chung’s suspension from one year to six months and returned his prize money, but the damage was done: Fans are furiously suspending their subscriptions to Blizzard games, protests are being planned ahead of Blizzcon, and members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ron Wyden penned a stern letter asking Blizzard to reverse their decision.
One other result of Blizzard’s punishment was popular Hearthstone caster Brian Kibler announcing he would no longer be involved in the digital card game’s Grandmasters competition. He said, “The heavy-handedness of it feels like someone insisted that Blizzard make an example of Blitzchung, not only to discourage others from similar acts in the future but also to appease those upset by the outburst itself.” Kibler, who made a name for himself as a top Magic : The Gathering player, casted the weekend’s Magic: The Gathering Mythic Tournament.
One tweet following the tournament suggested that Twitch mods for the tournament did not remove mentions of Hong Kong from chat, and Kotaku has reached out to the original source for verification of this. After his loss to pro Gabriel Nassif, Tian wrote on Twitter, “Thanks everyone supported me, Hong Kong, freedom of speech and democracy I saw the Twitch chat and I heard it. It has been a tough period for me but it also motivated me to shine brighter.”