Collectible card game legend Brian Kibler, who casts for Hearthstone, announced today that he will no longer be involved in the digital card game’s Grandmasters competition. In a post on Medium, he blamed Blizzard’s “incredibly harsh” punishment of Grandmasters competitor Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai.
Yesterday, Blizzard announced it would suspend Chung for one year and and pull his prize money after he expressed his support for the Hong Kong protests.
Kibler, 39, is a widely-respected Magic: The Gathering player who, in 2010, was inducted into Magic’s Hall of Fame. Over the last couple years, Kibler amassed a 500,000-person following on Twitch streaming Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which he casts in an official capacity for Blizzard.
With Blizzard banning Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for a year and stripping his prize winnings over the player's vocal support for Hong Kong during a post-game interview, it was only a matter of time before someone else stepped up. Enter Sydney studio Immutable, the makers of a blockchain-powered collectible card game, and the company pledging to repay all of Blitzchung's lost winnings.
“I certainly never expected that my position in the Hearthstone community would lead to me making a statement on sensitive topics regarding international relations,” Kibler wrote, “but I have always viewed my strange place as a public figure in gaming as an opportunity to try to make the world a better place in whatever way I can, so here we are.”
According to Blizzard, Chung violated the rules of the Hearthstone Grandmasters when he engaged “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.” To the company, that included Chung saying “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” after winning the APAC Hearthstone Grandmasters. Acknowledging that he thinks Blizzard “was correct in issuing him a penalty for his actions,” Kibler goes on to say that the penalty was “not something I can in good conscience be associated with.”
“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. . . When I learned about the ruling, I reached out to Blizzard and informed them that I no longer feel comfortable casting the Grandmasters finals at BlizzCon. I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward.”
Kibler’s statement joins a chorus of backlash against Blizzard’s decision. The Blizzard subreddit shuttered yesterday, full of complaints from players—some of whom pledged to quit the game entirely. At Blizzard’s headquarters, where it proudly displays company values like “lead responsibly” and “learn & grow,” a big piece of paper covered up the values “think globally” and “every voice matters” apparently in protest of Chung’s ban.
Kotaku has asked Blizzard how it is responding to the backlash against their decision and has not heard back. Earlier this morning, Kibler was streaming Magic: The Gathering Arena on Twitch to nearly 3,000 live viewers.