Overwatch and Hearthstone developer Activision-Blizzard has found itself in hot water after banning one of its professional players for expressing his support for the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The American company, which is beholden to its Chinese benefactors, kowtowed to the totalitarian regime. Chinese tech giant Tencent owns 5 per cent of Activision-Blizzard, which has separate partnerships with other Chinese companies.
In response, gamers are now retaliating — not just against China, but against Activision-Blizzard itself — by turning a popular Overwatch character into a symbol of the Hong Kong democratic resistance.
It all began on Reddit when one user remarked, “It would be such a shame if Mei from Overwatch became a pro-democracy symbol and got Blizzard’s games banned in China.” The effort was inspired by the Chinese government’s blanket ban on Disney’s Winnie the Pooh and all likenesses of the children’s cartoon character after Chinese netizens discontented with the regime compared him with President Xi.
Reddit’s Blizzard community as a whole has turned into a pro-Hong Kong protest board, and has become the fastest growing community on the platform alongside r/HongKong.
Mei, a parka-clad character of Chinese descent, is one of the game’s more popular characters in China — for obvious reasons. Subverting Mei into a symbol of the Hong Kong resistance not only lands Blizzard in hot water but sticks a finger in the eye of Chinese censors who will have no choice but to ban the character — or perhaps even Overwatch in its entirety — should the gamers’ efforts persist.
Examples of this subversion include numerous now-viral images of Mei holding up Hong Kong protest slogans like “democracy now” and “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio voiced his own criticism of Blizzard for the Hearthstone ban. He tweeted: “People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions. China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally." He was joined by Senator Ron Wyden, who wrote, “Blizzard shows it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party. No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck.”
The efforts to get Overwatch banned in China arrive in the midst of a separate controversy involving the NBA, which prostrated itself before the Chinese government after Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey spoke out in support of the Hong Kong protesters. LeBron James even admonished Morey with some mealy-mouthed criticism about Morey’s supposedly lack of “education” on the Chinese situation, betraying his own lack of wokeness on the subject.
More recently, LeBron told commentators to stop focusing on the Hong Kong controversy and focus instead on American problems. It’s plain as day that his allegiances lie with Chinese, and not American interests.
Much like Blizzard, which claims “Every voice matters” in its company motto, the struggles of Hong Kongers don’t matter quite as much to LeBron as Chinese money.