For a clearer picture of the influence China wields, look no further than a ruckus that unspooled simultaneously with the NBA imbroglio. Last Sunday, Activision Blizzard, an e-gaming company, banned a professional Hearthstone player from the game’s lucrative pro league for a year and forced him to forfeit $10,000 after he said “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” in an interview about his tournament wins. Chung Ng Wai, who uses the handle “Blitzchung,” also donned a mask, which has become a symbol of the protests, before he was hustled from the podium.
What’s stunning (or pathetic) is that Activision Blizzard made this decision – citing “damages to the company’s image” — on its own, apparently without direction from Beijing, an indication that the firm, like many others, has internalized Chinese values. Activision Blizzard makes a lot of money in China where gaming has become a national pastime to a generation of young men. Blizzard has a partnership with Chinese tech company Netease and Tencent owns five percent of its parent company.
Blizzard Activision is just one of many corporations that have bent to Chinese whims, perceived or otherwise, in recent years. Corporate heavyweights such as Marriott, Cathay Pacific, MUJI, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, United Airlines, Swarovski, Mercedes Benz, Gap, Apple, Google, and Leica have all been targeted by either the Chinese Communist Party or by Chinese netizens for perceived slights. And slight they were indeed. Last week, Tiffany & Co. killed an ad that showed Chinese model Sun Feifei wearing a Tiffany ring on her right hand, which covered her right eye. Chinese netizens claimed the advertisement could be interpreted as showing support for Hong Kong’s protesters, many of whom hide their faces with masks. Go figure.