Blizzard Entertainment – the international video gaming giant behind titles such as Overwatch and World of Warcraft – also makes Hearthstone, an online card game that competes with Immutable’s Gods Unchained. This week, Blizzard banned Hong Kong’s Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai from Hearthstone eSports for a year and withdrew tournament prize money he had won after he expressed support for protests in theChinese territory.
During a live stream of a Hearthstone tournament on the weekend, Mr Chung said, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” in Mandarin while wearing goggles and a face mask, the unofficial uniform of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
In contrast to many gaming firms that control the supply and demand of in-game items with real world value at their sole discretion, Immutable aims to give gamers real ownership through the use of cryptocurrency technology.
“We are trying to change players’ relationship with gaming and the assets they own,” Mr Ferguson said. “If we didn’t do this [supporting Mr Chung] it would be disingenuous or just weak.”
Blizzard said Mr Chung’s behaviour violated its rules barring players from conduct that “offends a portion or group of the public” or “damages Blizzard image” [sic].
The gaming company Blizzard is part-owned by Tencent, the Chinese internet giant that also led the backlash against the Houston Rockets NBA team after a team official tweeted in support of Hong Kong.
Mr Ferguson said Mr Chung had privately responded on Twitter, saying he appreciated Immutable’s offer but did not say whether he would take it up.
Immutable, which counts tens of thousands of players on Gods Unchained and raised $22 million in its last funding round, has much less potential exposure to the enormous Chinese market than other gaming publishers because it relies on cryptocurrency technology. Cryptocurrency trading is banned in China.
About seven hours after Immutable announced its offer, it was hit with the cyber attack that blocked players from logging into Gods Unchained. Mr Ferguson said the attack was continuing but Immutable had managed to ward off the damage after about four hours with the help of external security experts.
While Mr Ferguson said he had not analysed the attack in detail, he believed it most likely originated in China.
Other entities including the NBA and the US sports network ESPN have recently tried to avoid offending Chinese institutions and consumers, with mixed results.
Clarification: Gods Unchained is not banned in China.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.