HONG KONG — Activision Blizzard became the latest American company to find itself caught between its business interests in China and the values of its core customers after it suspended an e-sports player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protests during a live broadcast.
The decision to suspend Chung Ng Wai, a professional Hearthstone player in Hong Kong, for a year, while forcing him to forfeit a reported $10,000 in prize money, prompted a backlash in the United States similar to the public relations debacle the N.B.A. has faced this week. Gamers posted angrily on social media and in forums, while politicians saw it as another troubling sign of China’s chilling clampdown on speech worldwide.
“Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote on Twitter. “China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally.”
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, concurred, saying on Twitter that Activision Blizzard showed “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,” he said.
Activision Blizzard, which has created some of the most popular games in e-sports, including Overwatch and StarCraft, said Mr. Chung had run afoul of a rule barring players from any act that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages” the company’s image.
In a post-match interview with the Taiwan stream of Hearthstone, Mr. Chung, who is