Riot esports head declares Hong Kong controversy off-limits for Worlds

Riot / Blizzard

John Needham, Riot Games’ Global Head of League of Legends Esports, released a statement on the controversy sparked by Blizzard banning a Hearthstone player for speaking out on the Hong Kong protests. In the statement, Needham addresses the decision to refrain from discussing “sensitive topics” during Worlds 2019.

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Over the past few days, the eyes and ire of the gaming world have been focused solely on Blizzard Entertainment. This began when the company responded to a Hearthstone player speaking out on the ongoing Hong Kong protests by banning the player, stripping his Hearthstone Grandmasters prize money, and firing the casters.

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The decision sparked outrage in the Blizzard and gaming communities, which caused #BlizzardBoycott to start trending. All of this just weeks before the company’s annual BlizzCon event.

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But less than a day before the beginning of the group stages for the 2019 League of Legends World Championships, Riot Games and its Global Head of Esports John Needham released a statement that acknowledged the controversy and explained how it would be addressed during the Worlds stream.

In short, it won’t be.

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In the statement, Needham reminds fans that “as a general rule, we want to keep the broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players.” 

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Needham writes that sensitive issues and topics like the Hong Kong protests “require deep understanding and a willingness to listen, and cannot be fairly represented in the forum our broadcast provides.”

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“Therefore,” he continues, “we have reminded our casters and pro players to refrain from discussing any of these topics on air.”

While this is the first official stance delivered by Riot on the issue, it isn’t their first time acknowledging it. During the Play-In stage, the official Riot stream drew attention from fans when it initially appeared that they were purposely avoiding saying “Hong Kong” when referring to the Hong Kong Attitude team. LoL communications lead Ryan Rigney addressed those comments on October 9.

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While Activision Blizzard has remained mostly silent on the blitzchung/Hong Kong controversy, other developers have weighed in with their stances.

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Epic Games CEO and majority shareholder Tim Sweeney acknowledged that while Chinese megacompany Tencent is still a large shareholder in Epic, players will not be banned for speaking up on political issues while he’s in charge.

Fans on Twitter were quick to point out that Riot is in fact, 100% owned by Tencent. Tencent also owns a 5% stake in Activision Blizzard.