Fortnite maker Epic Games said it would allow its esports players to express political beliefs in support of Hong Kong democracy protesters, despite its partial ownership by Chinese tech giant Tencent.
Responding to Twitter users Wednesday, Epic CEO Tim Sweeney said if a famous Twitch streamer like Tfue or Ninja hypothetically shouted “Free Hong Kong,” there would be no repercussions from Epic. “That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO and controlling shareholder,” he tweeted.
“Epic supports everyone’s right to speak freely,” he tweeted. “China players of Fortnite are free to criticize the US or criticize Epic just as equally as all others.”
Twitter users were quick to point out that Tencent owns about 40% of Epic Games’ shares, but Sweeney added, “Epic is a US company and I’m the controlling shareholder.”
Its rival Activision Blizzard received flak from gamers around the world after it disqualified and banned a “Hearthstone” player for shouting a popular Hong Kong protest slogan. On Tuesday, Blizzard said player Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung violated competition rules when he shouted “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” during a livestreamed post-match interview. Ng was stripped of his potential winnings and banned from competing for the next year.
It’s the latest instance of businesses getting involved in Hong Kong’s ongoing pro-democracy, anti-government protests, which are now in their fourth month. Beijing has taken a hard line on other brands caught in the mix. It scrubbed television show South Park from the Chinese internet after an episode criticized censorship, and pulled NBA preseason games off the air after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of Hong Kong.
Now, some in the online-gaming community are accusing Blizzard of trying to appease China.
In response to the disqualification, some fans called for boycotts of Blizzard. Others drew fan art or made memes of a Chinese character within the Blizzard-owned video game “Overwatch,” recasting her as a Hong Kong protester in a bid to get that game banned in China. A “small group” of employees reportedly walked out of its Irvine, California, headquarters in protest, according to The Daily Beast.
Blizzard and Tencent did not respond to requests for comment.