The maker of “Call of Duty” avoided China’s wrath Tuesday by suspending a professional gamer and seizing all his winnings after he shouted “Liberate Hong Kong” during a post-game interview.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based Activision Blizzard, which is 5 % owned by Tencent Holdings in Shenzhen, China, banned Hearthstone player Ng Wai Chung from playing in its video game competitions for a year after he shouted slogans associated with the pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong.
The company’s Blizzard unit also severed ties with the gamer’s two interviewers, who ducked under their desks to disassociate themselves from the gamer’s call to “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
The move comes as the National Basketball Association fends off a series of retaliatory moves from China companies over a pro-democracy tweet from the general manager of the Houston Rockets — a public lashing that has companies doing business with China on edge, experts said.
“Relationships between US and Chinese companies were already white knuckles when this reared up,” Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said of Rockets GM Daryl Morey’s since-deleted tweet.
“It’s a time of extremely heightened tensions that could lead to unintended consequences,” he told The Post. “What we really don’t want here is a Pandora’s box situation.”
Blizzard cited its rules against offending segments of the public to seize $7,000 in winnings by the gamer, known as “Blitzchung,” and a chance to win an additional $200,000.
But pro-free speech supporters lashed out against the video game company anyway, with some calling for a boycott using #boycottblizzard.
“I will not be playing any more Blizzard games — they banned a player for speaking out politically. Peace Blizz,” said Lettii@ttvlettii, who posted a screenshot of her canceled Blizzard subscription.
Morey’s “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” tweet has jeopardized Tencent’s five-year, $1.5 billion deal for NBA streaming rights. Tencent, which streams NBA games in China, has already suspended broadcasts of the Houston Rockets games.
On Tuesday, China Central Television added to the pain by declaring that it won’t broadcast two NBA basketball games to be played there as it conducts an investigation of “all cooperation and exchanges involving the NBA.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has refused to apologize, however, arguing that Morey was merely “exercising his freedom of expression.”
In addition to Activision Blizzard, Tencent has major stakes in messaging company Snap and electronic car company Tesla, while Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba owns stakes in Snap, delivery company Jet and ride-hailing giant Lyft.
Tencent is also in negotiations to acquire up to 50% of Universal Music Group, the world’s largest record company.
A music executive with knowledge of the talks said Tencent’s interest in Universal, which records Elton John and Taylor Swift, remains strong.