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Riot’s global head of League of Legends esports John Needham has shared a statement on the company’s stance on the place “sensitive topics” like politics and religion have in its official esports broadcasts, in short saying that, as a general rule, Riot wants “to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players.”
Needham’s comment comes amid League of Legends World Championship events and days after Hearthstone and Overwatch developer Blizzard reprimanded the professional Hearthstone player Blitzchung for using a live-streamed post-match interview as a platform to share support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Blizzard’s action against Blitzchung forced him to forfeit his seasonal winnings and banned him from participating in professional Hearthstone play for 12 months, due to actions that it explained violated official competition rules. The decision has since been met with no small amount of criticism from both within and beyond the game industry.
In the wake of the original Blizzard controversy, prominent casters and esports players have spoken out against the studio’s actions, with some choosing to step down from official events in protest of Blizzard’s action against Blitzchung.
Needham’s statement doesn’t explicitly mention Blizzard’s decision, but does note that the company believes it has a responsibility to its employees and fans in places familiar with political and social unrest like Hong Kong to “not escalate potentially sensitive situations” through its statements or actions.
“As a general rule, we want to keep our broadcasts focused on the game, the sport, and the players,” writes Needham. “We serve fans from many different countries and cultures, and we believe this opportunity comes with a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate.”
“These topics are often incredibly nuanced, require deep understanding and a willingness to listen, and cannot be fairly represented in the forum our broadcast provides. Therefore, we have reminded our casters and pro players to refrain from discussing any of these topics on air.”
Matters are further complicated by the fact that Riot Games, Blizzard, and many other major game companies have major Chinese companies like Tencent as at least partial owners, prompting some, including a handful of US senators, to criticize companies’ willingness to seemingly take actions that side with the interests of the Chinese government.