When Lee Shi Tian walked on to the feature match stage of Mythic Championship V for his Round 2 matchup against Ben Stark, he did so wearing a burgundy mask over the lower half of his face. The mask was a show of support for the pro-democracy protests that have taken place in his home of Hong Kong for the last four months.

“We wear [masks like that] when we go on the street” to protest, he told Hipsters of the Coast.

Lee, a member of the Magic Hall of Fame and the Magic Pro League, returned to the stage in the final round (with his mask on) to face Carlos Romão. Lee won the match two games to one and locked his spot in the Top 8 of the Mythic Championship.

After the match, Lee gave an emotional interview to reporter Becca Scott. “Life has been very tough in my hometown of Hong Kong,” he said. “It feels so good to play [Magic] as a free man.”

During the interview, the Twitch chat exploded in messages like “FREE HONG KONG” in support of the protests. Users were banned by Blizzard yesterday for posting similar messages in the chat for the Hearthstone Grand Master series. But Ian Dixon, a moderator for the Magic stream, said on Twitter that the chat mods for the Mythic Championship “actually had instructions to *allow and not touch* any and all of those kinds of mentions of [Hong Kong].”

“We have seen what happened to Blitzchung, another professional gamer from Hong Kong last week,” Lee told Hipsters of the Coast afterwards. “I never expected that it would be a luxury to play a game I like as a free man. It just feels so good to do what I love freely.”

“Thanks for everyone who supporting me, supporting Hong Kong, and supporting democracy,” he continued. “I heard that.”

Editor’s Note: Lee has written two articles about the protests in Hong Kong for Hipsters of the Coast. The first explains the reasons for the protests and why Lee himself joined them. The second discusses the lack of progress in the last four months, accusations of police brutality, and the consequences for speaking out in support of the protests.

Another High-Profile Expression of Support for Hong Kong

Though the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong began in June, they became the focus of Western media attention when a Hearthstone player and NBA executive were sanctioned by their respective leagues for expressing support for the protests.

On Friday, October 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted (and then deleted) a message in support of the protests, saying, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” In response, the NBA, which counts China as one of its biggest partners, distanced itself from Morey’s statement. The NBA’s chief communications officer Mike Bass said that “his tweet does not represent the Rockets or the NBA.”

Shortly afterwards, Hearthstone player Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai gave an interview on an official Taiwanese Hearthstone stream after defeating Jang “DawN” Hyun Jae, a South Korean Hearthstone pro, in a Hearthstone Grandmasters match on Sunday, October 6. Blitzchung wore a mask during the interview—like Lee, a reference to the masks worn by Hong Kong protesters—and shouted a popular protest slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!”

Blizzard, which made $1 billion in Asian markets in 2018 (or 13% of its 2018 global revenue of $7.5 billion), suspended Blitzchung for 12 months and stripped him of his prize money from Grandmasters Season 2 for his statement in support of the protests. They later reduced the suspension to six months and returned the prize money.

Magic’s Relationship with China

The physical version of Magic: the Gathering is printed in Chinese and sold in mainland China. Wizards of the Coast has also hosted Grand Prix tournaments in China and has created China-specific products like Global Series: Jiang Yanggu & Mu Yanling.

In April 2018. Wizards announced that it was partnering with Tencent, the world’s biggest investment corporation, to distribute MTG Arena and broadcast Magic in the Chinese market. The agreement also covered many other other countries in southeast Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Brunei.

As of the writing of this article, Tencent has yet to begin distributing MTG Arena or broadcasting Magic events.

Hong Kong is one of the censored topics in China, and both Blizzard’s suspension of Blitzchung and the NBA distancing itself from one of its GM’s comments supporting the protests appear to be an extension of that censorship by pressuring American companies to tamp down any such support.

Tencent is commonly understood to be subject to—and even participate in—censorship and surveillance by the Chinese government. Given Wizards’ presence in the Chinese market and partnership with Tencent to distribute MTG Arena in China, it’s possible that Wizards and Hasbro could face pressure to punish players who support the Hong Kong protests. And with Lee’s show of support this weekend at Mythic Championship V, that pressure could be coming sooner rather than later.

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