Chinese Esports Teams Hide Nike Logos on Jerseys Amidst Xinjiang Controversy
The League of Legends Professional League (LPL) appears to be toeing the line with the Chinese government when it comes to their esports scene following backlash against Nike due to their comments on Xinjiang. Nike issued a statement about using Uyghur Muslims as labor to harvest cotton in Xinjiang (something the Chinese government denies), assuring folks in the west that they were not doing so. This has led to some pressure from the Chinese government against Nike, as was seen pretty heavily during the recent esports broadcast of LPL Spring Week 10 in the matches LGD vs Invictus Gaming and LNG vs Rogue Warriors.
What Did Nike Say About Xinjiang to Prompt Esports Censorship?
The statement in question pretty heavily denies their involvement with this issue, but apparently that denial was enough to prompt at least some censorship on the LPL broadcast.
“Nike is committed to ethical and responsible manufacturing and we uphold international labor standards. We are concerned about reports of forced labor in, and connected to, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR),” Nike said in their statement on March 10. “Nike does not source products from the XUAR and we have confirmed with our contract suppliers that they are not using textiles or spun yarn from the region. The Nike Code of Conduct and Code Leadership Standards have requirements prohibiting any type of prison, forced, bonded or indentured labor, including detailed provisions for freedom of movement and prohibitions on discrimination based on ethnic background or religion. We continue to regularly engage with all of our suppliers to evaluate compliance with Nike’s Code of Conduct and Code Leadership Standards. We have been conducting ongoing diligence with our suppliers in China to identify and assess potential forced labor risks related to employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities from XUAR, in other parts of China. Based on evolving information, we strengthened our audit protocols to identify emerging risks related to potential labor transfer programs. Our ongoing diligence has not found evidence of employment of Uyghurs, or other ethnic minorities from XUAR, elsewhere in our supply chain.”
As Nike is a key sponsor for the LPL, the move was somewhat surprising, but the logos on jerseys and even on the Nike shoes that teams are wearing as part of the partnership were covered or blurred during the esports broadcast following the comments in Xinjiang.
Logos on the jerseys were covered by a (pretty hideous looking) LPL patch, while logos on the shoes were either covered by black tape or blurred out during the broadcast so it was difficult to distinguish branding.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that the partnership between the two brands is over, but it could mean that the LPL (who is owned by TJ Sports, a joint effort between Chinese media giant Tencent and Riot Games) may have been facing pressure from the Chinese government to censor the logo. It’s also possible that this is just TJ Sports being overly cautious about prompting said censorship and a shutdown of their broadcast by the Chinese government.
Parallels to Blitzchung in Hearthstone
The current situation between Nike and Xinjiang would not be the first time that political issues in China have reached esports. Blitzchung, noted Hearthstone competitor, faced serious consequences including a fine and a (later reversed) ban for saying Free Hong Kong on broadcast. This led to perhaps a harsher punishment from Blizzard than might have otherwise been done in another region, largely due to Activision Blizzard’s Chinese involvement with Netease. This led to a statement on the ban from Congress, something that’s not happened before in esports, and put pressure on Activision Blizzard to reconsider.