CARY – Tim Sweeney’s Epic Games – a multi-billion-dollar empire that has made him a billionaire thanks in large part to the global financial success of Fortnite – is standing up for the rights of free speech even as a controversy rages in the gaming community about China and human rights in Hong Kong.

In an exchange on Twitter, Sweeney also vowed to protect speech in the future even though China-based tech giant Tencent owns 40 percent of the fastr-growing Cary-based company.

The dispute over China erupted when Epic rival Blizzard Entertainment [in which Tencent also is an investor] suspended a professional player who spoke out against China’s actions in Hong Kong. At the same time the NBA is caught up in a free speech debate with China after an NBA exec set off a firestorm with a tweet about the Hong Kong debate.

“Epic supports the rights of Fortnite players and creators to speak about politics and human rights,” Sweeny said via Twitter.

Asked if his stand would still apply if a well-known figure  made a political statement at an Epic-sponsored event, he replied: “Exactly.”

Bloomberg news notes that Sweeney’s statement triggered negative reaction in china,

“Tencent why are you not holding your dog on a leash? They are biting you in your face,” one person wrote on Weibo, Bloomberg noted.

Bloomberg says tencent did not respond to a request for comment.

Sweeney also stressed the independence of his decision making from Tencent.

“Epic is a US company and I’m the controlling shareholder,” he wrote. “Tencent is an approximately 40% shareholder, and there are many other shareholders, including employees and investors.”

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And he said his views would not change, that Epic would not end a relationship with someone over politics.

“Yes, absolutely. That will never happen on my watch as the founder, CEO, and controlling shareholder,” Sweeney said.

Website FortniteIntel reproduced the Twitter exchange.

In an earlier statement from the company, Epic told The Verge:

“Epic supports everyone’s right to express their views on politics and human rights.

“We wouldn’t ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics.”

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