The ongoing lawsuit against Activision Blizzard has made public some truly terrible and horrendous behavior that occurred across multiple studios and offices. Many women were allegedly sexually harassed, assaulted, and psychologically traumatized while the folks in power at the companies involved seemingly did little to stop or limit this behavior.
The lawsuit was filed on July 20 by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing after a years-long investigation turned up stories of multiple women suffering daily harassment and abuse while working at Activision Blizzard.
Since it was filed the fallout has been widespread, with former and current employees stepping forward to share more stories of abuse, offer apologies to those who were hurt, or attempt to distance themselves from the whole thing. Devs and workers at other studios have also begun to speak up and share their thoughts and pain too. It’s been an awful, disturbing, and eye-opening past few weeks and to help you get caught up with what has happened since the lawsuit we’ve rounded up all our coverage in one place.
As this is an ongoing situation, we expect more stories about this lawsuit and its fallout will come in the near future so we plan on updating this post with new stories as we move forward.
Afrasiabi worked for Blizzard as recently as June 2020, when he apparently left the company with seemingly minimal mention, to the confusion of the few fans who noticed his departure. And though Afrasiabi is gone, his presence still lingers in World of Warcraft. Kotaku was able to confirm the existence of at least two NPCs that continue to bear his name, in addition to a number of items that directly reference him.
The studio behind Halo and now Destiny issued a statement on Twitter yesterday, addressing the allegations of widespread sexual harrasssment and discrimination alleged in a new lawsuit brought by California regulators against Activision Blizzard. “We have a responsibility to acknowledge, reflect, and do what we can to push back on a persistent culture of harassment, abuse, and inequality that exists in our industry,” the company wrote.
The case against Activision Blizzard is proving what many women already knew—misogyny in the industry doesn’t come down to just a few bad apples at a few companies. It’s deeply ingrained in the culture at the heart of how the games business has operated for decades.
The head of Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind Overwatch and World of Warcraft, sent an email to staff last night calling the recent allegations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimation “extremely troubling” and promised to meet with them to answer questions and discuss “how we can move forward.”
Some of the most popular World of Warcraft streamers explained how disappointed and sad they were to hear the news. Top WoW Twitch streamer Asmongold, in a public statement shared on Twitter, said he was “hurt” by the news as a longtime fan of the publisher.
Social media accounts related to Activision Blizzard and its various properties have stopped posting following California’s lawsuit against the major video game conglomerate going public.
Blizzard co-founder and longtime boss Mike Morhaime took to Twitter just after midnight Friday to comment on the widespread allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination at the game company he led for so long. “To the Blizzard women who experienced any of these things, I am extremely sorry that I failed you,” he wrote. “I hear you, I believe you, and I am so sorry to have let you down.”
“We failed, and I’m sorry,” he begins. “To all of you at Blizzard - those of you I know and those of you whom I’ve never met - I offer you my very deepest apologies for the part I played in a culture that fostered harassment, inequality, and indifference.”
Following troubling allegations regarding the work environments at Ubisoft and Activision Blizzard, several gaming outlets have opted to halt coverage of any games released by the mega-publishers.
On July 23, former World of Warcraft lead designer Greg Street—who was at the original panel— responded to the controversy. In it, he tries to explain what happened while also admitting he made a mistake in a long series of tweets that eventually led to an apology. Street left Blizzard in 2013 and joined Riot Games the following year.
Hundreds of current and former employees from across Activision Blizzard have signed a letter to the company’s management calling its response to a recent lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at some of its offices “abhorrent and insulting.”
Reports included unwanted shoulder rubs, being propositioned for sex, sexual harassment within their first day, and even a “game” around the office where men would try to grope one another’s genitals. These allegations haven’t been as widely reported as the litany of testimonials from harassed women, but they also point to how systemic the issues were at the company.
The announcement of the walkout is accompanied by a statement of intent letter addressed to Activision Blizzard management. The letter states that employees believe their values are not being reflected by management and issues a series of demands meant to improve working conditions for those subjected to harassment and discrimination. These demands include an end to mandatory arbitration, which forces complaining employees into extra-legal mediation rather than public court cases, revised recruiting, hiring, and promotion policies, pay rate transparency, and the hiring of a third-party organization to review the company’s reporting policy, HR department, and executive staff.
Blizzard has promised to remove content “not appropriate for” World of Warcraft, likely in response to in-game references to creative director Alex Afrasiabi. This announcement comes after a short period of silence following the publication of a California state lawsuit against the company, which alleges Activision Blizzard fostered a pervasive environment of harassment against its female employees.
“I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days. I so appreciate your courage. Every voice matters - and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future.
Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.”
The “Cosby Suite” was more than just a nickname or a joke. Based on images and comments Afrasiabi posted on his Facebook supplied to Kotaku by a former developer at Blizzard, it was reportedly a booze-filled meeting place where many, including Afrasiabi, would pose with an actual portrait of Bill Cosby while smiling. It was also a hot spot for informal networking at BlizzCon, three sources told Kotaku, where people looking to make inroads at the company would go to meet and hang out with some of its top designers.
While not everyone can attend the Activision Blizzard Walkout for Equality, there are other ways to show support for the employees of the company as they demand improved working conditions for women and other marginalized groups in the wake of their employer’s inadequate response to California’s sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit.
A new open letter signed by almost 500 current and former Ubisoft employees announces their solidarity with the workers at Activision Blizzard, demands movement from their own leadership, and calls for systemic change across the entire video game industry, Axios reports.
When Activision Blizzard, a company currently under fire for its discriminatory practices and rampant sexual harassment issues, hires WilmerHale, a law firm with a reputation for union-busting, heads turn and brows furrow.
A cybersecurity company whose security researcher had once been harassed by Blizzard employees at a hacking conference charged the game developer a 50 percent “misogyny tax” when it sought a quote for security services, according to a new report from Waypoint.
But what’s notable here is that rather acknowledging that she, as an executive employed in a leadership position at a company in turmoil, had made a bad tweet and responded accordingly—by doing something like locking her account, deleting the tweet, or simply ignoring the criticism and getting on with whatever the rich do on the weekend—she began systematically blocking anyone even mildly critical of her decision to share a story about the perils of whistleblowing while her company is in the midst of historically shocking allegations brought on by employees testifying confidentially.
“Honestly, the sound of being booed by that many guys, honestly, in some ways that bothered me more than getting dismissed,” she said. “You had that initial cheer from the women in the crowd and then just wave boos.”
Brack was one of only two people explicitly named in California’s lawsuit, which accused the now former head of Blizzard of failing to deal with internal reports of sexual harassment and sexism, including allegations that former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi would try to put his arms around and kiss female coworkers at company events.
As Dexerto points out, the websites for both the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty Leagues removed reference to T-Mobile at some point in July. On July 21, both sported the T-Mobile logo. By July 31, neither did. The 20th entry period of T-Mobile’s Call of Duty sweepstakes has quietly been canceled. What’s more, team members for the New York Subliners, a Call of Duty team, appear to have taped over the T-Mobile logo on their jerseys, which you’ve gotta admit is hilarious.
“You said you would do everything possible to work with employees in improving our workplace,” wrote ABK Workers Alliance, the group also responsible for organizing last week’s walkout protest at Blizzard headquarters, in a statement sent to Kotaku. “And yet, the solutions you proposed in that letter did not meaningfully address our requests. You ignored our call for an end to mandatory arbitration. You did not commit to adopting inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. You made no comment on pay transparency.”
The class action lawsuit claims that Activision Blizzard and its executives were aware of the company’s issues of rampant sexual discrimination and workplace harassment during the periods these SOX certifications were issued and knowingly left out that information. The final sentence in the statement, in particular, reads false but has remained unchanged since 2016, appearing most recently in Activision Blizzard’s 2020 fiscal year-end report. As the events of the past couple of weeks have proven, ongoing claims and investigations have indeed had a material adverse effect on Activision Blizzard’s business.
According to a new in-depth report by Axios, several current and former Activision Blizzard employees either didn’t trust HR to help them when they were harassed or were met with skepticism and pushback when they did try to report their issues to HR.
“One of the things [the HR rep] commented on was that she was surprised I wasn’t crying or I wasn’t more hysterical,” one current employee told Axios, in regard to a time she alerted HR to being physically assaulted by a coworker.
PR spin, propaganda, hypernormalisation—whatever you want to call it, we’re collectively told over and over by people in power that what we witness and experience is bullshit and the bullshit they serve us back is what’s actually true. That’s in part how a company with an increasingly documented history of not treating people right—be it Activision Blizzard or Amazon.com, Inc.—can say with a straight face that it really does care without being immediately laughed out of the room.
Though some have renewed calls to boycott all Activision Blizzard products, it remains far from clear whether that’s something any developers at the company, including the women most mistreated by it, even support a boycott. Kotaku reached out to a number of current and former Activision Blizzard developers for their thoughts on how fans can best try to bring about change at the company. Some didn’t respond. Others didn’t want their comments to draw attention away from the ABK Workers Alliance’s current list of demands.
Jesse McCree, the namesake for Overwatch’s beloved cowboy fighter and most recently a designer on Diablo 4, was one of several current and former Blizzard developers who appeared in an image of a BlizzCon 2013 “Cosby Suite” obtained by Kotaku. The suite contained booze and a giant portrait of Bill Cosby and reportedly belonged to World of Warcraft developer Alex Afrasiabi.
Long hours. Low pay. Tremendous instability. Working in quality assurance (QA) for a video game studio is notoriously difficult and painstaking enough as it is without factors like these complicating matters. Yet for QA testers at Activision Blizzard, a company that has come under fire in recent weeks for a whole host of troubling allegations, these may come with the territory. Indeed, a lengthy list of statements provided to Kotaku by the ABK Workers Alliance indicates as much, alongside other troubling claims, including pervasive hostility toward LGBT staffers.
Over the weekend, a fan spotted Overwatch League casters Brennon ‘Bren’ Hook and Josh ‘Sideshow’ Wilkinson appearing to avoid saying McCree’s name during the matches. Instead of saying “McCree,” they referred to him as “the cowboy.” As reported by Dexerto, Hook and Wilkinson both went on to “like” the Tweet noticing the change, and fellow Overwatch caster Mitch ‘Uber’ Leslie tweeted earlier this week that he thought this was a good idea.
Neoxon also highlighted the fact that Activision’s logo is missing from the Call of Duty: Vanguard page on Battle.net, the company’s digital storefront. Again, Kotaku confirmed this is a common inclusion on several of the platform’s Call of Duty listings, where Activision’s graphic can be seen positioned above the logos for games like Modern Warfare, Black Ops: Cold War, and Black Ops 4.
The updated lawsuit alleges that Activision Blizzard has not been cooperative with California’s investigation. It cites Activision Blizzard’s non-disclosure agreements, the requirement that employees must speak with the company before contacting the state department, and the hiring of union-busting law firm WilmerHale as examples of the company’s lack of cooperation.
Blizzard announced today on Twitter that it will be renaming Jesse McCree and delaying the start of Overwatch’s next story arc. The change comes after the real-life developer for whom the cowboy character was named was let go from the company amid ongoing fallout from a California lawsuit accusing the company of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination.
In late July, Blizzard announced it was taking steps to remove inappropriate content and references from World of Warcraft. Two of those changes surfaced in an early build of the upcoming 9.1.5 patch, which changes the name of two achievements so they no longer reference the phrase “bros before hoes” and large testicles.
Activision Blizzard employees represented by the ABetterABK worker group filed a lawsuit against the Call of Duty publisher with the National Labor Review Board yesterday accusing it of union-busting.
As spotted by WowHead user Archimtiros, the latest 9.1.5 patch for World of Warcraft updates some in-game paintings of women to be less revealing, while others have been removed altogether. A robed woman’s image in Stormwind has been altered to cover more of her breasts, and a scantily clad reclining woman in Ravenholdt has met the strange fate of becoming a bowl of fruit.
In an interview with Axios Gaming on September 17, the design director on the upcoming Diablo II remake explained that folks trying to decide if they should buy the game should “do what they feel is right.” Many players don’t want to support Activision Blizzard games after a recent lawsuit made public horrible stories and claims of abuse and harassment mostly targeting women at the company.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has reportedly launched a wide-reaching investigation into Activision Blizzard, with the government agency looking into how the embattled publisher handled the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and toxic behavior that became public following a lawsuit filed in July. The SEC has subpoenaed Activision and several of its high-ranking execs, including CEO Bobby Kotick.
Blizzard Entertainment’s chief legal officer, Claire Hart, has resigned from the embattled company. She announced the news in a LinkedIn post yesterday, saying that last Friday, September 17, was her final day.
Chacko Sonny, who has been at Blizzard since 2016 and has worked on both Overwatch games, announced his departure to colleagues on Friday, Bloomberg reports. In addition to his role on Overwatch he was also a company vice president.
Kotick, of course, is receiving effective compensation of $154 million in 2021, meaning he could easily cover the $18 million cost of the EEOC lawsuit settlement many times over.
Following news that Activision Blizzard plans to settle the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) complaint for just $18 million, workers at a labor union say it doesn’t do enough to curb “corporate bad actors.”
Update 3 (10/02/2021, 4:00 p.m ET): Once again this round-up has been updated again with more stories.
Update 2 (08/21/21, 11:15 a.m. ET): This round-up has been updated again with more stories.
Update (08/04/2021, 3:14 p.m. ET): This story was originally published on 7/31/21 at 3:30 PM. It has been expanded with additional stories since then.