A new pair of in-depth reports from The Washington Post and Bloomberg have provided new details on the environment at Blizzard Entertainment that resulted in California filing a bombshell lawsuit against the publisher. Much of the WaPo and Bloomberg reports jive with what’s already been alleged – that Blizzard fostered an environment where women were frequently inappropriately propositioned, harassed, and/or assaulted – but they go into greater detail about some aspects of the company culture.
For those who haven’t been keeping up, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has filed suit against Activision Blizzard, alleging gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher. Activision Blizzard’s official response to the suit accuses the DFEH of “distorted […] and false” descriptions and insists the picture painted is “is not the Blizzard workplace of today.” An open letter objecting to the official response was signed by thousands of current and former Acti-Blizz employees, and a walkout was staged last week. Acti-Blizz CEO Bobby Kotick would eventually apologize for the company’s initial response, calling it “tone deaf.” Blizzard president J. Allen Brack has also been replaced by relative newcomers to the studio, Mike Ybarra and Jen Oneal.
One thing both reports delve into, is the alleged drinking culture at Blizzard, with many teams having access to alcohol at work, including frozen margarita machines and full on bars. In addition to the “cube crawls” described in the DFEH lawsuit, in which employees would get drunk and move between cubicles schmoozing (and sometimes harassing), Bloomberg details employees vomiting into trash cans on company time and heavy after-hours drinking and hazing sessions. According to WaPo, this booze-soaked atmosphere was allowed to continue until 2019, when some efforts were made to dial things back, including implementing a two-drink limit at events (a rule many managed to get around).
Per WaPo, three senior leaders were let go between 2018 and 2020 for “harassment or other toxic behavior.” These include former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, who was specifically named in the lawsuit, esports team exec Tyler Rosen, and chief technology officer Ben Kilgore, who was being groomed to take over the company from co-founder Mike Morhaime before being let go.
Perhaps the most interesting thing revealed by these latest reports is the affect Activision’s growing influence over Blizzard has had on the studio’s culture. As we’ve reported, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and his deputies have been exerting more pressure on Blizzard in recent years, particularly since J. Allen Brack took over the reigns. According to Bloomberg, this only exacerbated the toxicity at the studio. Blizzard devs have been forced to do more with less, and with the prospect of layoffs hanging over their heads, employees have been reluctant to cast their teams in a bad light by reporting misconduct.
If you have the time, I highly suggest you check out both the Bloomberg and Washington Post articles, as they go into more detail than we can cover here, and paint a much fuller picture of the what went wrong behind the scenes at Blizzard. You can catch up on Wccftech’s own extensive coverage of the Activision Blizzard lawsuit and it’s fallout here.