Activision Blizzard is a household name in the gaming industry. The company is behind some of the most popular titles, including the Call of Duty franchise, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush Saga, and Overwatch. However, the company recently came under scrutiny after several allegations regarding the toxic work culture and discrimination against female workers surfaced.
A breeding ground for harassment and discrimination
According to the lawsuit filed by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Activision Blizzard has a hostile working environment, especially for female employees. Females are subjected to more scrutiny than their male counterparts, and they are also paid less for the same job profile. There have been allegations regarding regular sexual harassment in the workplace, which have largely gone unpunished. Furthermore, sexual misconduct is often exhibited by men in high positions with a lot of experience and not just by young employees.
These are not just empty allegations, as the lawsuit filed by DFEH was after a thorough two-year investigation and not just based on some recent incident. Additionally, several former employees have come ahead to share their daunting experience working at Activision-Blizzard. Accusations are rampant on social media platforms and have severely damaged the reputation of the multinational company.
Current employees take a stance
Activision Blizzard issued an official statement labeling the lawsuit as inaccurate. The company responded by saying that the lawsuit consists of distorted information and, in many cases, outright false. However, this did not go well with many, as over 2000 employees (both current and former) have signed a petition criticizing Activision-Blizzard for its lack of accountability.
Apart from the petition, there was also a massive protest in front of Activision Blizzard’s Irvine headquarters. Banners were raised in protest of the company’s toxic work culture and the need to end the continued discrimination against female employees.
That said, the continuous protests have led to the resignation of Blizzard president J. Allen Brack. He has been accused of not taking complaints seriously and only giving a “slap on the wrist” to ex-creative director Alex Afrasiabi, despite receiving complaints about the employees’ repeated sexual misconduct. Barrack has been replaced by “co-leader” Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra.
Afrasiabi has been the focus of major allegations. He is the only Blizzard employee along with ex-president J. Allen Brack who was named in the DFEH lawsuit.
“During a company event (an annual convention called Blizz Con [sic]) Afrasiabi would hit on female employees, telling him [sic] he wanted to marry them, attempting to kiss them, and putting his arms around them,” the complaint reads. “This was in plain view of other male employees, including supervisors, who had to intervene and pull him off female employees. Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the ‘Crosby Suite’ [sic] after alleged rapist Bill Crosby [sic].”
However, Activision-Blizzard has confirmed that the notorious former creative director was fired from the company due to “misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”
More allegations have surfaced since the lawsuit, and there are new twists in the narrative. We can expect more details to unravel as the case progresses.
What can we learn from this moving forward?
Racism, prejudice, and any form of stereotyping should not be permitted in an era where gaming has become mainstream and females are frequently seen at the forefront of it.
We spoke to two members of the Gamelevate team to gather their opinions on the revelations and how we can learn from this moving forward.
“When I first read about the lawsuit that had been filed against Activision Blizzard I was shocked, but not surprised at some of the allegations that had been listed. Whilst the esports and gaming industry have seen an increase in female representation, women still represent a minority and sadly in some companies this can translate into a culture of toxic masculinity; which in this case is very extreme.
This is not the first time this has happened in such a high profile manner in the industry and I don’t think it will be the last – but what is important about it, is that it has hopefully created a precedent for other women to come forward in confidence.
It is essential that as an industry we recognise and deal with this kind of behaviour – one way this can be achieved is to ensure workplaces are more representative of minorities, including women. In addition to hiring more women, it is also important to recognise women and ensure they have career prospects which are equal to their male counterparts; I do not believe it is possible for a company to have a truly representative and inclusive culture without having Senior representatives from these minorities within the company.
It is important to note that there are many companies in the industry who do have progressive hiring and work practices and I think it is important for them to speak out at times like this, highlighting best practice.” – Charlotte Cook, Head of Business Development at Gamelevate
“It’s always sad to hear that issues like this are happening in the industry you work in, especially as a woman. I’m new to the esports and Games Industry, only entering into it this year, so to learn about the allegations for such a leading company it’s easy to be disappointed. It feels dated that women have to push for the same rights as men for doing the same role, or even just to feel like they’re being heard.
I hope that all of this helps the industry to realise there needs to be a better representation of minorities in its community, including the representation of women. For me, I’d love to see more women hired in numerous roles, as currently I only know a handful of women that work in the industry.
There’s a chance to learn from these allegations that have happened for the industry to become stronger, and I really hope to see other companies become more diverse; if they don’t they will be damaging the industry for so many. I’m fortunate to work for a company where I am listened to and am equal to my male teammates, but this should just be the norm everywhere.” – Tara Bunker, Content Creator at Gamelevate
Since the filing of the lawsuit, employees at other big corporations have come forward calling for action. Similar to the situation at Activision-Blizzard, employees at Ubisoft have written an open letter in support of Activision-Blizzard employees who are taking part in the walkout. The CEO of Take-Two has also released a statement claiming the company will not “tolerate harassment or discrimination” in their workplace.