During the past few weeks, much has happened at Activision-Blizzard, from lawsuits to walkouts and the departure of company leaders. To help keep everything straight, Upcomer has created this timeline of all the major moments with coverage included.
July 20: Activision Blizzard sued by Government of California for Gender Discrimination
After a two year investigation, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announces a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The lawsuit, first reported by Bloomberg and filed on July 20, alleges the company housed a “frat boy” culture that actively discriminated against women, with accusations of sexual harassment and unequal pay.
The lawsuit includes several testimonies from women who worked at Activision Blizzard over the years. The incidents described include “cube crawls,” where employees would go from cubicle to cubicle, drinking and playing games, often leading to inappropriate sexual remarks and other forms of harassment against women. The report also includes an instance where a female Activision worker took her own life while on a company trip with a male supervisor. The victim was subjected to intense sexual harassment prior to her death, including the supervisor passing around nude photos of the victim to other members of the company.
The lawsuit also names named several World of Warcraft development, including Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi and now-former Blizzard president, J. Allen Brack. The lawsuit alleges that women were also passed up for promotions and generally underpaid. The suit adds that complaints sent to HR were meaningless, as HR “further discouraged [employees] from complaining as human resource personnel were known to be close to alleged harassers.” According to the lawsuit, the DFEH are looking to compensate for “unpaid wages, pay adjustments, back pay and lost wages and benefits for female employees.”
Read the entire lawsuit here.
July 21: Activision Blizzard releases a response criticizing the DFEH lawsuit
The initial response from Activision Blizzard denounces all allegations made by the DFEH. In a response to Kotaku, Activision Blizzard states “The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Activision Blizzard continue by saying the DFEH “rushed to file an inaccurate complaint, as we will demonstrate in court.”
In its response, Activision Blizzard continues on to say “we put tremendous effort in creating fair and rewarding compensation packages and policies that reflect our culture and business.” Activision Blizzard ends the response by reiterating their confidence in their practices, which showed its commitment to diversity and inclusivity as a company.
July 22nd: J. Allen Brack responds with a company wide email
The now-former Blizzard President responds to the DFEH lawsuit by calling many of the allegations “extremely troubling.” Brack ends the email by saying he feels “angry, sad and a host of other emotions.” However, this was only the first of multiple eventual responses that would be sent out by Activision Blizzard’s executives during the next few days.
The company-wide email was first reported by Jason Schreier.
Blizzard president J. Allen Brack sent out an email to staff last night addressing the allegations from this week's explosive lawsuit, calling them "extremely troubling" and saying that he'd be "meeting with many of you to answer questions and discuss how we can move forward." pic.twitter.com/NsMV6CNdTE
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 23, 2021
July 23: Frances Townsend criticizes lawsuit against Activision Blizzard
Frances Townsend, the former Homeland Security Advisor for George W. Bush and Activision Blizzard’s Chief Compliance Officer also sends a company wide email addressing the allegations. However, her tone is much different than Brack’s.
In another internal email reported by Jason Schreier, Townsend claims the lawsuit “presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories – some from more than a decade ago.” Townsend, who joined Activision Blizzard in March 2021, continues to reiterate the company’s original response to the Kotaku article.
“We work at a company that truly values equality and fairness.” Townsend said. “Rest Assured that leadership is committed to continuing to maintain a safe, fair and inclusive workplace.”
Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend, who was the Homeland Security Advisor to George W. Bush from 2004-2007 and joined Activision in March, sent out a very different kind of email that has some Blizzard employees fuming. pic.twitter.com/BxGeMTuRYF
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) July 23, 2021
July 24: Former Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime apologizes for Blizzard-Activision culture
In a Twitlonger, ex-Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime responds to the allegations against the company he started and led for 28 years. He says he is sorry for all that happened at Blizzard and acknowledges a level of responsibility for the company culture that has been created. Read more about this story and our coverage here.
July 25: Development slows on World of Warcraft amid the lawsuit
In a long tweet thread, Jeff Hamilton, a World of Warcraft Senior Systems Designer, outlines his support for his female colleagues at the company.
“I am viscerally disgusted by the horrible trauma that has been inflicted upon my coworkers, friends, and colleagues,” Hamilton writes.
These tweets can no longer be viewed as Hamilton has protected his Twitter account. He also notes Activision’s response affected the development team negatively.
“Activision’s response to this is currently taking a group of world-class developers and making them so mad and traumatized they’re rendered unable to keep making a great game,” said Hamilton
Activision Blizzard said productivity pipeline has been impacted little by the lawsuit, according to the earnings call. Some WoW devs have stated that no one is working on the game right now due to the lawsuit.
— Aron Garst (@GarstProduction) August 3, 2021
The same sentiment was tweeted out by Upcomer’s own Aron Garst.
July 26: 1,000+ Blizzard employees sign open letter condemning company’s response
Activision Blizzard holds an internal meeting to address the lawsuit, led by Joshua Taub, according to a report by Uppercut.
At noon of the same day, Activision Blizzard employees write an open letter addressing Blizzard management. More than 1,000 employees signed off on the message that criticizes Townsend’s response to the lawsuit. Read more of Upcomer’s coverage here.
July 27: Kotick condemns ‘tone-deaf’ response, announces WilmerHale review
In Bobby Kotick’s letter to the company on the night of July 27, he lists several actions that he hopes would work to create change in company culture. In the same letter Kotick mentions, “I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace.”
WilmerHale has connections to Townsend — bringing up potential conflicts of interest. The firm is also known for it’s union busting efforts, covered here by Upcomer. In response to the letter, Blizzard-Activision employees began planning a walkout for the next day to protest the company’s response to the lawsuit and Townsend’s response in particular.
July 28: Blizzard employees form a walkout
Today, after 18 months of WFH, a bunch of coworkers and friends met each other irl for the first time.
“I thought you’d be taller,” one employee said. “I guess I have a tall voice!" their new, old friend laughed.
Walk through the #ActiBlizzWalkout below.https://t.co/q5Fw2nDUyW
— Parkes #BLM (@parquesomedia) July 29, 2021
The walkout begins at 10 a.m. Employees hold signs outside the Blizzard corporate headquarters in Santa Monica, California. They set up refreshments, sunscreen and even a porta-potty to prepare for the long protest ahead. With the walkout comes a list of demands that employees have agreed on as a response to Bobby Kotick:
- The end of forced arbitration for all employees
- Worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies
- The need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality
- Employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes
Activision Blizzard walkout organizers just released a statement in response to CEO Bobby Kotick's email to staff in which he described the company's response as "tone deaf" pic.twitter.com/64D7w8PhOL
— Megan Farokhmanesh (@Megan_Nicolett) July 28, 2021
Other developers and members of the gaming community reach out on social media to extend their support, including Hearthstone Director Ben Brode, Overwatch League host Soe Gschwind, Gotham Knights lead designer Osama Dorias and many more.
The Blizzard office in Irvine has been near empty for more than a year and it remained that way today as hundreds of people came out to push back against a sexist culture that’s been festering for too long. My coverage of the #ActiBlizzWalkout: https://t.co/oEtvRZCnU9
— Aron Garst (@GarstProduction) July 28, 2021
On the same day as the walkout, Kotaku releases a report regarding the “Cosby Suite,” the nickname for ex-Senior Creative Director Alex Afrisiabi’s 2013 Blizzcon hotel room. The “Cosby Suite” was used to bring female coworkers in for informal networking and the site of inappropriate behavior.
Aug. 1: Townsend deactivates Twitter account the morning of August 4th
According to a report written by Kotaku, Blizzard responds to the actions of their chief compliance officer by stating, “This was her personal account. The company didn’t ask her to delete it. It was her decision.”
Blizzard also confirms that Townsend would remain their chief compliance officer. Several employees come forward saying Townsend had blocked them before deleting her Twitter account.
Aug. 3: J. Allen Brack leaves Activision-Blizzard
On the morning of Aug. 3, Blizzard posts on its forums that J. Allen Brack would leave the company. Brack had been with the company since 2006 and took over as president in 2018. Read more on his departure here.
Activision Blizzard’s head of HR, Jesse Meschuck, also leaves the company. The company then announces Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will take over as co-presidents of Blizzard, as reported here.
It was great attending the #ActiBlizzWalkout this morning – happy to see so many familiar faces. Together let's build a safe, brighter and fair future for everyone. 💙
— Mike Ybarra 🎄 (@Qwik) July 28, 2021
Blizzard employees also officially form Activision Blizzard King Workers Alliance and bring up the conflict of interest between WilmerHale and the company in a letter. In the letter, employees state, “in Stephanie’s speech highlighting her successes with the SEC, all of her significant examples included achievements in favor of investors, retail clients and customers, but [she] does not once mention employees or laborers”
Finally, Activision Blizzard holds an earnings call for its investors, largely avoiding questions related to the lawsuit, detailed here by Upcomer.
Aug. 5: Activision Blizzard loses sponsorships in Overwatch League over lawsuit
According to a report by the Washington Post, Coca Cola, T-Mobile, State Farm and Kellogs distance themselves from the Overwatch League amid the lawsuit filed by the DFEH. While there have been no confirmations of these sponsors fully leaving the Overwatch League, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola told the Washington Post, “we are working with our partners at Blizzard as we take a step back for a moment to revisit future plans and programs.”
Read more of our official coverage here.
Aug. 10: Activision Blizzard investor group SOC releases letter demanding changes
An Activision Blizzard group of investors send a letter demanding changes after the “inadequate response” to the company’s culture problems. Along with the letter come a list of changes that aim to increase diversity and a request to change the law firm that will conduct of the company’s internal policies. Read more of our coverage here.
Aug. 25: DFEH accuses Activision Blizzard of stymying investigation
The DFEH expands the scope of its investigation, adding temporary workers to the group of employees of whom it is suing on behalf, according to a report by Axios.
The DFEH added that Activision-Blizzard actively stymied it’s investigation by issuing NDAs and requiring employees to speak with the company ahead of the DFEH. The government body also alleges that human resources personnel have destroyed information by shredding documents. The obstruction is in violation of the company’s legal obligation to retain documents during the investigation.
Aug. 26: Activision Blizzard renames Overwatch character Jesse McCree
Overwatch announces on Twitter that they will change the name of the character McCree due to the former employee it references. Jesse McCree was a designer on World of Warcraft and was working on Diablo 4 before his departure. He was one of the people photographed in the Cosby Suite mentioned above.
In the announcement, The Overwatch Team said they would also be delaying a narrative arc that involved McCree until later this year. They will instead launch a new FFA map this September.
A message from the Overwatch team. pic.twitter.com/2W3AV7Pv6X
— Overwatch (@PlayOverwatch) August 26, 2021
Sept. 14: Communications Workers of America (CWA) sues Activision Blizzard for worker intimidation
The CWA sues Activision-Blizzard for worker intimidation, alleging that Activision-Blizzard has actively tried to squash organizing efforts in response to the ongoing discrimination and sexual assault lawsuit. The charges were filed by the ABK worker’s alliance and alleges that Activision-Blizzard used “coercive tactics” in order to prevent employees from organizing for a workplace free of abuse. The prevention of organization is considered a violation federal law.
Sept. 20: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission launches investigation into Activision Blizzard
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the SEC launches their own investigation into the allegations of misconduct at Activision Blizzard. This is separate to the previous DFEH lawsuit and is mainly focused on clarifying if company executives adequately disclosed allegations of pay disparity and workplace misconduct to investors.
Kotick makes a statement the following day, saying that the company “[continues] to work in good faith with regulators to address and resolve past workplace issues.”
Sept. 27: Activision Blizzard settles with EEOC for $18 million
Activision Blizzard confirms that they have agreed to settle claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and emphasize policies to reduce workplace harassment and discrimination. According to the press release, “Activision Blizzard has committed to create an $18 million fund to compensate and make amends to eligible claimants. Any amounts not used for claimants will be divided between charities that advance women in the video game industry or promote awareness around harassment and gender equality issues as well as company diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, as approved by the EEOC. The agreement is subject to court approval.”
Oct. 12: EEOC and DFEH clash over potential ethics violation
The DFEH publicly opposes the settlement between Activision Blizzard and the EEOC, claiming that it will cause “irreparable harm” to the DFEH’s investigation and that the $18 million is insufficient. The EEOC hits back soon after, claiming that two DFEH lawyers currently opposing the settlement previously worked closely with the EEOC in this very investigation. This is a potential conflict of interest and could be grounds for pausing the lawsuit.
Oct. 22: Activision Blizzard’s request to pause California lawsuit rejected
Owing to the previously reported conflict of interest between the EEOC and DFEH, Activision Blizzard requests that the lawsuit be put on hold while they investigate claims of ethics violations on the part of the DFEH. However, their request is rejected by a Los Angeles County judge, though the exact reason is unknown.
Oct. 26: Overwatch officially renames cowboy ‘Cole Cassidy’
The Overwatch hero formerly named after ex-Blizzard employee Jesse McCree is officially renamed ‘Cole Cassidy.’ The real-life McCree left the company after it was revealed that he was heavily involved in the company’s ‘frat culture’ and knowingly associated with abusers within the company.
Oct. 28: Bobby Kotick makes statement regarding changes coming to Activision Blizzard
CEO Bobby Kotick sends out a letter to all employees promising a wave of big changes, including a zero-tolerance harassment policy, a commitment to increasing gender diversity in the workforce, the end of forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination claims, and increased pay equity visibility. Kotick has also asked for a drastic pay reduction, making his overall annual compensation $62,500, “the lowest amount California law will allow.”
Nov. 2: Co-leader Jen Oneal leaves Activision Blizzard
Jen Oneal, who was announced as the new co-leader of Blizzard alongside Mike Ybarra in August, announces that she will leave the company at the end of 2021. Ybarra will take over as sole leader effective immediately. Employees express their disappointment at her departure.
Nov. 16: Report exposes that Kotick knew about sexual misconduct within company; Kotick responds
The Wall Street Journal releases a report on Kotick’s central role in the company’s toxic workplace culture. According to the report, Kotick hid information regarding allegations of employee misconduct from the company’s board of directors. Furthermore, Kotick often actively protected male employees who were accused of sexual harassment. In one case Activision’s human resources department conducted an internal investigation into one such employee and recommended he be fired, but “Mr. Kotick intervened to keep him.”
Kotick himself has also been accused of misconduct. Most of the accusations were settled outside of court, including one case where one of his assistants complained that he threatened to have her killed.
On the same day as the WSJ report, Kotick makes a video message to the company’s employees in response, stating that the article “paints an inaccurate and misleading view of [the] company, of [him] personally, and [his] leadership.”
So heartened to see so many people show up to make their voices heard. Over 150 people at last count in person, and a lot more participating remotely. #actiblizzwalkout pic.twitter.com/PdU3QrDiAK
— Valentine Powell 💙🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️ (@valentine_irl) November 16, 2021
Employees held a last minute walkout starting at 2:00 pm ET after the WSJ report. 150 workers gathered outside the Activision Blizzard campus in Irvine to demand Kotick’s resignation.
Nov. 17: A group of Activision Blizzard shareholders joins call for Kotick’s resignation
A group of Activision Blizzard shareholders with a total of 4.8 million shares joined employees and protestors in asking for the Bobby Kotick’s resignation in a letter to the company’s board of directors. The group is also calling for the board’s two longest serving directors, Brian Kelly and Robert Morgado, to retire by Dec. 31
“In contrast to past company statements, CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of many incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination at Activision Blizzard, but failed either to ensure that the executives and managers responsible were terminated or to recognize and address the systematic nature of the company’s hostile workplace culture,” the shareholders wrote in a joint letter to Activision Blizzard’s board of directors and shared with The Washington Post.
Last updated November 17.