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Upcomer Details Allegations of Workplace Harassment at Blizzard Entertainment, Looks Towards Future Change
2021/08/18 at 8:14 PM
An article by Upcomer
has detailed more of the allegations of workplace harassment and discrimination at Blizzard Entertainment, including allegations surrounding one of the Tespa founders. Employees at Blizzard Entertainment also discussed the pros of the two newly-appointed co-leads.
Activision Blizzard’s employees are fighting against a broken system
Protecting the 'good name' of the harassers
The article begins with an account of the way Tyler Rosen, founder of Tespa and apparently nicknamed "Touchy Tyler", left the company in 2018 - suddenly, without warning, and celebrated with a going-away party.
“Something didn’t feel right to me,” one employee close to the situation said. In July 2020, Bianca, a college student who had worked with Tespa, accused Tyler Rosen of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room in 2014. Several other accusations from other students followed soon after.
“It’s clear now with the allegations against him that he was completely protected and allowed to leave quietly,” another employee close to the situation said. “It’s worth pointing out that his two biggest supporters were the Morhaimes. They should not get a pass in all this.”
The article echos many other accounts we've heard of the problems at Blizzard Entertainment, including the reputation of HR to be utterly unhelpful, with those who came forward to report harassment often feeling punished professionally, while the harassers themselves rarely got much more than a slap on the wrist.
Several sources alleged a toxic environment fostered by Activision Blizzard employees that led to women not receiving the same career advancement opportunities as their male peers, which contributed to the eventual lawsuit. Harassment and sexual misconduct was also commonplace in the company, and women were frequently discouraged from bringing it up.
In some cases, HR allowed men who allegedly sexually assaulted their female coworkers to continue working for weeks after a report was filed before anyone took action. Cher Scarlett, who worked at Blizzard Entertainment as a software engineer, said that in many cases, harassment claims were resolved by just moving either the accuser or the accused to a different team.
Accounts of abusers who finally crossed too many lines for it to be possible to be ignored anymore being allowed to leave the company on friendly terms, their reputations intact, seems to be a common theme with Blizzard Entertainment. Though Alex Afrasiabi made his abrupt departure from the company in June 2020, it wasn't until after the
recent news of the allegations against him
that Blizzard Entertainment decided to
remove all references to him from World of Warcraft
The article provides more damning evidence of the way discrimination was fostered by Activision Blizzard with several accounts of ways the company has not only failed to foster diversity, but has actively discouraged it in some cases. For example, when a (now ex-)employee of color asked why his white, male trainee was earning a much higher salary than he was, he was told it was because he “carries a better image of himself.”
A little while after he was hired, his department hired a white man with considerably less experience for nearly $55K. The ex-employee of color was even required to train this new hire despite the salary discrepancy. When the ex-employee approached his manager to ask how he could bump his salary up to match his trainee, he said he was told the other person made more because he “carries a better image of himself.”
He was told to be patient and they’d have a meeting about his salary later. That meeting never came. He never received a raise.
According to the article, only 20% of Activision Blizzard's workforce are women, the majority of the people in leadership are white, and non-white employees routinely leave the company after less than a year.
Mistreatment of LGBTQ employees and fans
When a group of employees approached Mike Morhaime about creating an 'it gets better' video to encourage LGBTQ youth, his response was that it would be too "political". The same year, a homophobic singer, George Fisher, was booked to perform at Blizzcon - where he hurled homophobic slurs at the audience during the performance.
In mid 2011, LGBTQ youth were committing suicide at increased rates. A small group of employees went to Mike Morhaime requesting the company’s support in making ‘it gets better’ videos to show that Blizzard was a place that supported LGBTQ causes.
“We don’t make political statements,” Morhaime said to the group. The group, with employees from across the company, asked what was political about preventing teen suicide. Morhaime told them they had more important things to do than make videos, like work on their individual projects.
“We just wanted to throw our names out there,” one member of that group said. “What if our video helped one person feel better; prevent one person from taking their life?”
LGTBQ employees also cited an instance where company chose an anti-gay Death Metal singer, George Fisher, to perform at BlizzCon 2011. They introduced Fisher by showing a clip of him using homophobic slurs and telling Alliance players to “f****** die, you f****** emo c*** suckers.”
The video they posted of the event was censored and doctored to bleep out the curses and completely remove the homophobic slurs, but they still chose to introduce him that way for the live audience.
While Activision Blizzard has since clearly changed its tune on Pride issues - at least publicly - it's worth noting the accusations of people at the company
routinely deadnaming and misgendering trans staff
By 2019, Mike Morheim seems to have decided supporting LGBTQ youth wasn't "too political" after all.
The way forward
As the article points out, with the problems at Blizzard Entertainment being a company-wide issue rather than a case of a few bad apples, the only way forward is for drastic change to occur, both from within and without the company. Employees have formed the
ABK Workers Alliance
, which organized a walkout and has been placing
pressure on Activision Blizzard to commit to taking real action
to improve conditions at the company.
Ubisoft Employees recently signed an open letter in solidarity with their demands
The article speaks of the appointments of Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra. As recent hires who seem to have a good reputation with employees, and who have shown public support for the ABK Workers Alliance - both attended the walkout - they bring a certain lack of baggage to the situation.
Their joint appointment has been met with tentative optimism from some. Oneal, who started out in the games industry as a quality assurance tester before working her way up to executive, has been called the “best studio head ever worked with” by some employees. She’s also championed Pride events at Activision Blizzard before.
Ybarra, who worked at XBOX for 20 years prior to joining Blizzard, has a reputation of being more open-minded than other executives. According to a source who has worked with him in the past, while at XBOX, Ybarra played a big part in implementing rollout in regions that most Western publishers wouldn’t normally consider a priority, such as the Middle East, India and other lesser-tapped markets.
However, the article does also point out the troubling fact that Ybarra tweeted about enjoying dinner with Derek Ingalls and Ben Kilgore in 2019 - shortly before joining the company. According to a recent article by Vice,
Kilgore was fired in 2018 for multiple allegations of sexual harassment against female employees, while Ingalls was known to have made misogynistic jokes about it afterwards
As of the time of writing, Activision Blizzard has yet to address most of the ABK Workers Alliance's demands. Ignoring the problem until it goes a way is a tactic the company seems to have come to rely on. However, it's possible that this lawsuit, and everything that's come with it, might just have a chance to force change - and not just at Activision Blizzard. The entire gaming industry is taking note of what happens next.
Sources were hesitant to share what their next steps in organizing were due to fear that company—and industry-wide—leadership could get ahead of them. They don’t have plans to wait for Activision Blizzard to work with them. They’re “well past waiting and seeing” what leadership does.
They said they’re working on their next steps; steps that could take years to see realized with tangible results.
“We’ve spent decades learning how to normalize this behavior, we have a lot to cope with,” one current Blizzard Entertainment employee said. “I don’t expect it to come undone overnight. I expect it to take years and that may even not be enough. But what we can do is take the next step, the demands are the next step.”
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