For most of us that have worked or are working in the corporate world, chances are pretty high that at some point during the year, you’ve had to take a training course on sexual harassment.
The courses are pretty typical, but they all boil down to a couple of pretty basic principles:
- Treat your co-workers with the same level of respect that you would expect to be treated with
- Keep your grubby paws to yourself
You would think that in 2021, we wouldn’t need to do this annually. We as adult human beings should be responsible and professional enough to not say or do anything in our work environment that would offend our co-workers and treat one another with respect.
Then, this shit happens.
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) sues Activision/Blizzard over allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment following a two-year investigation.
There’s also a reddit thread that includes comments from current and former Blizzard employees.
Part of the complaint has to do with blatant mistreatment of women and minorities, and the other part deals with patterns of sexual harassment within Blizzard going back years — as far back as 2008.
It’s shocking. It disgusting. How the hell did Blizzard, of all companies, manage to fuck this up? And, worse, it seems pretty clear that there was a company-wide effort to suppress any of these allegations and/or retaliate against the accusers.
I’ve loved Blizzard games for decades now. I’ve bought many of their games over the years; I’ve played World of Warcraft pretty consistently, if not casually, since 2004. If I had gone in the direction of game development, working at Blizzard would have been on my short list of companies to work for.
(Well, it would have up until a few years ago when the story broke that Blizzard savagely underpaid their developers, even by California standards. Their attitude was that having Blizzard on your resume was enough to offset that pay scale.)
That may have been true for a while, but over the last three years, Activision/Blizzard has burned up a LOT of that reputation and goodwill.
One thing I want to put in here up front. As much as I would like to see Blizzard be burned to the ground, it’s not fair to the people who are still working at Blizzard who continue to be victimized by this behavior and/or simply have nothing to do with any of this behavior. The company needs to make this right.
That said, if you feel the need to cancel your subscriptions and boycott buying Blizzard products in the future, that’s your choice.
However, using this situation as an opportunity to spew vitriol at Blizzard employees and/or content creators who currently support Blizzard products IS NOT HELPING ANYONE. Worse case, you’re piling on people who are already victims of harassment in their workplace; they don’t need to hear your bullshit, too.
Let the wheels of justice, such as they are, do their thing.
Many content creators that make videos about WoW: Asmongold, Preach, Bellular, and Taliesin & Evitel, among others have made their own response videos about the lawsuit and voiced their concerns about Blizzard’s behavior and the problems of simply “just quitting” supporting Blizzard. They are all worth watching.
(NOTE: I cancelled my WoW subscription a month before this happened because I was no longer invested in the game and hadn’t played in months)
How bad was it? There were instances where women were passed up for promotions and/or raises despite being the highest performers on the team. The were allegations that they would be passed up for promotions because they might become pregnant. Another woman was written up constantly for taking extra bathroom breaks even though she was eight months pregnant. Women would be assigned work so their male counterparts could play video games. Although the company provided lactation rooms, women were often kicked out of the rooms so they could be used for meetings.
On the harassment side, developers would openly joke about rape in front of female employees. They had “cubicle crawls” when male employees would wander the cubicles drinking while female employees continued to work, and the men would use the crawl as an excuse to harass their co-workers. Defendants described working at Blizzard like working in a frat house.
Some of the most egregious behavior involved a creative director for World of Warcraft, who would be so handsy with employees and/or attendees at conventions that other male employees had to pull him off of the victims. His hotel suite was nicknamed the “Cosby Suite” by co-workers after Bill Cosby.
The absolute worst case involved a woman who was in a consensual relationship with her male supervisor at the company. She learned that he was sharing nude photos of her with their co-workers. She ultimately took her own life while on a company trip with her boss. Police learned after interviewing him that he had brought a number of sex toys on the trip.
To make things even worse, the company actively dismissed or retaliated against anyone who complained about their mistreatment. Retaliation included being passed over for projects, being unwillingly transferred to other groups and being selected for layoffs. The company also pushed back against some complaints by saying the accused was “too senior” to be held accountable.
Many former employees are sharing their own stories on reddit that back up the allegations in the lawsuit.
I’m sure there are many on the internet who would love to blame all of this on the Activision/Blizzard merger, that Activision was the frat house and they “infected” hard-working “good guys” Blizzard.
But, the allegations date as far back as 2008 — well into the “old guard” days of Blizzard.
That means, chances are pretty high that folks like CEO Mike Morhaime and Senior VP Chris Metzen were well aware of the behavior happening within the company and did absolutely nothing to stop it. Morhaime has already issued a statement expressing his sympathy to the victims and claiming he had “no idea” any behavior was going on. Metzen also issued an apology, claiming he was completely unaware that any of this was going on.
Although both Morhaime and Metzen left the company (Metzen in 2016, Morhaime in 2018), it’s not a good look for either of them. Either they were aware of everything going on and chose to ignore it, or they were blissfully unaware of anything going on in their own company. Metzen worked directly with one of the named individuals. Metzen claims they didn’t interact outside of “story sessions”, but again, it’s a bit hard to swallow that none of these accusations didn’t reach him. In the reddit thread, one woman says she tried to reach out to Morhaime but was punished by her direct supervisor for doing so.
The lawsuit suggests that the patterns of behavior and the retaliation against the accusers was company-wide, so it feels pretty disingenuous for both of these men to claim they had “no idea” what was going on. Regardless, it doesn’t appear that they were named in the lawsuit, so they’ll likely walk away relatively unscathed.
J. Allen Brack, the current head of Blizzard Entertainment, also issued an internal memo (which was quickly leaked) saying the allegations were “extremely troubling” and makes assurances that the company takes these complaints seriously, even committing to personally overseeing the complaints. However, Brack has been specifically named in the lawsuit as one of the leaders who did confront one of the harassers, but downplayed the issue and only gave him a slap on the wrist.
Activision/Blizzard has issued their own response, mostly saying that all of the allegations were “fake news” and that the California DFEH was being unprofessional in pursuing this lawsuit and basically suggesting that the lawsuit was a deliberate effort to smear the company. Instead of just saying they’ll fight the allegations in court, Blizzard strangely pushed their response further, which implies that yeah, they have never taken any of these allegations seriously.
There’s also some irony in that Blizzard is usually quick to react, and in some cases, too quick, to ANY allegations of harassment/assault when in involves people who are indirectly associated with the company and/or its games. They’ve banned a Chinese Hearthstone master player for using the spotlight in a tournament to protest the violence in his home country. They removed voiceovers for a character when accusations were made against the actor. Even though he was cleared, his content is still out of the game. A Twitch streamer was immediately banned when allegations came out against him. In that case, once the allegations were proven false, he was restored.
It’s also likely that the lawsuit is just the tip of the iceberg as more former and current employees come forward with their own stories.
This news has to have made an already bad situation worse for anyone working at Blizzard, especially for the victims. It has to be troubling for anyone that works there, especially if they had no idea. The vast majority of folks there are just doing their jobs and are not directly or indirectly involved with any aspects of the lawsuit. There are rumors that work on WoW has already ground to a halt as employees are equally frustrated and outraged at the company’s behavior.
The harassers who still work there may be worried they may eventually be publicly outed as the lawsuit continues, but seriously, fuck them. If the allegations against them are true, they should be exposed and purged from the company.
There’s also the reality that this isn’t just happening at Blizzard. It’s been slowly but increasingly more apparent that this frat boy behavior has been pretty rampant throughout the tech industry.
The bigger question is: Will any of this fix things?
Will Activision/Blizzard really take steps to making their workplace better? Will anyone actually responsible lose their job? Will they bring in an HR team that will take allegations seriously? Will HR ensure that any such allegations are investigated thoroughly and, if merited, the accused is punished for their behavior, including termination, regardless of how “senior” the accused is?
Will other people be willing to come forward now that the lawsuit is out? Will the state of California have enough evidence in the worst cases of harassment to pursue criminal charges? And, will they stick?
Nobody wants to see another Cosby situation where, after finally getting caught, he eventually walks over a technicality.
Or, will Activision/Blizzard simply cover everything up? Will they wait for the courts to issue a multi-million dollar fine, and simply pay it? They might cut a couple of people as sacrificial lambs (if they haven’t already) and simply issue public statements that they’re “taking steps” to improve things to appease the courts, while simply allowing the behavior to continue.
In the meantime, it is my sincerest hope that the victims who have moved on have found better jobs elsewhere where they are treated with the respect they deserve. I don’t envy the choices that anyone still at Blizzard, especially anyone who is currently being victimized, may have to make. Do you quit a job that, despite everything, you still love? Do you take a chance and report the harassment and hope that HR is finally listening? Or, do you simply hunker down and put up with things as they are and hope things eventually change for the better?
The best thing that we can hope for is that Blizzard (at least internally) will take this lawsuit seriously, make real effort to purge proven harassers from their staff, and actually implement steps to ensure that the company never becomes this toxic for their employees again.
It would also be great if other tech companies took this lawsuit as notice that it is way past time to take a long, hard look at their own work environments and remove any toxic elements from them.