The Blizzard lawsuit and its consequences

Illustration by Ariel Walter | The Signal

The game industry is behind the rest of the entertainment industry in coming to terms with a post #MeToo world. Executives silenced abuses in the game industry for the most part. 

Generally, gaming press coverage focuses more on the consumer side of games than production. The lawsuit against Activision Blizzard by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is a significant step towards addressing gaming’s issues with workplace abuse.

Activision Blizzard is a prominent face in the gaming industry. Blizzard created “World of Warcraft,” which is still the most popular MMO of all time, alongside other beloved properties such as “Starcraft” and “Overwatch.”

Until recently, Blizzard itself was a beloved company as its reputation collapsed amongst free speech scandals and lackluster quality of games. Its reputation has only worsened after the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit came about after a two-year investigation that claimed that employees were subject to a “frat boy-like culture” that dominated the workplace.

The actual filing of the case goes into much more explicit detail

“In the office, women are often subjected to cube crawls, in which male employees drink copious amounts of alcohol as they crawl their way through various cubicles in the office and engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees,” the file states.

These allegations are only the tip of the iceberg. The document also details the suicide of a female employee who died after being sexually assaulted on a business trip.

Also mentioned in the lawsuit was the presence of the “Cosby Suite” owned by Alex Afriasabi, a former developer at Blizzard. An investigation by Kotaku found that this “Cosby Suite” did exist, with a framed photo of Bill Cosby being in the room. 

Allegedly an informal meeting room, texts between Blizzard employees who frequented said room asked alluded to bringing women to the room.

Representatives of Blizzard would attempt to respond to these allegations, and Blizzard’s Vice President said the claims in the lawsuit were “distorted and untrue.” This response further angered Blizzard employees, leading to an open letter being published and the staging of a walkout on July 28th.

The allegations previously mentioned only cover the ones that the lawsuit directly mentioned. In testimony with IGN, a former employee talked about how the room for breastfeeding initially did not have locks.

”Men would walk into the breastfeeding room. There was no way to lock the door. They would just stare, and I would have to scream at them to leave,” they said.

An article published by Vice’s Gaming division contained an account of even more harassment by Blizzard, with an aspiring worker was asked: “if she liked being penetrated [by male coworkers].”

Blizzard’s attempts at damage control so far have been limited to statements made towards the press and relatively minor in the grand scheme of things.  All references to developer Afrasiabi in “World of Warcraft” have been removed. 

In the game “Overwatch,” the character “McCree” is being renamed due to his real-life namesake using one of the “Cosby Suite” group texts.  Response to the McCree rename is understandably mixed, with the consensus on the Reddit forum being that it’s a poor attempt to save face.

 “Thank god they renamed a fictional cowboy 99% of people didn’t even know was named after a shitty employee instead of working to resolve the issue this employee and others caused,” one user said.

Another result of the allegations is sweeping resignations from many high-level workers due to the lawsuit. Blizzard’s President J Allen Brack resigned on August 3rd. 

This resignation came after the lawsuit directly name-dropped him for essentially sweeping Afrasiabi’s behavior under the rug. Jesse Meschuk, head of Blizzard’s notoriously dysfunctional HR department, also resigned around the same time. 

The lead director and level designer of “Diablo 4” also left around this time as well.  The most recent departure comes from “Overwatch 2” executive producer Chacko Sonny who resigned on September 21st.

The lawsuit has yet to go to trial, but it is still a very significant development in the industry, as this type of abuse typically has been swept under the rug. Whether this starts a ripple effect of unearthing more misconduct in the game industry is yet to be seen, but the Blizzard lawsuit may finally be the game industry coming to terms with living in a post #MeToo world.