Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack stepped down today following weeks of controversy over the company’s alleged culture of sexism. On July 20, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed an explosive suit alleging rampant gender-based discrimination at Blizzard parent company Activision Blizzard.
Employees at Activision Blizzard say Brack’s departure is just one step toward addressing systemic issues. “No one person is responsible for the culture of Blizzard; the problems at ABK go beyond Blizzard and require systemic change,” tweeted the Activision Blizzard King Workers Alliance, a self-described “organized group of current Activision Blizzard Inc. employees committed to defending our right to a safe and equitable workplace.”
Blizzard’s Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will succeed Brack as copresidents. Oneal was previously studio head for Vicarious Visions, known for developing the Tony Hawk and Skylanders series. (Activision acquired the studio in 2005.) Oneal has been involved in several initiatives to promote women in leadership. Ybarra has been at Blizzard for about two years as its executive vice president. He was previously the corporate vice president of Xbox at Microsoft, where he worked for 19 years.
“I am confident that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will provide the leadership Blizzard needs to realize its full potential and will accelerate the pace of change,” Brack wrote in a message posted to Blizzard.com. “I anticipate they will do so with passion and enthusiasm and that they can be trusted to lead with the highest levels of integrity and commitment to the components of our culture that make Blizzard so special.” Brack has worked at Blizzard since 2006, most recently as the executive producer for World of Warcraft. He has been the president of Blizzard since October 2018. Blizzard's head of human resources, Jesse Meschuk, is no longer with the company either, Bloomberg reports.
“It became clear to J. Allen Brack and Activision Blizzard leadership that Blizzard Entertainment needs a new direction and leadership given the critical work ahead in terms of workplace culture, game development, and innovation,” the company said in a statement to WIRED.
This morning’s announcement caps off weeks of turmoil at Activision Blizzard. The DFEH’s complaint made public harrowing details about the company’s so-called “frat boy” culture, alleging inequalities ranging from pay disparity to permissiveness of sexual misconduct. Brack is one of the few people specifically referenced in the suit. The DFEH alleges that he received “numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation,” including about former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi. Afrasiabi was allegedly known to sexually harass female employees and, around 2013, held a suite at Blizz Con nicknamed the “Cosby Suite.” Afrasiabi was fired in 2020 following an investigation, a spokesperson told Kotaku .
On July 23, shortly after the DFEH’s investigation became public, Brack sent an email to employees calling the allegations “extremely troubling.” In that note, Brack recalled that when Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick offered him the job, “one of the first things I mentioned was a revered saint of the Brack household—Gloria Steinem.” Brack also noted that he could not comment on the specifics of the DFEH’s case because it was an open investigation.
While Brack's email struck a somewhat conciliatory tone, Activision Blizzard's leadership more broadly was dismissive. A spokesperson’s statement claimed the DFEH complaint includes “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Fran Townsend called the suit “truly meritless and irresponsible.”
Employee and fan backlash was fierce. Activision Blizzard workers, especially those who had experienced discrimination at the company, felt the response lacked both accountability and empathy. Hundreds of employees across Activision, Blizzard, and King—all under Activision Blizzard—began coordinating to show solidarity with those victims. Over 3,000 current employees signed a letter condemning their leadership’s response. In another letter, employee organizers asked for an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts. Their requests also included salary transparency, recruiting policies that promote diversity, and the establishment of an employee-designated task force to review human resources and executive staff. (Kotick afterward apologized for the “tone-deaf” initial responses and said he would evaluate leaders, vet hiring practices, and investigate claims.)
Last week, more than 500 people attended a walkout outside Activision Blizzard’s Irvine office, according to an organizer of the event.
Brack stepping down signals more changes to come, though not necessarily the kind employees are looking for. In a message published today, the ABK Workers Alliance condemned Kotick’s message last week for failing to address many of their demands and decried the hiring of law firm WilmerHale to oversee internal accountability processes. In a letter sent to Kotick and Activision Blizzard’s executive team Monday night, the alliance eviscerated WilmerHale for its alleged preexisting relationships with Townsend and other executives, history of discouraging workers’ rights, and specialty protecting powerful clients. (After allegations of widespread sexism at Riot Games, that company hired a law firm that advertises expertise in class action lawsuits.)
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Employees have taken it upon themselves to lead their own workshops, listening sessions, and community meetings surrounding the allegations, the ABK Workers Alliance detailed in its most recent letter. As pressure mounts internally for meaningful change, employees’ tolerance has thinned for corporate responses that fail to address the real hurt they and their colleagues are still healing from.
Update, 8-03-21, 6:00pm ET: This article now includes a reference to Bloomberg's report that Blizzard's head of human resources has also left the company.
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