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Blizzard’s not too long ago publicized sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by the state of California is simply the most recent in an extended string of controversies. Between large layoffs, quite a few stories on its poisonous office, and extremely anticipated launches reportedly sabotaged by mismanagement, the previous couple of years have dramatically altered the notion of what was once PC gaming’s darling developer.
This timeline covers Blizzard’s most notable controversies and high-profile departures since 2018. These occasions assist paint a broad image of Blizzard’s current turmoil over the previous few years and also can give some helpful context in its altering company tradition and the current allegations towards it.
WoW gamers are pissed about Battle for Azeroth
The primary half of 2018 was comparatively quiet for Blizzard, however shortly after Battle for Azeroth launched in August, World of Warcraft gamers had been up in arms. Early in its beta, gamers started complaining about new programs like Azerite Armor being too complicated and unrewarding, nevertheless it appeared like Blizzard wasn’t making any optimistic changes primarily based on that suggestions. Gamers had been upset by the non-existent communication from the event staff about lengthy standing points. By September, things were so bad that game director Ion Hazzikostas issued an apology to the community and promised to be more communicative and fix Battle for Azeroth’s many problems.
Mike Morhaime steps down after 27 years
Morhaime had been with Blizzard since he co-founded the studio in 1991. Replacing him as president was J. Allen Brack, who had previously served as World of Warcraft’s executive producer.
Diablo Immortal’s surprise announcement outrages fans
There was a lot of pressure on Blizzard to wow audiences at BlizzCon 2018. World of Warcraft fans were still upset about the state of Battle for Azeroth, and its developers rolled out an ambitious roadmap of updates in an attempt to right its course. But as the keynote presentation came to a close, players thought they were about to witness the reveal of the much-anticipated Diablo 4. But as soon as principal designer Wyatt Cheng mentioned “mobile,” you could feel the excitement evaporate.
It was an enormous misstep to position the Diablo Immortal reveal as the big finale to BlizzCon. Players who had been eagerly awaiting a proper Diablo PC game felt tricked. It seemed like Blizzard was more interested in chasing trends rather than giving its audience what it wanted. Things only got worse when Cheng later asked a booing audience “What, do you guys not have phones?” after clarifying that Immortal would not release on PC. That would later become an enormous meme wielded by bitter fans.
Blizzard unexpectedly kills Heroes of the Storm’s pro scene
In the month following BlizzCon 2018, things were beginning to quiet down until December 14 when Blizzard announced that it was trimming Heroes of the Storm’s development team and outright killing its esports league just before its 2019 season. With no prior warning, entire teams, commentators, and support staff were suddenly left jobless.
Though it wasn’t surprising that Heroes of the Storm was underperforming, fans and pros were infuriated that Blizzard would wait so late in the year to break the news. Even worse, teams and insiders weren’t even given advance notice—they found out that their Heroes of the Storm careers were over at the same time as everyone else.
Below: A tweet from former Tempo Storm head coach lamenting Blizzard cancelling its HotS esports league.
This is such bullshit and I’m so upset for everyone who has ever put a minute into this scene.https://t.co/oTPo7qNUuqDecember 14, 2018
Former Blizzard worker says HR did nothing to cease racist bullying
In early January, former Blizzard worker Julian Murillo-Cuellar posted a prolonged assertion on Twitter detailing the bullying and discrimination he confronted whereas engaged on the Hearthstone esports staff beginning in 2016. Murillo-Cuellar alleged that one other worker repeatedly made racist feedback and harassed him, and any makes an attempt to resolve the problem with HR and administration had been largely ignored. Murillo-Cuellar additionally claimed that he was retaliated towards for talking out and even acquired damaging efficiency opinions that described him as “not a staff participant” and “troublesome to work with.” Shortly later, Murillo-Cuellar says he started affected by anxiousness assaults and main melancholy and was positioned on medical depart in 2017. When he was later positioned on unpaid depart in 2018, Murillo-Cuellar handed in his resignation.
Following the controversy, Blizzard issued a press release that did not particularly touch upon Murillo-Cuellar’s accusations however reiterated its dedication to “inclusive and respectful work surroundings.”
Activision Blizzard lays off over 800 staff
Activision Blizzard set monetary information in 2018. Regardless of this, CEO Bobby Kotick introduced in a February 2019 earnings name that his firm can be shedding round 8% of its staff. This amounted to an estimated 800 folks throughout Activision, Blizzard, and King dropping their jobs.
The distinction of serious layoffs towards a backdrop of file monetary efficiency drew widespread condemnation from all corners of the business. In a Kotaku report, staff expressed outrage at Kotick’s feedback and the chaotic nature of the layoffs—which had been reportedly rather more intensive than anybody was anticipating. Departments like IT and esports had been reportedly “gutted,” whereas core improvement groups had been largely untouched.
Over the next 12 months, Activision Blizzard sparked much more criticism when it started rehiring for lots of the roles which it had initially reduce, culminating in a 2020 announcement that it nonetheless wanted to rent 2,000 staff to satisfy new calls for.
Frank Pearce steps down
In July, one other Blizzard co-founder introduced he was leaving the corporate after 28 years. Although one of many much less seen faces of Blizzard, Pearce led improvement on Warcraft 3 and was an government producer on WoW’s Burning Campaign, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria expansions.
Blizzard bans Hearthstone professional over “liberate Hong Kong” message
Blizzard created worldwide outrage when it suspended Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for calling for Hong Kong’s liberation from the Chinese language authorities throughout a post-match interview on the Asia Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters event. On the time, Hong Kong was enveloped in chaos as a whole lot of 1000’s of protestors fought towards an extradition invoice that might enable for the switch of criminals to mainland China. Blitzchung was initially suspended for a 12 months and stripped of his prize winnings. The 2 Taiwanese casters who had been current throughout the interview had been additionally fired.
Although Blitzchung did break one of many guidelines of the event, Blizzard’s choice to droop him drew widespread condemnation and have become a nationwide information story. Staff staged a walk-out in protest of the choice whereas outraged gamers organized boycotts throughout all of Blizzard’s video games. Main Hearthstone casters resigned, sponsors like Mitsubishi pulled their help from future occasions, and American politicians penned a bi-partisan letter condemning Blizzard’s actions. Subsequent Hearthstone tournaments stopped conducting participant interviews or utilizing webcams to point out gamers after groups held up indicators supporting Hong Kong and Blitzchung, whereas human rights advocacy teams referred to as on Blizzard to overturn the suspension.
Many questioned if Blizzard’s choice was motivated by a need to remain within the good graces of the Chinese language authorities. Over time, China had grow to be an unlimited a part of Blizzard’s enterprise, however authorities laws are notoriously fickle, and plenty of accused Blizzard of silencing free speech with a purpose to defend its enterprise pursuits.
Free speech protests take over BlizzCon 2019
Tensions and outrage over Blitzchung’s ban grew in severity for weeks earlier than spilling over into BlizzCon 2019. Lengthy earlier than the doorways opened to the Anaheim Conference Heart, a whole lot had gathered outdoors in protest.
Simply earlier than the keynote presentation started, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack took the stage to apologize for the way Blizzard reacted. Brack initially did not specify whether or not Blizzard would undo its suspension, however in a PC Gamer interview later that day on the occasion Brack confirmed that Blizzard can be decreasing Blitzchung’s ban to only six months. The 2 Taiwanese casters would nonetheless be fired, nonetheless. Brack denied claims that Blizzard’s choice was influenced by its Chinese language publishing associate NetEase.
Warcraft 3: Reforged is a catastrophe
First introduced throughout BlizzCon 2018, Warcraft 3: Reforged was an formidable remaster that might replace the unique 2002 real-time technique sport with HD graphics, re-recorded cutscenes, in addition to an upgraded person interface and world editor. However when it lastly launched in January of 2020, Reforged had did not ship on lots of its guarantees.
Maps regarded considerably worse than the 2018 reveal, the re-recorded voice overs had been scraped fully, and—most upsetting of all—options that had been current in Warcraft 3 for many years, like clans and offline play, had been lacking. The brand new EULA additionally gave Blizzard full possession of any mods that had been made in Reforged, which tremendously upset Warcraft 3’s modding neighborhood. And since Warcraft 3: Reforged successfully changed Warcraft 3 fully, there was no method to return and play the unique with out shopping for a bodily copy.
Gamers had been incensed. The outrage grew so monumental that Brack lastly addressed it just a few weeks later and apologized for the way totally Blizzard missed the mark and promised that it might maintain working to enhance the sport. A Bloomberg report launched in 2021 claims that a lot of Warcraft 3: Reforged’s failings had been because of mismanagement and Activision aggressively slicing its funds late in improvement, forcing the staff to desert options fully.
Hearthstone professional claims he is been blacklisted by Blizzard after his spouse was laid off
In June of 2020, a preferred Hearthstone participant named Savjz claimed he had been blacklisted from competing in official tournaments as a result of his spouse, Christina Mikkonen, was one of many 800 staff laid off in 2019 and had publicly criticized Blizzard a number of instances on social media. In response to Mikkonen, Savjz was blacklisted after she criticized a neighborhood supervisor on Twitter for promoting a job opening again in July.
Blizzard responded to the accusations by clarifying that Savjz was not blacklisted however hadn’t been invited as a result of he did not conform to a “request for confidentiality” about info concerning the event. Savjz claimed Blizzard did not need him sharing info with Mikkonen, which he refused. Blizzard finally apologized to Savjz and the 2 reached an settlement the place he may take part in future occasions.
Alex Afrasiabi quietly leaves Blizzard
As one of many greatest faces on World of Warcraft’s improvement staff, Alex Afrasiabi’s sudden departure from Blizzard in June was initially a thriller. He had served as inventive director for a lot of years and had reportedly led improvement on Titan, Blizzard’s cancelled MMO. Blizzard made no assertion about his departure, with gamers solely noticing it after Afrasiabi up to date his LinkedIn web page to substantiate he was not with the corporate.
Afrasiabi is likely one of the few folks immediately named within the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit towards Activision Blizzard, which alleges he repeatedly groped and harassed girls staff. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed to Kotaku in July 2021 that Afrasiabi had been terminated “for his misconduct in his therapy of different staff.”
Blizzard staff share spreadsheet documenting salaries in protest over low pay
In August of final 12 months, Bloomberg reported that Blizzard staff had been anonymously sharing their salaries after discovering giant wage disparities. In response to sources that spoke to Bloomberg, an inside firm survey revealed that many staff had been unhappy with their pay—particularly in distinction to how a lot Activision Blizzard executives like Kotick make. To advocate for higher pay, staff created a spreadsheet and commenced documenting their wage and up to date pay will increase.
Activision Blizzard hires controversial Trump and Bush-era authorities officers
Activision Blizzard raised eyebrows earlier this 12 months when it employed Frances Townsend, who had served as a homeland safety advisor to president George W. Bush the place she grew to become one of many greatest political faces in America’s Warfare on Terror. Townsend additionally served as a nationwide safety analyst for varied information organizations, and has additionally been criticized for defending acts of torture like waterboarding and sleep deprivation. Townsend would function Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer, working to make sure its video games did not run afoul of presidency regulators in international international locations.
A number of weeks later, Activision Blizzard additionally appointed Brian Bulatao, a former Trump administrator, as chief administration officer. As Kotaku reported, Bulatao grew to become the topic of public scrutiny after a probe into Trump’s firing of an unbiased watchdog within the State Division. In testimony throughout a probe into his firing, that watchdog claimed he was fired with out trigger and Bulatao “tried to bully” him on a number of events when investigating the Trump administration.
Jeff Kaplan quits Blizzard
In April, Overwatch lead designer and Blizzard vp Jeff Kaplan introduced he was leaving the corporate after 19 years. The announcement was stunning, as Kaplan had grow to be the face of Overwatch and was engaged on its sequel.
Activision Blizzard is sued for discrimination and sexual harassment
In July, The California Division of Truthful Employment and Housing revealed it had filed a lawsuit towards Activision Blizzard claiming that staff had confronted “fixed sexual harassment, together with groping, feedback, and advances” because of a “frat boy office tradition.” The lawsuit was the results of a two-year investigation, during which the division claims to have uncovered many cases the place staff—notably girls and minorities—had been discriminated towards, sexually harassed, and denied alternatives that had been as a substitute handed to much less certified candidates.
The lawsuit consists of nameless testimonies, together with one occasion the place an worker allegedly dedicated suicide on a piece journey after being topic by sexual harassment from a supervisor. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and former inventive director Alex Afrasiabi had been two managers named immediately within the swimsuit. It alleges that Afrasiabi sexually harassed a number of girls whereas Brack allowed poisonous habits to fester throughout the firm and did little to cease it.
Activision Blizzard management vehemently denied the lawsuit and referred to as its claims “meritless,” which outraged many present and former staff who felt that they had been being silenced. Within the week following information of the lawsuit, dozens of former and present staff started talking up and sharing their very own experiences of harassment and toxicity on the firm. Over 2,500 staff signed an open letter condemning Activision Blizzard management and demanding accountability, and staff additionally staged a walkout in protest.