President of Blizzard Entertainment J. Allen Brack resigned today after weeks of controversy over the company’s alleged sexism culture. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed on July 20 explosive suit citing widespread gender discrimination in the parent company Blizzard Activision Blizzard.
Activision Blizzard employees say Brack’s departure is just one step toward solving systemic problems. “No one is responsible for Blizzard culture; problems at ABK transcend Blizzard and require systemic change, ”the Activision Blizzard King Workers Alliance, a self-described“ organized group of current Activision Blizzard Inc. employees, wrote on Twitter. committed to defending our right to a safe and just workplace ”.
Blizzard’s Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will succeed Brack as co-presidents. Oneal was previously the head of studies for Vicarious Visions, known for his development Tony Hawk i Skylanders series. (Activision bought the studio in 2005.) Oneal has been involved in several initiatives to promote women in leadership. Ybarra has been in 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 that Blizzard needs to achieve fully and will accelerate the pace of change,” Brack wrote in message published on Blizzard.com. “I guess they will do it with passion and enthusiasm and they can be trusted to lead with the highest level 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 executive producer World of Warcraft. He has been president of Blizzard since October 2018.
“J. Allen Brack and the management of Activision Blizzard have realized that Blizzard Entertainment needs a new direction and leadership given the critical work that follows in terms of workplace culture, game development and innovation,” the company said in a statement to WIRED.
This morning’s announcement of the end of the weekly turmoil in Activision Blizzard. The DFEH complaint published disturbing details about the so-called “frat boy” company culture, which states inequality ranging from pay differences to allowing sexual misconduct. Brack is one of the few people specifically mentioned in the suit. DFEH states that it has received “numerous complaints of unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation”, including former World of Warcraft senior creative director Alex Afrasiabi. It is reportedly known that Afrasiabi sexually harassed female employees, and around 2013 he kept an apartment in Blizz Con under the nickname “Cosby Suite.” Afrasiabi was fired in 2020 after an investigation, a spokesman said said Kotaku.
On July 23, shortly after the DFEH investigation went public, Brack sent an e-mail to employees calling the allegations “extremely worrying.” In that note, Brack recalled that when Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick offered him the job, “one of the first things I mentioned was the revered Brack family saint – Gloria Steinem.” Brack also noted that he could not comment on the specifics of the DFEH case because it is an open investigation.
While Brack’s email took on a somewhat conciliatory tone, Activision Blizzard’s leadership was broadly dismissive. A spokesman said the DFEH complaint included “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past”. Activision Blizzard Compliance Director Fran Townsend called the lawsuit “really pointless and irresponsible.”
The reactions of employees and fans were fierce. Activision Blizzard employees, especially those who experienced discrimination in the company, felt that there was a lack of responsibility and empathy in the response. Hundreds of employees across Activision, Blizzard and King – all under Activision Blizzard – began to coordinate to show solidarity with these victims. Over 3,000 current employees have signed a letter condemning the response of their management. In another letter, employee organizers requested the termination of mandatory arbitration clauses in the contracts. Their demands included transparency of salaries, employment policies that promote diversity, and the establishment of a working group appointed by human resources audit staff and executive staff. (Kotick then apologized for the initial responses of the “deafblind” and he said it would assess leaders, check recruitment practices, and research requirements.)