Activision Blizzard employees walkout, demand change over lawsuit
The walkout is only the beginning, according to organizers
A delegation of 30 Activision Blizzard employees — dressed in prideful Shanghai Dragons jerseys and World of Warcraft shirts — marched down Laguna Canyon Road just before 10 a.m. on Wednesday. They met with a similarly sized group at the main entrance of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine, California, and the number continued to grow as the day progressed.
They were there to protest their company’s response to a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employments and Housing. A sexist culture had allegedly been festering within Activision-Blizzard, and these workers were ready to start a movement against it.
“We have a ‘rockstar’ culture where if you’re good enough, bad behavior gets waved off,” one protestor said. “We’re tired of that.”
The lawsuit alleges that Activision Blizzard’s fostered a culture of sexism and discrimination where women were subject to “cube crawls” where men could play games at various desks. They often devolved into drunken walks filled with inappropriate sexual remarks. An investigation found that Activision Blizzard discriminated against women when hiring and promoting as well.
Hundreds protest at the Activision Blizzard walkout
The crowd blossomed into a group of more than 500 protestors, with some coming from all over Southern California, to share their voice via signs and chants. The Blizzard offices are still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic with only a few employees working onsite. Everyone at the walkout came from Carson, Los Angeles and elsewhere in the region. It was the first time several visited the office after being hired within the last year.
The crowd filled the sidewalk off Laguna Canyon Road, hugging the grass-lined fences around the Blizzard campus. The organized protest had multiple stations, food and water for anyone present, a dog sitting area, hundreds of voices sounding off in unison and heart shaped signs with messages hung between the trees.
According to an anonymous Blizzard employee, the lawsuit and resulting walk out created a duality of consequences. While it offered validation for bad experiences and provided a connection to certain others at the company, there was an external effect, too.
“There are other voices like mine. My experience is not particular to me alone,” the employee said. “On the other side is education for those who have not been privy to this behavior.”
A message for Activision Blizzard’s leadership
Activision Blizzard responded to the allegations against with outright denial. Fran Townsend, Activision Blizzard’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, released a statement that said the suit created a “distorted and untrue picture of our company.” Then, CEO Bobby Kotick released an open letter on July 27 apologizing for the initial “tone deaf” response. He added that a law firm —one that he and Townsend have connections to — will be reviewing company policy. Despite this, neither party addressed demands released by the walkout’s organizers, which include the end of forced arbitration, worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies, the need for greater pay transparency and employee selection of a third party to audit company processes.
“Leadership is not a monolith,” an anonymous Activision employee said regarding who their demands were directed to. “Bobby Kotick has been encouraging, but he did not enact the demands that we wanted to see. We are hoping to work with leadership in whatever form that takes.”
Activision Blizzard employees said they have been working nonstop since the lawsuit became public, attempting to bring other employees to their cause. They learned much from the recent Riot Games and Ubisoft controversies that happened recently, especially since several ex-Riot Games employees now work alongside them. Current Riot Games employees have also reached out to offer support.
“The game industry is small,” the anonymous employee said. “We all care about each other, we want what’s best for each other. We want to enact changes, not just for us, but so others can see what we are doing and know they can ask for it as well.”
The amount of work organizers put into to this event within a short timeframe was clear. They coordinated with the Irvine police department, had designated representatives with red and blue arm bands that people could go to for help and even met with Activision Blizzard public relations in the middle of the event.
Only the beginning
The walkout was especially poignant considering it was the first time many Activision Blizzard employees had gathered in a year and a half. The lawsuit pushed them into action, and several organizers said they will not stop until the change they are demanding is realized.
“We will find ways to make leadership hear us,” an anonymous Activision employee said.
One organizer emphasized that this protest was only the start of the worker movement at Activision Blizzard. They said they know that real change will take time to implement and they hope to “work with leadership” over the coming months.
“This is the beginning of a long journey,” one organizer said. “It’s going to be a fight.”