Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will replace former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack, Activision Blizzard announced on Tuesday, and serve as co-leaders of the company. The decision comes amid continued fallout from the lawsuit facing Activision Blizzard over allegations of a discriminatory and unsafe workplace.
Oneal and Ybarra are relative newcomers to Blizzard. Ybarra joined the company in October 2019 after 20 years at XBOX, while Oneal only started in January, though she worked under Activision beforehand. These two are the first leaders of the company who haven’t been historically ingrained in the Blizzard ecosystem, though both Oneal and Ybarra attended the walkout that employees organized last week, according to sources who were familiar with the event.
It was great attending the #ActiBlizzWalkout this morning – happy to see so many familiar faces. Together let's build a safe, brighter and fair future for everyone. 💙
— Mike Ybarra (@Qwik) July 28, 2021
Oneal, in particular, has a history of championing diversity and inclusivity in her work. Prior to her role at Blizzard, she served as studio head for Activision-owned developer Vicarious Visions. In a July 2020 interview with Shondaland, she spoke about the “responsibility” she feels to use her leadership position to help more women get into the gaming industry. She has also talked about how she reformed Vicarious Visions’ hiring practices to focus on “recruiting and hiring diverse workers.”
The choice in leadership has been met with tentative optimism from both current Blizzard employees and those who have worked with Oneal or Ybarra in the past. Notably, some called Oneal “the best studio head [they’ve] ever worked under.” They also attested to her involvement in events promoting inclusivity within the company, such as Pride. Oneal herself is a member of the LGBTQ community.
“People were floating her as the obvious choice to replace [Brack] if he was removed, even before it happened,” said an employee.
Blizzard’s significant restructuring isn’t only limited to its leadership. According to a report from Bloomberg, human resources executive Jesse Meschuk also departed the company this week, leaving questions as to who will replace him in the interim.
The timing of the announcement, however, is no coincidence. Activision Blizzard is scheduled to hold a Q2 earnings call later today. The company’s shares have dropped more than 12% since news of the lawsuit broke and employees staged a walkout. No doubt the new leadership has been put in place to reassure shareholders — though at least one shareholder has already filed a lawsuit against the company.