Last minute Activision Blizzard walkout draws 150 employees to campus
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On the Ground
Original Reporting

Around 150 Blizzard employees gathered outside Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine campus on Tuesday afternoon, walking out of work to demand that Bobby Kotick step down as Activision Blizzard CEO after a report in the Wall Street Journal detailed Kotick’s knowledge of multiple instances of sexual harassment and assault within the company.

The realization of how deep Activision Blizzard’s flawed culture is rooted was another gut punch for many of the workers taking part in the protest.  Several employees Upcomer spoke to had known about issues at the company for years, either because they experienced harassment firsthand or know someone that did, but they “didn’t realize the depths” that it ran. Many, even developers who were in the middle of launching a large World of Warcraft Classic update, made an extra effort to attend the walkout.

The report — which details how Kotick protected men accused of sexual assault at Sledgehammer Games and Treyarch — was a shock to many employees at the protest, who quickly worked to organize the physical walkout. Other employees joined the effort from online, taking part in a “digital walkout” where they stopped working from home for the day. Employees from Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch, Toys for Bob and other studios also participated.

Walking out to get rid of Kotick

Activision Blizzard has been embroiled in multiple investigations by government organizations like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the California Department of Equal Employment and Housing, the Department of Justice and the SEC. The company has been accused of fostering a sexist, racist and homophobic culture. Several former executives, including former head of Blizzard Entertainment J. Allen Brack, have left the company since the initial DFEH lawsuit was made public on July 21. Few workers attending the protest understood how large a role Kotick had actually played in covering up instances of sexual assault at the company.

“It makes me incredibly angry,” one anonymous employee said of the instances detailed in the report, including how Kotick protected an alleged rapist at Sledgehammer Games and how he fought to keep one of the heads of Call of Duty developer Treyarch after the results of internal investigation recommend he be fired. Many employees said they were specifically hurt by reading about how Jen Oneal, the executive appointed to be co-lead of Blizzard Entertainment, was paid less than Mike Ybarra and that she was also harassed during her time at the company.

“I thought she may have been pushed out,” another employee said of Oneal. “But reading about what happened to her was difficult.”

Activision Blizzard
More than 150 Blizzard employees gathered on Alton Parkway in Irvine | Photo by Aron Garst

Bobby Kotick and other senior executives have repeated that Activision Blizzard is constantly trying to become a better workplace, citing the recent implementation of their zero tolerance harassment policy. Employees have shared a different story, saying that little-to-nothing has changed within their day-to-day lives — outside lofty promises made by management — and that they believe Kotick should be forced out similar to how other executives have been.

None of the other developments from today, including the fact that Activision Blizzard’s board of directors released a statement following the release of the WSJ report, saying that they “remain confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment, and ability to achieve [our] goals,” phased the protestors. They were steadfast in adding Kotick’s resignation to their list of demands; a list that company leadership has yet to respond to.

This protest was noticeably smaller than the walk out organized in July, but protestors were quick to point out that it was organized in less than an hour. Nearly a hundred workers gathered around the entrance at 2:30 p.m. ET, and more trickled in from various directions to join the protest throughout the afternoon. Many of the attendees rushed over from their homes across Southern California to help send the message that they won’t stand to work under Bobby Kotick anymore.

“We were sending messages and then running out the door,” one anonymous Blizzard employee said.

They’ve heard the board of directors response and seen Kotick’s video message, but don’t care about anything besides putting Activision Blizzard under new leadership.

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.
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