I grew up on Blizzard Entertainment. As soon as I came home from elementary school, I would rush to my dad’s Dell Optiplex to fumble around with Battlecruisers in “Starcraft.” When I was dealing with my parent’s divorce, I found company with my paladin in “World of Warcraft.” And in my teenage years, I met some of my best friends while putting an unhealthy amount of hours into “Overwatch.”
While my lifelong commitment to the video game company was once a point of pride, I now feel betrayed by the company that shaped me. On July 20, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed suit against Activision Blizzard Inc. after two years of investigation into claims of sexual harassment. The claims turned out to be true and, unfortunately, extensive.
The lawsuit claimed that Acti-Blizz had a culture of “frat boy” behavior, along with discriminating in pay and hiring practices against women. While it was levied against all of Acti-Blizz—comprised of Activision Publishing, Inc., Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., and King Digital Entertainment—some of the most egregious examples of this behavior came specifically from Blizzard Entertainment.
Female employees were subjected to harassment during alcohol-fueled “Cube Crawls,” held back from promotions despite working as hard or harder than male coworkers and were beholden to the will of Alex Afrasiabi, a menace whose office was better known as the “Cosby Suite.”
It’s crushing to find out that your Christmas money from six years ago lined the pockets of a degenerate like Afrasiabi. I was ready to give up on the company. Disappointing releases and sparse content updates had already damaged my image of the company, and this scandal all but ruined it.
However, my desperation over Blizzard's future may have been premature. The company has instituted a wave of changes, both in their in-game and real-world policies, that suggest a lasting positive culture shift.
In “World of Warcraft,” all in-game references to Afrasiabi and similar individuals have been removed or changed. Similarly, the character Jesse McCree of “Overwatch” will be renamed in the sequel, as real-life developer McCree acted as an accomplice of Afrasiabi. Beyond these symbolic changes, large swathes of World of Warcraft's development team have been fired for misconduct, as they should have been long ago.
Undoubtedly, the pièce de résistance of Blizzard’s response has been the removal of J. Allen Brack as president of the company. While Brack is not accused of misconduct, he enabled Blizzard's toxic culture by repeatedly failing to address his employees' concerns. Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, both of whom have extensive industry experience, will replace Brack as co-leaders for the company going forward.
All of these actions are focused on one goal—gutting the ranks of Blizzard's old guard. Ever since the breakout success of “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans” in 1994, the company has been the rock star of the game development industry. With subsequent hits like “Starcraft” in 1998 and “World of Warcraft” in 2004, it’s little wonder that this sudden success corrupted the developers who were a part of the company from the early 90’s to mid 2010’s.
Instead of excusing the nerdy programmers led astray by fame, Blizzard disciplined them for their reprehensible actions and replaced their leaders with two relative outsiders. Blizzard not only showed itself capable of terminating the very employees responsible for Blizzard's initial success, but demonstrated a willingness to bring new blood to its positions of influence.
While Blizzard is only beginning the long remediation of its grossly unjust history, what they’ve done so far is exemplary. They figured out the issue and started to fix it, no matter the cost.
Hopefully we can learn from this how to avoid a situation so terrible in the future, and at the very least know how to respond to it. Especially at our university, where this same "rockstar" attitude is pervasive in our collegiate sports, Blizzard's simple scorched-earth policy could do a lot of good. Find the problem, gut it out, and even if it costs you now, it will always be better in the long run.
Haden DeVilbiss is a 19-year-old history and psychology sophomore from Lake Charles.