How Blizzard’s fame collapsed in simply 3 years

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Blizzard’s not too long ago publicized sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit filed by the state of California is simply the newest in an extended string of controversies. Between large layoffs, quite a few experiences on its poisonous office, and extremely anticipated launches reportedly sabotaged by mismanagement, the previous couple of years have dramatically altered the notion of what was PC gaming’s darling developer.

This timeline covers Blizzard’s most notable controversies and high-profile departures since 2018. These occasions assist paint a broad image of Blizzard’s latest turmoil over the previous few years and also can give some helpful context in its altering company tradition and the latest allegations in opposition to it.

2018

WoW gamers are pissed about Battle for Azeroth

The primary half of 2018 was comparatively quiet for Blizzard, however shortly after Battle for Azeroth launched in August, World of Warcraft gamers had been up in arms. Early in its beta, gamers started complaining about new programs like Azerite Armor being too complicated and unrewarding, but it surely appeared like Blizzard wasn’t making any constructive changes primarily based on that suggestions. Gamers had been upset by the non-existent communication from the event crew about lengthy standing points. By September, issues had been so dangerous that sport director Ion Hazzikostas issued an apology to the group and promised to be extra communicative and repair Battle for Azeroth’s many issues.

Mike Morhaime steps down after 27 years 

Morhaime had been with Blizzard since he co-founded the studio in 1991. Changing him as president was J. Allen Brack, who had beforehand served as World of Warcraft’s government producer. 

Diablo Immortal’s shock announcement outrages followers 

It was an unlimited misstep to place the Diablo Immortal reveal as the massive finale to BlizzCon.

There was a whole lot of stress on Blizzard to wow audiences at BlizzCon 2018. World of Warcraft followers had been nonetheless upset in regards to the state of Battle for Azeroth, and its builders rolled out an bold roadmap of updates in an try to proper its course. However because the keynote presentation got here to a detailed, gamers thought they had been about to witness the reveal of the much-anticipated Diablo 4. However as quickly as principal designer Wyatt Cheng talked about “mobile,” you can really feel the joy evaporate.

It was an unlimited misstep to place the Diablo Immortal reveal as the massive finale to BlizzCon. Gamers who had been eagerly awaiting a correct Diablo PC sport felt tricked. It appeared like Blizzard was extra involved in chasing traits moderately than giving its viewers what it needed. Issues solely received worse when Cheng later requested a booing viewers “What, do you guys not have phones?” after clarifying that Immortal wouldn’t launch on PC. That will later develop into an unlimited meme wielded by bitter followers.

Blizzard unexpectedly kills Heroes of the Storm’s professional scene 

Within the month following BlizzCon 2018, issues had been starting to cool down till December 14 when Blizzard introduced that it was trimming Heroes of the Storm’s improvement crew and outright killing its esports league simply earlier than its 2019 season. With no prior warning, whole groups, commentators, and assist workers had been abruptly left jobless.

Although it wasn’t shocking that Heroes of the Storm was underperforming, followers and professionals had been infuriated that Blizzard would wait so late within the yr to interrupt the information. Even worse, groups and insiders weren’t even given advance discover—they discovered that their Heroes of the Storm careers had been over similtaneously everybody else.

Under: A tweet from former Tempo Storm head coach lamenting Blizzard cancelling its HotS esports league.

That is such bullshit and I am so upset for everybody who has ever put a minute into this scene.https://t.co/oTPo7qNUuqDecember 14, 2018

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2019

Former Blizzard worker says HR did nothing to cease racist bullying

In early January, former Blizzard worker Julian Murillo-Cuellar posted a prolonged assertion on Twitter detailing the bullying and discrimination he confronted whereas engaged on the Hearthstone esports crew beginning in 2016. Murillo-Cuellar alleged that one other worker repeatedly made racist feedback and harassed him, and any makes an attempt to resolve the problem with HR and administration had been largely ignored. Murillo-Cuellar additionally claimed that he was retaliated in opposition to for talking out and even acquired unfavourable efficiency opinions that described him as “not a team player” and “difficult to work with.” Shortly later, Murillo-Cuellar says he started affected by anxiousness assaults and main melancholy and was positioned on medical depart in 2017. When he was later positioned on unpaid depart in 2018, Murillo-Cuellar handed in his resignation.

Following the controversy, Blizzard issued an announcement that did not particularly touch upon Murillo-Cuellar’s accusations however reiterated its dedication to “inclusive and respectful work environment.”

Blizzard staff protest in 2021 after it was accused of fostering a poisonous, sexist office. (Picture credit score: Bloomberg / Getty Photographs)

Activision Blizzard lays off over 800 staff 

Activision Blizzard set monetary information in 2018. Regardless of this, CEO Bobby Kotick introduced in a February 2019 earnings name that his firm could be shedding round 8% of its staff. This amounted to an estimated 800 individuals throughout Activision, Blizzard, and King shedding their jobs.

The distinction of serious layoffs in opposition to a backdrop of file monetary efficiency drew widespread condemnation from all corners of the trade. In a Kotaku report, staff expressed outrage at Kotick’s feedback and the chaotic nature of the layoffs—which had been reportedly far more intensive than anybody was anticipating. Departments like IT and esports had been reportedly “gutted,” whereas core improvement groups had been largely untouched.

Over the next yr, Activision Blizzard sparked much more criticism when it started rehiring for lots of the roles which it had initially lower, culminating in a 2020 announcement that it nonetheless wanted to rent 2,000 staff to fulfill new calls for. 

Frank Pearce was an essential behind-the-scenes developer since Blizzard’s founding. (Picture credit score: Blizzard)

Frank Pearce steps down 

In July, one other Blizzard co-founder introduced he was leaving the corporate after 28 years. Although one of many much less seen faces of Blizzard, Pearce led improvement on Warcraft 3 and was an government producer on WoW’s Burning Campaign, Wrath of the Lich King, Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria expansions. 

Blizzard bans Hearthstone professional over “liberate Hong Kong” message 

Many questioned if Blizzard’s determination was motivated by a need to remain within the good graces of the Chinese language authorities.

Blizzard created worldwide outrage when it suspended Chung “Blitzchung” Ng Wai for calling for Hong Kong’s liberation from the Chinese language authorities throughout a post-match interview on the Asia Pacific Hearthstone Grandmasters event. On the time, Hong Kong was enveloped in chaos as a whole bunch of hundreds of protestors fought in opposition to an extradition invoice that may permit for the switch of criminals to mainland China. Blitzchung was initially suspended for a yr and stripped of his prize winnings. The 2 Taiwanese casters who had been current throughout the interview had been additionally fired.

Although Blitzchung did break one of many guidelines of the event, Blizzard’s determination to droop him drew widespread condemnation and have become a nationwide information story. Staff staged a walk-out in protest of the choice whereas outraged gamers organized boycotts throughout all of Blizzard’s video games. Main Hearthstone casters resigned, sponsors like Mitsubishi pulled their assist from future occasions, and American politicians penned a bi-partisan letter condemning Blizzard’s actions. Subsequent Hearthstone tournaments stopped conducting participant interviews or utilizing webcams to indicate gamers after groups held up indicators supporting Hong Kong and Blitzchung, whereas human rights advocacy teams referred to as on Blizzard to overturn the suspension.

Many questioned if Blizzard’s determination was motivated by a need to remain within the good graces of the Chinese language authorities. Over time, China had develop into an unlimited a part of Blizzard’s enterprise, however authorities rules are notoriously fickle, and lots of accused Blizzard of silencing free speech with the intention to defend its enterprise pursuits.

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(Picture credit score: Future)

Free speech protests take over BlizzCon 2019 

Tensions and outrage over Blitzchung’s ban grew in severity for weeks earlier than spilling over into BlizzCon 2019. Lengthy earlier than the doorways opened to the Anaheim Conference Heart, a whole bunch had gathered exterior in protest.

Simply earlier than the keynote presentation started, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack took the stage to apologize for the way Blizzard reacted. Brack initially did not specify whether or not Blizzard would undo its suspension, however in a PC Gamer interview later that day on the occasion Brack confirmed that Blizzard could be lowering Blitzchung’s ban to simply six months. The 2 Taiwanese casters would nonetheless be fired, nevertheless. Brack denied claims that Blizzard’s determination was influenced by its Chinese language publishing accomplice NetEase. 

2020

Warcraft 3: Reforged is a catastrophe

First introduced throughout BlizzCon 2018, Warcraft 3: Reforged was an bold remaster that may replace the unique 2002 real-time technique sport with HD graphics, re-recorded cutscenes, in addition to an upgraded consumer interface and world editor. However when it lastly launched in January of 2020, Reforged had didn’t ship on lots of its guarantees.

Maps appeared considerably worse than the 2018 reveal, the re-recorded voice overs had been scraped solely, and—most upsetting of all—options that had been current in Warcraft 3 for many years, like clans and offline play, had been lacking. The brand new EULA additionally gave Blizzard full possession of any mods that had been made in Reforged, which vastly upset Warcraft 3’s modding group. And since Warcraft 3: Reforged successfully changed Warcraft 3 solely, there was no method to return and play the unique with out shopping for a bodily copy. 

Gamers had been incensed. The outrage grew so huge that Brack lastly addressed it just a few weeks later and apologized for the way totally Blizzard missed the mark and promised that it could hold working to enhance the sport. A Bloomberg report launched in 2021 claims that a lot of Warcraft 3: Reforged’s failings had been as a result of mismanagement and Activision aggressively chopping its funds late in improvement, forcing the crew to desert options solely.

(Picture credit score: Blizzard)

Hearthstone professional claims he is been blacklisted by Blizzard after his spouse was laid off 

In June of 2020, a preferred Hearthstone participant named Savjz claimed he had been blacklisted from competing in official tournaments as a result of his spouse, Christina Mikkonen, was one of many 800 staff laid off in 2019 and had publicly criticized Blizzard a number of instances on social media. In response to Mikkonen, Savjz was blacklisted after she criticized a group supervisor on Twitter for promoting a job opening again in July.

Blizzard responded to the accusations by clarifying that Savjz was not blacklisted however hadn’t been invited as a result of he did not comply with a “request for confidentiality” about data concerning the event. Savjz claimed Blizzard did not need him sharing data with Mikkonen, which he refused. Blizzard ultimately apologized to Savjz and the 2 reached an settlement the place he might take part in future occasions.

Alex Afrasiabi quietly leaves Blizzard 

Afrasiabi is likely one of the few individuals immediately named within the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit in opposition to Activision Blizzard.

As one of many largest faces on World of Warcraft’s improvement crew, Alex Afrasiabi’s sudden departure from Blizzard in June was initially a thriller. He had served as inventive director for a variety of years and had reportedly led improvement on Titan, Blizzard’s cancelled MMO. Blizzard made no assertion about his departure, with gamers solely noticing it after Afrasiabi up to date his LinkedIn web page to verify he was not with the corporate.

Afrasiabi is likely one of the few individuals immediately named within the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit in opposition to Activision Blizzard, which alleges he repeatedly groped and harassed girls staff. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed to Kotaku in July 2021 that Afrasiabi had been terminated “for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.” 

Afrasiabi also had NPCs named after him in World of Warcraft, which were removed in 2021.

Afrasiabi also had NPCs named after him in World of Warcraft, which were removed in 2021. (Image credit: Blizzard)

Blizzard employees share spreadsheet documenting salaries in protest over low pay 

In August of last year, Bloomberg reported that Blizzard employees were anonymously sharing their salaries after discovering large wage disparities. According to sources that spoke to Bloomberg, an internal company survey revealed that many employees were unsatisfied with their pay—especially in contrast to how much Activision Blizzard executives like Kotick make. To advocate for better pay, employees created a spreadsheet and began documenting their salary and recent pay increases. 

2021

Activision Blizzard hires controversial Trump and Bush-era government officials 

Activision Blizzard raised eyebrows earlier this year when it hired Frances Townsend, who had served as a homeland security advisor to president George W. Bush where she became one of the biggest political faces in America’s War on Terror. Townsend also served as a national security analyst for various news organizations, and has also been criticized for defending acts of torture like waterboarding and sleep deprivation. Townsend would serve as Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer, working to ensure its games didn’t run afoul of government regulators in foreign countries.

A few weeks later, Activision Blizzard also appointed Brian Bulatao, a former Trump administrator, as chief administration officer. As Kotaku reported, Bulatao became the subject of public scrutiny after a probe into Trump’s firing of an independent watchdog in the State Department. In testimony during a probe into his firing, that watchdog claimed he was fired without cause and Bulatao “tried to bully” him on multiple occasions when investigating the Trump administration. 

Jeff Kaplan quits Blizzard 

In April, Overwatch lead designer and Blizzard vice president Jeff Kaplan announced he was leaving the company after 19 years. The announcement was shocking, as Kaplan had become the face of Overwatch and was working on its sequel. 

WoW players cancelled their subscriptions and used their remaining time to stage in-game protests after news of the lawsuit broke. (Image credit: Blizzard)

Activision Blizzard is sued for discrimination and sexual harassment 

Over 2,500 employees signed an open letter condemning Activision Blizzard leadership and demanding accountability.

In July, The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing revealed it had filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard claiming that employees had faced “fixed sexual harassment, together with groping, feedback, and advances” due to a “frat boy office tradition.” The lawsuit was the result of a two-year investigation, in which the department claims to have uncovered many instances where employees—particularly women and minorities—were discriminated against, sexually harassed, and denied opportunities that were instead handed to less qualified candidates.

The lawsuit includes anonymous testimonies, including one instance where an employee allegedly committed suicide on a work trip after being subject by sexual harassment from a manager. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and former creative director Alex Afrasiabi were two managers named directly in the suit. It alleges that Afrasiabi sexually harassed several women while Brack allowed toxic behavior to fester within the company and did little to stop it.

Activision Blizzard leadership vehemently denied the lawsuit and called its claims “meritless,” which outraged many present and former staff who felt that they had been being silenced. Within the week following information of the lawsuit, dozens of former and present staff started talking up and sharing their very own experiences of harassment and toxicity on the firm. Over 2,500 staff signed an open letter condemning Activision Blizzard management and demanding accountability, and staff additionally staged a walkout in protest. 

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