The head of Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind Overwatch and World of Warcraft, sent an email to staff last night calling the recent allegations of widespread sexual harassment and discrimation “extremely troubling” and promised to meet with them to answer questions and discuss “how we can move forward.”
In the email, first reported by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, a copy of which was also viewed by Kotaku, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack wrote, “I personally have a lot of emotions coming out of yesterday, and I know you do, too. The allegations and the hurt of current and former employees are extremely troubling.”
He went on to reconfirm the company’s commitment to making sure employees feel safe working there.
“It is completely unacceptable for anyone in the company to face discrimination or harassment,” he wrote. “It takes courage to come forward, and all claims brought to the company are investigated by internal and (when needed) external investigators.”
Content Warning: Descriptions of sexual assault
The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing decided that Blizzard did, in fact, need external investigators two years ago (which the company said it has fully complied with), filing a complaint in court earlier this week. After the investgation from two years ago revealed an alleged “frat boy” workplace culture which contributed to discrimination, harrssment, rape, and, in one case, suicide. Parent company Activision Blizzard denied most of the claims in the complaint in a statement, calling it the result of a bad-faith investigation by “unaccountable State bureaucrats.”
In his email, Brack appears to be caught by surprise by the widespread allegations, despite being named in the complaint himself as one of the top managers who failed to deal with sexual harassment even when he was aware of it.
“J. Allen Brack, President of Blizzard Entertainment, allegedly had multiple conversations with [Alex Afrasiabi, former senior creative director of world of Warcraft] about his drinking and that he had been ‘too friendly’ towards female employees at company events but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e. verbal counseling) in response to these incidents,” the complaint reads.
It goes on to allege that Afrasiabi continued sexually harassing women even after Brack reportedly spoke with him.
To reassert his bonafides as someone who takes misogyny seriously, in his letter to staff last night Brack made reference to writer and second-wave femenist icon Gloria Steinem.
“When I talked with Bobby [Kotick] about taking this job, one of the first things I mentioned was a revered saint of the Brack household — Gloria Steinem,” he wrote. “Growing up, the value of women as equals, understanding the work that had been done for equal treatment, and the fact that there was still much to do, were common themes.”
But some aren’t buying it.
“Personally, I was not satisfied by it,” one current Blizzard developer told Kotaku. “I wanted to hear an explicit admission by leadership that we have a problem, followed by concrete steps to fix it. Instead it felt like a bunch of empty words.”
“The part about Gloria Steinem was particularly confusing to me,” they went on. “[J. Allen Brack] worked alongside Afrasiabi for years, and it’s hard to believe he wasn’t aware of his behaviour. JAB is in that video circulating of a 2010 BlizzCon panel where leaders of the World of Warcraft team were extremely patronising and sexist to a woman asking a reasonable question. I want JAB to resign and the email didn’t change that.”
The video the developer was talking about, which has started making the rounds online, shows a female fan at a 2010 World of Warcraft developer panel hosted by Brack, Afrasiabi, and others, requesting more varied female character designs.
“I love the fact that you have a lot of very strong female characters. However, I was wondering if we could have some that don’t look like they just stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalogue,” she says to roaring audience applause.
“Which catalogue would you like them to step out of,” responds Afrasiabi. Brack laughs and nods. “I feel you, and we want to vary our female characters absolutely, so yeah we’ll pick different catalogues,” Afrasiabi says afterwards.
He smirks. The fan looks mortified. But the exchange continues:
Brack: Hey Alex, what catalogue is that Tauren female coming out of?
Afrasiabi: Not one you’d read.
Brack: Sexy sexy cow business. (The Tauren are a cow-race).
“I want you to know that you can talk to any manager, any HR partner, any member of the legal team, or to any one on the executive team [including, Hey J],” Brack wrote in his letter to staff today
Other Activision Blizzard executives have also been in damage control mode.
Activision president Rob Kostich called the allegations in the complaint “deeply disturbing” in a letter to staff yesterday as well, Polygon’s Nicole Carpenter reports, He went on to write that the “behaviours described are not reflective of our Activision company values. The Call of Duty maker merged with Blizzard in 2008 after it acquired the latter from French media conglomerate Vivendi’s game’s division.
Activision’s chief compliance officer, Frances Townsend, also weighed in in an email to staff writing that she has felt like a valued and respected member of the staff since she joined Activision Blizzard earlier this year, Axios’ Megan Farokhmanesh reports. Townsend, a torture apologist, was brought on in March following years of service in government, first at the Justice Department and later in George W. Bush’s White House.
“We work at a company that truly values equality and fairness,” she wrote. “Rest assured that leadership is committed to continuing to maintain a safe, fair, and inclusive workplace. We cannot let egregious actions of others, and a truly meritless and irresponsible lawsuit, damage our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees.”
Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.