Yesterday, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard over the company’s allegedly pervasive culture of sexual harasment and discrimination.
Content warning: descriptions of sexual harassment
The suit alleges that the company has a toxic workplace culture that enables and protects abusers. In response, Activision Blizzard issued a statement denying the claims saying the state of California included “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”
But how just long ago was this “past”?
As the horrific allegations against Activision Blizzard came to light, one portion of the lawsuit stood out as particularly egregious. According to the complaint, Alex Afrasiabi, a creative director on World of Warcraft, was allegedly so notorious with his behaviour that his office was nicknamed the “Crosby Suite” — ostensibly a misspelling of “Cosby” in reference to alleged rapist Bill Cosby. It reads:
During a company event (an annual convention called Blizz Con) Afrasiabi would hit on female employees, telling them he wanted to marry them, attempting to kiss them, and putting his arms around them. This was in plain view of other male employees, including supervisors, who had to intervene and pull him off female employees. Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the “Crosby Suite” after alleged rapist Bill Crosby. Afrasiabi would also call females derogatory names at company events. Afrasiabi’s conduct was known to Blizzard Entertainment’s executives, who took no effective remedial measures. J. Allen Brack, President of Blizzard Entertainment, allegedly had multiple conversations with Afrasiabi about his drinking and that he had been “too friendly” towards female employees at company events but gave Afiasiabi a slap on the wrist (ie. verbal counseling) in response to these incidents.
Activision Blizzard’s response to the allegations claims the incidents described are not reflective of the company’s recent values.
“The picture the DFEH paints is not the Blizzard workplace of today,” the statement said.
But Afrasiabi worked for Blizzard as recently as June 2020, when he apparently left the company with seemingly minimal mention, to the confusion of the few fans who noticed his departure. By contrast, when Jeff Kaplan — whose time at Blizzard had a similar length and trajectory as Afrasiabi — left the company, it publicly acknowledged his departure.
And though Afrasiabi is gone, his presence still lingers in World of Warcraft. Kotaku was able to confirm the existence of at least two NPCs that continue to bear his name, in addition to a number of items that directly reference him.
The NPCs in question, Field Marshal Afrasiabi and Lord Afrasastrasz, can be found in the capital city of Stormwind and in Wrymrest Temple, respectively. In addition to the NPCs, there are a number of items named for Afrasiabi, including Fras Siabi’s Cigar Cutter, a rare axe, and common quest items like Siabi’s Premium Tobacco. The degree to which a player might encounter these things varies: The Stormwind inclusion is out of the way, and while the Temple reference belongs to a quest-giver, it’s for older Wrath of the Lich King content.
Since the news broke, fans on the World of Warcraft forums are advocating that Afrasiabi’s references be removed or renamed. There is precedent for Blizzard removing NPCs that reference problematic people. In 2020, Blizzard removed two NPCs named after popular WoW streamer Swifty shortly after Swifty’s former partner accused him of abuse, though the company did not say if the two were related. In Afrasiabi’s case, the forums feature threads that call Afrasiabi a “stain” on the WoW community while in-game, a player left a “Go Away” sign in front of one of his NPCs.
Afrasiabi started at Blizzard in 2004, working as a quest designer on World of Warcraft. Among his many credits, he designed the quest that spawned a notorious WoW meme, Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker. In 2014, he was credited as the creative director on WoW’s fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor. He also has credits as creative director in Battle for Azeroth and as “additional leadership” in Shadowlands.
Kotaku reached out to Blizzard for comment, but it did not respond in time for publication.