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Activision Blizzard announced today on its site that J. Allen Brack is no longer president of Blizzard. Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will be leading the studio going forward.
This move comes a couple of weeks after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard for sex discrimination in the workplace. Brack was named in the report, one of only two people specifically called out, for failing to address issues of sexual harassments at Blizzard. This is the first public personnel move Activision has made since the suit became public.
Brack joined Blizzard in 2005. He worked on the World of Warcraft team until his promotion to Blizzard president in 2018. He replaced Mike Morhaime, one of the company’s cofounders.
Brack was only in charge for a few years, but Blizzard became embroiled in controversy during his tenure at the top. Along with this California suit, the studio came under fire in 2019 after it punished a Hong Kong Hearthstone player for voicing support of his country’s protests against China. The actual games also came under scrutiny, notably the disappointing Warcraft III: Reforged.
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“I am confident that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will provide the leadership Blizzard needs to realize its full potential and will accelerate the pace of change,” Brack notes in a short message included in Blizzard’s announcement. “I anticipate they will do so with passion and enthusiasm and that they can be trusted to lead with the highest levels of integrity and commitment to the components of our culture that make Blizzard so special.”
The suit from California and other testimonials from ex-Blizzard employees have told of gross and dangerous behavior at Blizzard, including a frat-like culture that encouraged drinking and inappropriate behavior toward woman. Few incidents startle more than the Cosby Suite, a booze-filled hotel party room ran in 2013 by ex-World of Warcraft developer Alex Afrasiabi.
Hundreds of employees staged a walkout at Blizzard on July 28, protesting its leadership’s response to the California suit and promoting four demands for change: an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts; the adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among all employees; publication of data on relative compensation; and a task force to hire a third party to audit the company’s reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. These remain unaddressed so far.
Jen Oneal joined Blizzard in January. She was the head of Vicarious Visions, which Activision Blizzard absorbed into Blizzard earlier this year. Mike Ybarra left Xbox to join Blizzard in 2018, becoming executive vice president and general manager of platform and technology. Both of them are relative outsiders to Blizzard, which may help them combat the studio’s long-lived toxic culture.
Activision Blizzard is reporting its earnings for its latest financial quarter later today, which may explain the timing of this announcement.
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