J. Allen Brack is out at Blizzard today ahead of the investor call this afternoon, replaced by a pair of co-leaders. Activision-Blizzard President and COO Daniel Alegre announced the news to the company this morning.
“I am pleased to announce that, effective immediately, Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra have been appointed co-leaders of Blizzard. Jen and Mike will share responsibility for development and operational accountability for the company. Both are leaders of great character and integrity and are deeply committed to ensuring our workplace is the most inspired, welcoming environment for creative excellence and to upholding our highest game development standards.”
Oneal is the former head of Vicarious Visions and the EVP of Development at Blizzard overseeing Diablo and Overwatch, while Ybarra was an XBOX exec brought in as EVP and GM of Platform and Tech at Blizzard overseeing Battlenet and so forth.
“J. Allen Brack is leaving the company to pursue new opportunities,” the press release says, but the message on the Blizzard website includes two sentences from Brack himself.
“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. 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.”
Brack had taken over for Mike Morhaime as head of Blizzard back in 2018, and his reign has been a tumultuous one thanks to the Blitzchung fiasco in 2019.
His sudden departure won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s been following the news in the last 14 days, as Bobby Kotick had already made it clear that he would ensure heads that were not his would roll over the California sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit that has consumed the industry since July and prompted a walkout at Blizzard last week.
Gamers will be supporting the victims and workers by protesting on social media this afternoon.
This Tuesday we will be protesting on Twitch and Twitter at 1:30PM PDT
We ask that you stream in the World of Warcraft category with Fire the Abusers, I stand with the employees #ABetterABK #EndAbuseInGaming
If you feel uncomfortable playing WoW, feel free to use this graphic. pic.twitter.com/4mdb7ranmY
— DesMephisto 💙 (World of Warriors) (@DesMephisto) August 1, 2021
However, Activision-Blizzard’s Fran Townsend, whose ghastly, combative memo denying wrongdoing provoked the uprising within Blizzard, will apparently hold on to her job for some reason.
To CEO Bobby Kotick and the Activision Blizzard executive leadership team,
We are The ABK Workers Alliance, an organized group of current Activision Blizzard, Inc. employees committed to defending our right to a safe and equitable workplace. That right remains endangered as the stories of abuse and mistreatment continue to grow in scope, and new accounts of harassment perpetrated by current Activision Blizzard employees have continued to emerge since the publication of the DFEH’s lawsuit.
Last week, we took collective action to demand better working conditions for women and other marginalized groups at Activision Blizzard King (ABK) by writing an open letter signed by more than 3,000 current employees. We organized the #ActiBlizzWalkout at Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine headquarters where more than 500 workers walked out and hundreds more participated virtually around the world.
Our request for action crosses studio lines, including workers from Activision, Beenox, Blizzard Entertainment, High Moon Studios, Infinity Ward, King, Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software, and Vicarious Visions. Our goal is for the executive leadership team to address their response to the California DFEH lawsuit, acknowledge the reality of working conditions across our organization, and commit to meaningful change at Activision Blizzard.
We communicated a list of four demands aimed at protecting our most vulnerable workers. These are: (1) an end to forced arbitration in employment agreements, (2) the adoption of inclusive recruitment and hiring practices, (3) increases in pay transparency through compensation metrics, and (4) an audit of ABK policies and practices to be performed by a neutral third-party. Importantly, we demanded that this third party be selected by an employee-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion task force.
In response to our demands, you wrote a letter to employees expressing a commitment to doing a better job of listening. You said you would do everything possible to work with employees in improving our workplace. And yet, the solutions you proposed in that letter did not meaningfully address our requests. You ignored our call for an end to mandatory arbitration. You did not commit to adopting inclusive recruitment and hiring practices. You made no comment on pay transparency.
One of our demands, a third-party audit of ABK practices and policies, was ostensibly addressed by your decision to hire WilmerHale to conduct an internal review. While we commend the idea of hiring a third-party firm to perform an internal review, The ABK Workers Alliance cannot support the choice of WilmerHale as an impartial reviewer.
We reject the selection of WilmerHale for the following reasons:
● WilmerHale’s pre-existing relationships with Activision Blizzard and its executives create an unacceptable conflict of interest.
○ Activision Blizzard has already been a client of WilmerHale, who you used to dispute the Diverse Candidate Search Policy proposed by the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund and UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust  earlier in 2021.
○ Frances Townsend is known to have relationships with multiple partners at WilmerHale, including former FBI Director Robert Mueller .
● WilmerHale has a history of discouraging workers’ rights and collective action. ○ WilmerHale states on their public website that their services include “advising on union awareness and avoidance” .
○ WilmerHale used anti-collective action tactics in their work with Amazon & Uber . ○ In media portrayals, WilmerHale is regularly referred to as a “Union Busting Firm” [5, 6, 7]. We are already seeing the effects of this ideology in actions that leadership has taken to restrict our freedom of association since last week, including reducing the size of listening sessions and limiting access to those sessions.
● The WilmerHale partner leading this investigation, Stephanie Avakian, specializes in protecting the wealthy and powerful.
○ WilmerHale outlined Avakian’s work as: “…counseling and defending financial institutions, public and private companies, hedge funds, accounting firms, investment advisors, boards, corporate executives, and individuals facing regulatory and criminal investigations and litigation with the government .”
○ In Stephanie’s speech highlighting her successes with the SEC, all of her significant examples included achievements in favor of investors, retail clients, and customers, but does not once mention employees or laborers . We need legal representation that centers on the concerns of our current employees, rather than investors.
We call on you and your executive leadership team to do better, and to fully address our list of demands. We will not abandon our cause. Our ranks continue to grow across multiple Activision Blizzard studios. While there are structural problems that only you can address, we are already taking steps to improve our workplace through a number of employee-driven initiatives:
● Worker-to-Worker Mentorship: We are building a mentorship program where workers can seek career advice, support, and sponsorship from a network of colleagues in a safe external channel outside company communication networks.
● Open Listening Sessions: We will host listening sessions that will be recorded and disseminated across the organization to facilitate ongoing conversation, education, and emotional support for employees.
● Community Meetings: We will facilitate monthly employee meetings, in a secure external channel, to discuss our concerns, desires, and progress toward achieving our goals. All current ABK employees are welcome to participate in these conversations.
As these actions show, we love our studios and care deeply for our colleagues. We share your expressed unwavering commitment to improving our company together.
We are doing what we can, and we call on you to do what we cannot.
The ABK Workers Alliance
With thanks to Stefan and Winterskorn.