Overwatch League loses more sponsors as workers expose Activision-Blizzard’s toxic culture

    
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The fallout from the sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision-Blizzard just keeps on dropping.

Yesterday, more sponsors of the Overwatch League pulled support from the esports giant. Kellogg told Polygon that it “will not be moving forward with any new programs this year, but will continue to review progress made against [Blizzard’s] plans.” Kellogg owns Cheez-It and Pringles, meaning those logos have now been removed from the partner website.

Previously, we’d reported on the movements of sponsors T-Mobile, Coca-Cola, and State Farm, each of which had made efforts to pause advertising and sponsorship activities and granted statements making their position known. IBM hasn’t made any statements but does appear to have halted ads.

In other words, OWL is running out of sponsors thanks to this scandal. Earlier this week, a Blizzard VP denied the still-circulating rumor that OWL was planning to take a year-long hiatus.

Meanwhile, Polygon has up another piece digging into Activision-Blizzard’s forgotten workers – the QA testers and customer service reps – who are just as unhappy with the company’s “toxic” culture. In a report that is not unlike the stories that surfaced last summer, employees and contractors discussed a poisonous culture of shifting contract work that makes it impossible to build a career, absurdly long hours and low pay, crunch periods that went on for weeks, abuse from gamers, and an environment where “higher-ups often emphasized to them that ‘real’ developers are more important and that QA workers are easily replaceable.”

And the workers made clear that it isn’t just a Blizzard problem; workers pointed to Activision games – yes, Call of Duty – and support centers too.

“Activision Blizzard workers told Polygon that leadership in Texas and Minnesota have been positioning the lawsuit and its alleged toxic culture as a problem specific only to Blizzard Entertainment, which is cited frequently in the court documents. But workers from other studios told Polygon that’s not true: The problems are in all facets of the company, and contracted workers in both QA and customer service say they feel vulnerable due to the lack of job stability.”

Further reading:

Source: Polygon, Polygon
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Atokad2887
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Atokad2887

iv noticed MOP has purposely chose to not talk about D2R even though its doing pretty well outside the IP thing. guess only bad news is good news.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

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mike foster

I worked at Blizzard in support for WoW during BC/Wrath and into Cat. One thing I noticed as a distant Austin support worker was the rockstar culture of the lead devs. Blizz basically built little cults of personality around people; reaching out to devs was forbidden for support staff.

When Wrath came out, some of the WoW/Blizz leaders came to Austin for the launch and set up an autograph table where they signed support staff’s collector’s editions. Personally it always rubbed me the wrong way; in my mind support was a Blizzard team but we were treated as lesser-thans.

Seeing these stories come out doesn’t surprise me; calling people rockstars and treating them as such is a path to all sorts of abuses. But that’s just my personal thought — support had lots of systemic problems but I never witnessed anything like what we’re hearing from dev side.

I will note that crunch was super real in support. We regularly were put on MANDATORY overtime, pushing our nine-hour (eight work one lunch) shifts to 11 hours and those spikes lasted for multiple months at a time. I think at least half of my entire run there was mandatory OT. And support runs 24/7, so on my first team assignment that meant 8pm-7am.

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Bruno Brito

I will note that crunch was super real in support. We regularly were put on MANDATORY overtime, pushing our nine-hour (eight work one lunch) shifts to 11 hours and those spikes lasted for multiple months at a time. I think at least half of my entire run there was mandatory OT. And support runs 24/7, so on my first team assignment that meant 8pm-7am.

Did they pay you well for the overtime?

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mike foster

We definitely got overtime pay, I think time and a half? Support was hourly then and I think it started at $10 an hour. I’m not super sure; I feel like I made $14 an hour after a couple of promotions and scope increases, but it’s been 10-11 years since I was there.

Stefan
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Stefan

The treatment of the QA staff actually shows in the game quality, ever since the lay offs the workload has most likely increased per person pair that with an unresponsive management team who forgot their role is suppose to be a supportive one.

Game testing to me looks also to be one of those jobs that looks great but will probably make you dislike gaming in the end.

Why worry about paying QA testers more or getting more testers in when you can put that money into the marketing department to get more units sold instead.

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Arktouros

Ohhhhh nooooo will Bobby have to pull the hundreds of millions of dollars they’ve dumped in towards an eSports league that probably doesn’t bring back in any close percentage of profits and has declining viewership? Ooo they sure are feeling the burn for letting things run so badly for so long.

As for QA Testers and CS they are basically treated as the bottom dregs of most companies and as 100% replaceable. That’s not just Blizzard or gaming companies, it’s basically every company out there. No kid grows up thinking, “I’m going to be the best customer service agent there ever was.” and the high turnover has as much to do with people using those positions as temporary gigs as it does the companies wringing everything they can possibly get out of people. If people are under the impression CS or QA Tester is a foot in the door they are sorely mistaken. At best it’s a look at internal job listings that you’re still entirely on your own to actually get (and then only so they can pay you less by transferring you within the company rather than negotiating for your salary outside of it). Every corporation’s dream is basically to replace all these people as much as they can with machine learning and automation within the next 10-20 years.

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Vanquesse V

ActiBlizz are probably the only ones that made money on OWL due to franchise buy-ins and the youtube exclusivity deal.

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Arktouros

From what I read they had a good opening season, then a youtube exclusivity deal, then massive decline in viewership since then as a result. That was years ago. Wasn’t able to find much on more recent seasons (3-4) probably because of Covid and such.

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Vanquesse V

s1 buy-in was $20mil for a franchise. At the time this was around 10x the cost of a comparable franchise in LoL. With 12 teams in s1 this made ActiBlizz $240mil. For season 2 another 8 teams were added with a $50mil buy-in, so you’re probably right that the first season was lucrative for most involved.
Twitch supposedly paid 90mil for exclusivity outside of China for 2 years, while the youtube deal was estimated to 160mil for OWL, hearthstone and CoD League for 3 years.
I’m also seeing reports that 50 players quit during the first two years with several citing stress or mental heath issues.

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Arktouros

Yea everything I read before making my comment indicated that the opening season was basically good for everyone teams and businesses alike. However there seemed to be indications that later seasons now haven’t done as well and there were problems. Which would be a fantastic reason to just drop the whole thing, especially if things like sponsorships start drying up as well.

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Bruno Brito

This is utopic of me, but man, would i love to see the worker that goes through these “menial” tasks ( garbage man, janitor, customer manager ) to be as rewarded and recognized as any other job.

They are as much as important as any others.

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Peregrine Falcon

I actually agree with you on this. I wish that were possible. And I’m sure you know this, but it just isn’t.

There are always more janitors that CEOs. Also, if moving up to more difficult jobs doesn’t pay more then what’s the incentive to move up to those more difficult jobs?

What I’d really like to see is less of a pay disparity between the ranks. I think that a janitor who’s working full time aught to be able to support himself and his family. Not as well as the CFO perhaps, but he shouldn’t have to work two or three jobs just to survive.

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Bruno Brito

No, it isn’t. Hence why we agree on the pay disparity being way minor. Which is achievable.

I had a doctor tell me once “I respect all the janitorial staff i work with, specially the garbage man. I wouldn’t be able to deal with the ammount of disease otherwise.”

It’s the same issue i have with CEOs that do absolutely nothing but rake in the work of their subordinates while the rank-and-file bleed and sweat for what little they can achieve. Why are we even creating the notion that pay should be different for each kind of person is beyond me. Is competition a inherent necessity of human nature? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

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Peregrine Falcon

Every psychologist will tell you that it’s a proven fact that competition IS an inherent part of human nature.

Having worked directly for several CEO’s over my long years on this planet, I can tell you for a fact that CEO’s do not do nothing. The bigger the company the more difficult a job it is. Just because you don’t see them doing anything doesn’t mean that they’re not doing anything.

And it’s not a matter of “different pay for a different kind of person.” The doctor gets paid more than the janitor because it’s much harder to become a doctor, it’s a much more difficult job to do, and there’s a lot more at stake if you make a mistake.

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Bruno Brito

I don’t know if i agree with that in it’s entirety, but i get your point.

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Arktouros

In my observations and experiences reward and recognition is basically tied directly to how replaceable you are. That is to say if you quit how quickly could they find someone to fill your position? The requirements for most of these jobs is just not very high and so the reward and recognition isn’t either.

Fisty
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Fisty

Sucks to be QA or any customer service. Always perceived as the most expendable everywhere I’ve worked. It’d be nice to see these satellite studios find new management too.

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Loopy

I wouldn’t be surprised if Mythic Quest’s depiction of treatment of Testers and CS is more real life than fiction.

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Hikari Kenzaki

It pretty much is and the CM and that poor Art team in season 2.

Spoiler
I winced at every Art team scene and loved that the show never resolved that arc, much like the industry has not resolved giving proper respect to game artists.

The problem in any industry is that people working on the “product” or selling said product don’t understand how much time, money, and effort these support services save. Instead, they see it only as an expense. Before working on LoM, I spent the better part of a couple decades justifying my job’s existence.

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Ardra Diva

In a way this surprises me because Overwatch is about as “woke” a game as I know of. You’d think the dev team that created that would actually think like that as well.

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IronSalamander8 .

I work in QA myself although in manufacturing. We are often considered overhead by many places but also critical as we’re the ones who catch a defect that could cause a critical fail in the field. Imagine not having QC for the pieces we make for giant machines for companies like Caterpillar, and having a material failure in the field on a large piece of equipment while working on a road and the carnage that could ensue.

Of course, it’s not going to be as hazardous in a game, but considering the state of most AAA games these days, it’s obvious that these companies aren’t taking it seriously enough, and treating the QA personnel like they’re second class citizens has got to be a significant contributor.

I’ve not worked in customer service but that’s got to be awful to take crap from irate customers and also from the company itself. That has to got to be a living hell.

Leo
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Leo

Yeah famously CD Project Red threw its QA folks under the bus when ‘apologizing’ for Cyberpunk problems. A highly repetitive, low pay job, with little job security, and the bosses always treating them like crap. Management all over full of terrible people.

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MariedeGournay

Reading that Polygon article I felt a very disturbing linkage between QA testers and my work as an adjunct composition instructor. So damn weird how institutions demean a particular kind of work in order to treat such workers as widgets.