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World of Warcraft team pledges ‘immediate action’ in-game after Activision Blizzard discrimination lawsuit

Blizzard says it will ‘remove references that are not appropriate for our world’

artwork of a dwarf riding a gryphon in World of Warcraft Classic
Artwork from World of Warcraft Classic.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

World of Warcraft developer Blizzard Entertainment is undertaking efforts to make its company and its games more inclusive and welcoming, including “immediate action in Azeroth to remove references that are not appropriate for our world,” the studio announced Tuesday. The statement comes one week after California announced it is suing Blizzard and its parent company, Activision Blizzard, for gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment of its employees.

“The past days have been a time of reflection for the World of Warcraft team, spent in conversation and contemplation, full of sadness, pain, and anger, but also hope and resolve,” Blizzard said in a statement attributed to the World of Warcraft team.

Published on social media and on the game’s website, the statement appears to be the first public comment regarding the lawsuit — although it does not explicitly or even obliquely reference the suit — that has been made by any production team within Activision Blizzard. That’s in contrast to the company’s corporate communications department, which came out swinging with a statement on Wednesday that vehemently denied the allegations in the suit. It’s a statement that, not coincidentally, many current and former employees found “abhorrent and insulting.”

Multiple ex-Blizzard employees, including former executives such as senior vice president Chris Metzen and president and co-founder Mike Morhaime, have spoken out over the past week about the allegations made in the lawsuit. In statements published on social media — statements with a tone that’s markedly different from that of Activision Blizzard’s official comments — Metzen and Morhaime apologized for their roles in creating what the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing now describes as a “frat boy” culture.

“I can tell you, almost no work is being done on World of Warcraft right now while this obscenity plays out,” Jeff Hamilton, senior system designer on the game, said Saturday in a Twitter thread.

In its statement, the World of Warcraft team said it is seeking “guidance” from team members in “internal work to protect marginalized groups and hold accountable those who threaten them.” The team added, “We also want to take immediate action in Azeroth to remove references that are not appropriate for our world. This work has been underway, and you will be seeing several such changes to both Shadowlands and WoW Classic in the coming days.”

Blizzard’s statement did not provide any further information on these “references.” We’ve reached out to the studio for comment, and we’ll update this article with any details we receive. But it is possible that the inappropriate references in question include nonplayer characters and items within World of Warcraft that are named after Alex Afrasiabi, who worked on the game at Blizzard from 2004 to 2020 and is named as a serial harasser in the California lawsuit.

The complaint alleges that Afrasiabi, formerly the senior creative director on World of Warcraft, “was permitted to engage in blatant sexual harassment with little to no repercussions.” Kotaku reported Thursday that “at least two NPCs,” Field Marshal Afrasiabi and Lord Afrasastraz, currently bear the developer’s name, along with “a number of items.” As a result of the claims in the lawsuit — including the allegations that Afrasiabi “continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees” after receiving discipline that amounted to a “slap on the wrist” — numerous World of Warcraft players have staged in-game protests and called for Blizzard to remove all references to Afrasiabi from the game.

Activision Blizzard employs more than 9,000 people across subsidiaries including Blizzard Entertainment; the mobile game developer King; Major League Gaming; and Activision studios such as Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, Toys for Bob, and Treyarch. Hundreds of employees, led by a group within Blizzard, announced Tuesday that they plan to undertake a work stoppage on Wednesday to protest the company’s response to the lawsuit and demand changes from leadership. The walkout will take place at the Blizzard campus in Irvine, California, as well as virtually.

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