Activision Blizzard workers are walking out of work — both virtually and from home, and in person at Blizzard Entertainment’s offices — following a new report from the Wall Street Journal. Workers are calling for CEO Bobby Kotick’s resignation after the Journal reported that Kotick not only knew about employee misconduct — including an alleged rape — but minimized its severity to Activision Blizzard employees and its board of directors. The report also detailed former Blizzard co-leader Jen Oneal’s departure from the company after she reportedly lost faith that the company could turn around its toxic culture.
“We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy,” Activision Blizzard workers tweeted from the ABK Workers Alliance Twitter account on Tuesday. “We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO, and continue to hold our original demand for Third-Party review by an employee-chosen source. We are staging a Walkout today. We welcome you to join us.”
Company-wide, hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees and contract workers signed out of work at midday Tuesday. More than 150 people showed up to protest at the Blizzard campus in Irvine, California, with dozens more outside Activision Blizzard’s quality assurance office in Minnesota. In Irvine, a diverse group of workers and supporters gathered by the office’s front gate on Blizzard Way, some congregating in tents and on blankets, holding signs. Some wore Blizzard gear, like shirts emblazoned with a rainbow “Blizzard.”
Multiple employees told Polygon they’re disappointed and frustrated by the company and the board’s response to the Journal’s report, which the Call of Duty and Overwatch publisher said was “a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO.” Workers are also posting on social media in support of the walkout and to demand Kotick’s resignation.
“Honestly, [the weight of Bobby’s words] felt threatening in a lot of ways,” Blizzard employee Valentine Powell told Polygon at the walkout Tuesday. “He understands that he is in charge of the livelihoods of so many people who are trying to make our companies better, who are trying to foster the cultures that we want to see. And he’s up there saying, ‘If you don’t believe in me, then something’s wrong with you.’ His actions haven’t shown what he’s proposing.”
Jessica Gonzalez, another Blizzard worker, added that people at Activision Blizzard have had enough of the present situation.
“Workers are just really tired,” she said. “We’re just tired of being misrepresented, mishandled, mistreated. Something’s got to change. You can shift people around as you want, but if accountability isn’t coming from the top, it’s not going to change.”
In an emailed statement, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Polygon that the company is “fully committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and rewarding environment for all our employees around the world.” The spokesperson said workers are free to “express their opinions and concerns in a safe and respectful manner, without fear of retaliation.”
Activision Blizzard was sued in July by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) after a two-year investigation into the company’s alleged “frat boy culture.” Several top executives, including former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and CEO Kotick, were named in the lawsuit for knowing of and enabling the behavior.
Brack resigned his position shortly after the lawsuit was filed, but the extent of Kotick’s knowledge of the problem was not made public until the Journal’s bombshell report on Tuesday. In addition to the DFEH lawsuit, Activision Blizzard was sued by shareholders in August, and in September the company agreed to an $18 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to resolve another matter.
The Journal reported that Kotick himself is under investigation with the Securities and Exchange Commission over his knowledge of these incidents, and what he divulged to “other employees, the board of directors and investors.”
In late July, thousands of current and former employees signed an open letter to executives ahead of a company-wide walkout protesting the serious allegations of sexism and harassment at the game company. Workers were also upset at the company’s initial “tone deaf” response to the allegations, which executives called “includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Workers laid out demands in an open letter published days after the lawsuit.
“We believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership,” protest organizers said at the time in a statement sent to Polygon. Workers demanded the company “improve conditions for employees at the company, especially women, and in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.”
In October, Kotick finally addressed some of those demands, introducing a “new zero-tolerance harassment policy” and waiving the forced arbitration that the company uses to handle sexual harassment and discrimination complaints. Kotick also said at that time he’d take a major pay cut, cutting his $875,000 annual salary to $62,500; it had already been reduced from $1.5 million earlier in the year. The Journal reported that Kotick announced these measures after its reporters approached this company with the questions that led to Tuesday’s report.
The Wall Street Journal also said that Kotick himself drafted the controversial letter sent to staff by Activision Blizzard’s chief compliance officer, Frances Townsend, in which she called the DFEH lawsuit “distorted and untrue.” In addition to Kotick’s resignation, workers have also demanded Townsend and chief administrative officer Brian Bulatao leave the company, too.
“We need to trust in our leadership,” Powell said at the walkout Tuesday. “To an extent we have trust in our direct leadership — the people that we work with every day who are trying to solve the problems. But when it comes to Activision Blizzard, just time after time, they keep losing trust with us. They keep denying claims. They keep telling us that we’re wrong. [...] But when it comes right down to it, we need a systemic change. We need the ability to have transparency in what’s happening.”