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Blizzard employee speaks publicly on ‘alcohol-soaked culture’ of harassment

Lawyer Lisa Bloom is asking other victims to come forward

Graphic of the Blizzard logo on a glowing blue background Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon

A Blizzard Entertainment employee has come forward, via a press conference with high-profile lawyer Lisa Bloom, to describe the company’s “alcohol-soaked culture of sexual harassment.” The press conference was held Wednesday morning outside Blizzard’s Irvine headquarters and livestreamed on Instagram. Bloom and the employee, named Christine, spoke publicly for the first time about the sexual harassment she faced at the World of Warcraft developer.

A current Blizzard employee of four years, Christine said she experienced the alleged “frat boy culture detrimental to women,” and that coworkers and supervisors made rude comments about her body, made unwanted sexual advances, and inappropriately touched her. She alleged that she was propositioned for sex from a supervisor; when she went to managers about it, they allegedly told her not to go to human resources. Christine said she was demoted after her complaint and continued to be harassed and retaliated against, including being denied her full profit-sharing.

Bloom and Christine outlined a series of demands for Activision Blizzard, including a “streamlined, fast, [and] fair process for victims,” with an expansive victim compensation fund. They are also asking a neutral party to review discrimination — and to fix what’s found.

Bloom is known for representing women in high-profile sexual assault and harassment cases, including the allegations against Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby. She was, however, also an advisor to Harvey Weinstein in his sexual assault case.

An Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided Polygon with the following statement:

We appreciate the courage of our current and former employees in coming forward with reports of misconduct, and we are truly sorry for any victims of people whose conduct did not live up to our values. As we have continued to reaffirm in our recent communications, such conduct is not consistent with our standards, our expectations, and what the vast majority of our employees meet on a daily basis. There is no place in our company or industry, or any industry, for sexual misconduct, harassment or retaliation of any kind. We will not tolerate any behavior that is not aligned to our values and will hold employees accountable who fail to live up to them.

The company is committed to creating an environment we can all be proud of. We are in the process of implementing significant changes and improvements to the scope, structure and efficiency of our compliance and human resources teams, reporting systems, and transparency into our investigation process. The safety and support of our employees, especially those who have suffered, remains our top priority.

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.” The game publisher, led by CEO Bobby Kotick, is the subject of multiple investigations, including from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), due to matters related to the sexual harassment and toxic culture allegations. The EEOC lawsuit was settled for $18 million earlier this year, but Activision Blizzard is still facing the DFEH lawsuit and another filed by shareholders. During Wednesday’s press conference, Bloom called the settlement from the EEOC lawsuit “woefully inadequate,” calling for a fund in excess of $100 million for victims.

In the DFEH lawsuit, several top executives, including Kotick, were named as knowing of and enabling the behavior. A Wall Street Journal report from November expanded on those allegations, reporting that Kotick knew of rape allegations at the company and kept them quiet.

Activision Blizzard workers from across the company and its subsidiaries have walked out of work multiple times since the DFEH lawsuit was filed. In November, nearly 2,000 Activision employees and contract workers signed a petition demanding that Kotick resign. Executives from Activision Blizzard have responded in confusing and often hypocritical ways. Activision Blizzard released a statement following the Journal’s report, saying it presented a “misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO,” seemingly walking back on its previous commitment to make Activision Blizzard “a place where people are not only heard, but empowered.”

A third walkout, which is now entering day three, is ongoing as new allegations come to light from Wednesday’s press conference. Call of Duty: Warzone QA workers from Raven Software walked off the job on Monday in protest of layoffs last week. (Activision Blizzard characterizes the job losses as contracts not being renewed, however. The company said that it’s converting 500 temporary workers to full-time status.) On Tuesday, Raven Software QA workers were joined by other QA workers from across the company. QA workers and others contracted by Activision Blizzard spoke out in August about demanding work, low pay, and intense crunch. These workers largely work on contracts without the protection of full-time employment, and QA staff that spoke to Polygon said they often feel undervalued and exploited.

Workers, standing in solidarity with each other, are attempting to force video game companies to reckon with a widespread culture of sexism and harassment. It’s not a problem confined only to Activision Blizzard; Riot Games, Ubisoft, and Sony Interactive Entertainment have all faced allegations regarding harassment.

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from Activision Blizzard.

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