Blizzard president J. Allen Brack is out after sexual harassment suit, employee walkout

Technology

The Verge 03 August, 2021 - 07:36am 56 views

Blizzard President J. Allen Brack Exits Amid Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Lawsuit Against Company

Yahoo Finance 03 August, 2021 - 08:00am

Brack’s exit comes less than two weeks after Activision Blizzard was sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleged the company’s “pervasive frat boy workplace culture” resulted in women employees being continuously subjected to sexual harassment and being paid less than men. Brack was named in the lawsuit as being among company execs who were allegedly aware of the misconduct and — despite repeatedly being informed of the problems — “failed to take effective remedial measures in response to these complaints.”

Brack “is leaving the company to pursue new opportunities,” Activision Blizzard president and COO Daniel Alegre said in a statement Tuesday. The announcement didn’t address to the scandal currently roiling the company.

In a memo to Blizzard staff in the wake of the California DFEH lawsuit, Brack said the allegations were “troubling,” saying “the fight for equality is incredibly important to me.”

According to the suit, a Blizzard employee complained to Brack in early 2019 that employees were leaving because of sexual harassment and sexism. Specifically, per the DFEH lawsuit, the employee told Brack that women on the Battle.net team were “subjected to disparaging comments, the environment was akin to working in a frat house, and that women who were not ‘huge gamers’ or ‘core gamers’ and not into the party scene were excluded and treated as outsiders.”

Last Tuesday (July 27), Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick promised that the company was taking corrective steps, telling employees in a memo that “we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future. Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf.” A day later, hundreds of Blizzard employees staged a walkout at the company’s Irvine, Calif., headquarters to protest the alleged culture of harassment and discrimination.

With Brack out, EVP of development Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, EVP and GM of platform and technology, have been appointed co-leaders of Blizzard. “With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, I am certain Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion and a dedication to excellence,” Alegre wrote.

Brack, former executive producer of “World of Warcraft,” took over as president of Blizzard after co-founder Michael Morhaime left the company in 2018. Brack had joined Blizzard in January 2006 after working on “Star Wars Galaxies” at Sony Online Entertainment.

In a statement provided by Blizzard, Brack said: “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.”

J. Allen Brack, the President of Warcraft and Overwatch studio Blizzard Entertainment, is leaving his position less than two weeks after an investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing made public explosive allegations of harassment and discrimination within the company.

Blizzard studio leader J. Allen Brack has stepped down after being named in a lawsuit over sexual discrimination and harassment.

Blizzard president J. Allen Brack is out at Blizzard, two weeks after being named in an explosive lawsuit by the state of California involving misconduct at the company.Why it matters: This is the most concrete reaction Activision Blizzard management has taken since the scandal broke and one taken in advance of executives taking live calls from analysts later today.Get market news worthy of your time with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free.As one of the heads of Activision Blizzard's three gaming

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J. Allen Brack was named in the suit as a higher-up who was allegedly aware of the harassment taking place

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Blizzard's president is out, studio to be co-led by a woman for first time in its history

Bloomberg 03 August, 2021 - 07:55am

J. Allen Brack will be replaced by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra as co-heads.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick promised a rapid response. Today Blizzard has announced that J. Allen Brack is leaving his position as the president of the studio, to be replaced by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra as co-heads of the studio.

Jen Oneal has been at Blizzard since January, before which she was the studio head of Vicarious Visions. Mike Ybarra was a longtime Xbox employee, holding various positions there, before joining Blizzard in 2019 as an executive vice president. Blizzard's statement says: "Jen and Mike have more than three decades of gaming industry experience between them. Moving forward, they will share responsibilities over game development and company operations."

Brack had been named in the California lawsuit, specifically concerning how he'd dealt with allegations made against Alex Afrasiabi drinking too much and harassing female employees at company events. It's alleged Brack's punishment for Afrasiabi, verbal counseling, amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist for such behaviour.

Today's statement from Blizzard goes on to make explicit that this change is related to working culture:

"Both leaders are deeply committed to all of our employees; to the work ahead to ensure Blizzard is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background; to upholding and reinforcing our values; and to rebuilding your trust. With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion, and a dedication to excellence."

As journalist and former Kotaku EIC Stephen Totilo pointed out, the timing of this seems tied to a quarterly earnings call today on which Brack would have been expected to field questions.

Timing tracks. Activision Blizzard reports quarterly earnings today and, if they do it as they always do, will take live calls from analysts. Brack, as head of Blizzard, usually is on those calls. https://t.co/L1dVX93CKMAugust 3, 2021

Here is a statement from J. Allen Brack, Blizzard's departing president:

"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.

"Finally, thank you all for being a part of the Blizzard community, and for your passion and determination for safety and equality for all."

The discrimination lawsuit is just the latest in a long string of controversies involving Blizzard's management in recent times (here's a timeline of how the company's reputation has collapsed over the last three years). Between massive layoffs, numerous reports on its toxic workplace, and highly anticipated launches reportedly sabotaged by mismanagement, the perception of what used to be PC gaming's darling developer has changed utterly.

The Californian state's proceedings against Blizzard are still pending, and could last for months or years: here's everything we know about the current situation.

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Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack steps down

Polygon 03 August, 2021 - 07:37am

Brack’s departure follows a California lawsuit against Activision Blizzard

Activision Blizzard employees walked out of work last week to protest leadership response to a lawsuit that alleged “constant sexual harassment” and sexism at the company.

Oneal previously acted as executive vice president of development, while Ybarra led platform and technology at the company. Oneal also previously led Vicarious Visions, which Blizzard acquired in January. Ybarra was previously at Microsoft, serving as corporate vice president for Xbox Live and Xbox Game Pass. He joined Blizzard in 2019.

“Both leaders are deeply committed to all of our employees; to the work ahead to ensure Blizzard is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background; to upholding and reinforcing our values; and to rebuilding your trust,” a Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement. “With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion, and a dedication to excellence. You’ll hear more from Jen and Mike soon.”

Brack issued a statement published on the Blizzard website:

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’s departure from the studio comes not long after its parent company, Activision Blizzard, was sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) for creating a “frat boy culture” that allowed gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment to proliferate. The lawsuit alleges that Brack knew about the behavior because he had received complaints directly, and that he did little to stop it beyond disciplinary actions that amounted to “a slap on the wrist.”

A 15-year Blizzard veteran, Brack had been the company’s president since October 2018, when then-president and -CEO Mike Morhaime decided to step down and pass the baton to him. Prior to his ascension to studio head, Brack served for many years as a leader of the World of Warcraft development team. Morhaime, who co-founded Blizzard in 1991, described Brack at the time of his promotion as “an inspiring leader who has shown unwavering commitment to Blizzard’s community.”

Immediately following the lawsuit, Activision Blizzard made an official statement in which it said the lawsuit included “distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past.” Internally, various executives published statements; Brack, in one of these letters, called the allegations “extremely troubling.”

Activision Blizzard executive and former George W. Bush homeland security adviser Frances Townsend called the lawsuit “truly meritless and irresponsible” in a statement that’s since been criticized by current and former staff. Thousands of Activision Blizzard employees signed a letter asking for Townsend to step down as the executive sponsor of the women’s network. Following the letter, Activision Blizzard employees in California and elsewhere walked out of work in protest of leadership response.

Townsend later tweeted about “The Problem with Whistleblowing,” a story published in The Atlantic in July. The curious timing for the tweet — immediately following major whistleblowing at Activision Blizzard — did not sit well with current and former employees, who responded in turn with criticism. Townsend reportedly began blocking current employees speaking out against her.

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