The Wall Street Journal reports that despite his claims to the contrary and ostensible support for victims, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has known for years about the toxic ‘frat boy’ culture pervading his company, the result of which has been a slew of sexual misconduct and discrimination incidents. Not only that, but WSJ also alleges that Kotick was complicit in some of these incidents, downplaying allegations and sweeping them under the rug.
The WSJ report mentions several incidents within Activision’s various studio arms, where Kotick used his influence to silence accusers and protect the accused. For example, Call of Duty studio Treyarch’s co-lead Dan Bunting was reportedly accused of sexually harassing an employee, following which Kotick stepped in to limit punitive measures.
He has allegedly been implicated in similar incidents within the rest of the company’s studios, such as Sledgehammer Games. There, a former employee’s lawyer sent an email directly to Kotick alleging that her client had been raped on two separate occasions by her supervisor and threatened a lawsuit. The matter was reportedly settled out of court, but Kotick disclosed neither the alleged rapes nor the settlement to his board of directors.
The numerous memos and documents bolstering the Journal‘s report point to Kotick’s mismanaging and downplaying of the allegations made in a lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard by the California DFEH earlier this year, as he aimed to mitigate damage to the company and its downline rather than push for systemic change within the workplace. Furthermore, it outs Kotick as responsible for the tone-deaf staff email sent out after news of the DFEH suit broke.
Workers demand real change
Activision said in a press release that the WSJ‘s report is “misleading”, and that the company has been and will continue to be committed to making its workplace a more diverse and safer environment. The statement cites a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding sexual misconduct, though protesting employees have asked whether that zero-tolerance policy applies to the infamous Cosby Suite.
Following the DFEH suite, Activision Blizzard has found itself on shaky ground, with significant staff turnover in upper management levels. This includes Jen Oneal, who stepped up as co-lead with Mike Ybarra to replace ex-Blizzard head J. Allen Brack.
After only 3 months, Oneal, one of the very few women in leadership positions at the company, stepped down, initially expressing no ill-will towards the studio and over-arching company. She has since gone on to express no hope in the company’s leadership, saying, “It was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way.” According to the WSJ, she also sent out a “scathing email” in which she revealed that she too had been harassed during her time at Activision Blizzard.
Activision Blizzard workers staged a mass walkout on Tuesday, both physically and digitally, following the WSJ‘s report, demanding that Kotick resign. The ABK Workers Alliance tweeted, “We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy. 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.”
According to Polygon, protest organisers had this to say at the walkout:
“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. […] We need a systemic change.”