Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack is leaving the company “effective immediately” amid the ongoing legal allegations of discrimination and misconduct against Activision Blizzard. Activision Blizzard COO Daniel Alegre announced the shift in a press release today, saying that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra have stepped in to fill the role as “co-leaders.” With little information on how Brack’s departure was handled behind the scenes, the statement simply says that he is “leaving the company to pursue new opportunities.”
Oneal has been with the company for 18 years, having previously served as head of Vicarious Visions and then becoming the executive vice president of development at Blizzard, supporting the Diablo and Overwatch franchises. Meanwhile, Ybarra, worked with Microsoft for nearly 20 years before becoming executive vice president and general manager of platform and technology at Blizzard.
“Jen and Mike will share responsibility for development and operational accountability for the company,” explained Alegre. “Both are leaders of great character and integrity and are deeply committed to ensuring our workplace is the most inspired, welcoming environment for creative excellence and to upholding our highest game development standards.”
Blizzard followed with its own public statement regarding the change, which included the following:
Both leaders (Oneal and Ybarra) 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. You’ll hear more from Jen and Mike soon.
In this same statement, now former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack vouched for the new co-leaders:
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.
Activision Blizzard found itself in a cesspool of controversy after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against it. As we covered in detail previously, the suit accuses the company of facilitating an environment of “frat boy” culture, including, among other things, sexual harassment of female employees, workplace discrimination, and a company-wide failure to address claims by those affected. Blizzard responded to the claims with dismissal, saying, “The DFEH includes distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past. We have been extremely cooperative with the DFEH throughout their investigation, including providing them with extensive data and ample documentation, but they refused to inform us what issues they perceived.”
Brack reportedly sent a personal email after the suit surfaced, saying that he intended to meet with employees about the “extremely troubling” allegations. He added, somewhat dubiously, that he has a personal disdain for “bro culture” and has fought against such behavior for his entire career. Another Blizzard executive, former George W. Bush homeland security advisor and torture apologist Fran Townsend, reportedly responded to the allegations by saying the suit included “factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories.”
CNN subsequently reported that more than 2,000 employees had signed a petition criticizing the responses from company leadership, describing their words as “abhorrent and insulting.” In addition to a shift in culture, the petition calls for “official statements that recognize the seriousness of these allegations and demonstrate compassion for victims of harassment and assault.” It also calls for Townsend’s resignation, but she is currently still employed in her role.
As Blizzard struggles to maintain a positive workplace environment, staff are left waiting to see how the company will operate post-suit. Some have taken additional steps in a bout to enact change at Blizzard; many employees engaged in a walkout last week. It remains to be seen if the departure of Brack as Blizzard president will have any meaningful positive effect on operations.
Editor’s Note: The Escapist recently made the decision to refrain from coverage of Activision Blizzard products until legitimate and meaningful changes occur to its work environment to support and respect its employees.