By Natalie DeCoste

A sexual harassment scandal has hit the gaming community once again, this time it involving video game company Activision Blizzard. The scandal forms a twisted web of allegations and lawsuits that are harder to navigate than a level of Dark Souls.

Activision has been under a cloud of scandal since June 21, 2021, because of a lawsuit filed against the company by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing over its workplace culture. The lawsuit accused Activision of fostering years of abuse and discrimination targeted at female employees.

Activision Blizzard is one of America’s largest video game developers and distributors, with over 9,500 employees and 100 million players worldwide. The company caters to a massive audience when it comes to its video game development, and, as the lawsuit noted, females make up almost half of the audience for which Activision makes games.

However, despite the growing female presence in the gaming community, the gaming development side has yet to see the growth of its female population. Activision Blizzard’s workforce is only 20% female, and its top leadership is exclusively male. The lawsuit alleged many things about being a female employed at Activision that are not uncommon to hear, such as higher roles for less salary than their male counterparts. Still, the bread and butter of the lawsuit are the allegations made about the company’s culture.

The lawsuit described the work environment at Activision Blizzard as a “frat boy” culture and an alleged breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.

“Female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment, including having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comments and advances by their male co-workers and supervisors and being groped at the “cube crawls” and other company events. High-ranking executives and creators engaged in blatant sexual harassment without repercussions,” read the lawsuit.

The harassment was apparently so reprehensible that a female employee committed suicide during a business trip with a supervisor allegedly in part due to his behavior of sexual harassment. The lawsuit also noted numerous other complaints about behaviors within the company related to discrimination and intimidation.

The accusations against the company and its employees are shocking, but the company has maintained that the extent of the allegations exaggerates any issues Activision currently faces.

“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… We are sickened by the reprehensible conduct of the DFEH to drag into the complaint the tragic suicide of an employee whose passing has no bearing whatsoever on this case and with no regard for her grieving family,” read part of the statement given by an Activision spokesperson to Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier.

The spokesperson went on in the statement to claim that the work environment described in the lawsuit is not the Blizzard workplace environment of today. Additionally, the spokesperson alleged that the conduct of the DFEH is an example of the unprofessional behavior of California bureaucrats that is driving many companies out of California.

Schreier himself admitted to hearing several stories of sexism and sexual misconduct at Blizzard over the past few years.

Further substantiating the allegations against the company, several current and former employees have come forward with their tales of what it was like working at Blizzard. The individuals include Anne ArmstrongJoy FieldsBen BrodesMike MorhaimeChris MetzenHolinkaSteve Danuser, and Dayntee.

Activision also faced an open letter to leadership asking for a response to the investigation that recognizes the seriousness of the allegations and shows compassion towards the victims. The letter has nearly 2,000 signatures.

The company has been faced with employee walkouts in protest of the company leadership’s response to the allegations, calling out CEO Bobby Kotick, who then responded in a letter acknowledging the “tone-deaf” response of the company.

The letter from Kotick ensured employees that the company would continue to investigate every claim, host listening sessions to improve company culture, evaluate leadership across the company, and make changes to leadership as necessary.

Problems for Blizzard do not end there, however. A class-action lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court of Central California on behalf of investors alleging that Activision Blizzard intentionally failed to disclose its ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination problems.

The class-action lawsuit alleges that if investors had known the extent of the issues plaguing Blizzard, they would not have invested in its stock. The company has seen a slow decline in its stock prices since news of the sexual harassment lawsuit broke. The lawsuit covers anyone who has traded Activision Blizzard securities between August 4, 2016 and July 27, 2021.

The latest lawsuit focuses on a dispute over Activision Blizzard’s annual SOX certifications. SOX refers to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, legislation passed to protect the public from erroneous and fraudulent activities by publicly traded companies.

“We are party to routine claims, suits, investigations, audits, and other proceedings arising from the ordinary course of business… In the opinion of management, after consultation with legal counsel, such routine claims and lawsuits are not significant and we do not expect them to have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations, or liquidity,” read the SOX certification from 2016.

Investors are angry because they believe that executives at Blizzard were aware of the severity of the allegations but knowingly left out that information from the SOX.

Amidst the controversy, the employees of Activision Blizzard seemed to lend their support to the victims of sexual harassment rather than standing behind their leadership. In addition to the walkout and open letter, there are reports that development on the new World of Warcraft game has come to a halt as employees are outraged and traumatized by the allegations.

The developers have also formed a coalition called ABK Workers Alliance. The coalition sent a letter to Kotick criticizing hiring the law firm WilmerHale as a third-party auditor to review workplace culture.

The turmoil of the Blizzard lawsuits has thrust the issue of sexual harassment in the gaming community back into the spotlight after the infamous 2014 Gamergate scandal.