The Activision Blizzard Lawsuit: A Storm of Controversy

Written by: Aaron Wong Jielun (21-I4), Elizabeth Khoo Yuk Min (21-U1), He Jizhao (21-U5), Lay Kai En, Ashley (21-O1), Rakshita Murugan (21-E1), Tiew Zuo Yuan, Richard (21-I2), Zuo Yuning (21-A1)

Designed by: Elizabeth Khoo Yuk Min (21-U1)


Does the considerable success of a company excuse it to overlook workplace discrimination? It seems that the pursuit of success for such corporate giants seems more important and therefore outweighs the importance of shaping a just workplace, and it is thereby hard to pick a side in the case of the Activision Blizzard lawsuit. Activision Blizzard Inc. is an American video game company, and if there is one thing you know about them, it is their Call of Duty series. But what exactly happened and what does this reflect about the video game industry as a whole? 

The Lawsuit 

The backlash against Activision Blizzard began with a lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The lawsuit not only alleged a “frat boy” work culture, where multiple female employees were subjected to gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and unequal pay, but also that “the company’s executives and human resources personnel knew of the harassment and retaliated against women who complained”.

In the wake of the lawsuit, Blizzard President J. Allen Brack emailed company staff, acknowledging that the behavior detailed in the suit was “completely unacceptable.” Activision President Rob Kostich then followed up by emailing staff calling the allegations “deeply disturbing” and saying that Blizzard “take[s] every allegation seriously.” Meanwhile, several videos regarding statements made by Blizzard executives promoting sexualisation of women went viral on Twitter, further adding to the criticism against the work culture at the company. However, Activision Blizzard chief compliance officer Fran Townsend instead claimed that the lawsuit’s allegations were “distorted and untrue”. 

Then, on 26 July, over 1000 current and former employees signed an open letter to management, calling Townsend’s statement “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for.” On the same day, Activision held an “all-hands” meeting, though only with 500 staff. Executives tried to address the lawsuit, though statements were again filled with cliches such as that there is “zero tolerance” for the work culture alleged in the lawsuit. 

Since then, the World of Warcraft team has announced that it would remove references from the game that would come across as inappropriate while many executives have decided to leave the company. Employees also held a walkout at the Blizzard Headquarters on 28 July, while more joined in the work stoppage, criticising executives for their lack of efficacy in managing concerns voiced out by employees. 

Since the initial lawsuit and netizen’s calls to boycott the company, many other firms such as Kellogs, Coca-Cola and T-Mobilehave withdrawn their sponsorships with the Overwatch League, including Kelloggs, Coca-Cola and T-Mobile. Prior to the scandal, such companies were active in promoting their products over the league. Not only were there advertisements for such products, the signature red Coca-Cola cups were also placed next to commentators for the game. Undoubtedly, sponsorships were one of the biggest parts of revenues for the company. 

The Video Game Industry – The Ugly 

This putrefying treatment of women in the workplace is but a microcosm of the gaming industry’s attitude towards women. A mere review of the mainstream video games shows that female characters are more often than not, portrayed as subordinate, docile and hypersexual counterparts to the strong and dominant protagonistic male characters with recurring trends of crunch, gender discrimination, racism, toxicity, corporate greed. It is blatantly obvious that despite women taking up about 32 percent of all gamers in the gaming industry, the company’s leadership remains insular and “tone deaf” to the calls of female gamers to counter sexist stereotypes as seen in the 2010 Blizzcon viral video. Also, the majority of workers out of the core gaming culture perceive itself as a boy’s club, influencing the game industry culture to perpetuate an insidious cycle of sexism. Evidently, the unregulated boy’s club culture of silence, complicity and the enablement of toxic behaviour is deeply entrenched and makes it extremely unwelcoming for women.

The Video Game Industry – The Good

Despite all the controversies that have surfaced, humanity still shines in certain areas of the gaming industry. Humble Bundle, a digital storefront that prices bundles of multiple games at modest starting prices under a ‘pay-what-you-want’ model, is the antithesis to the all too common predatory pricing practices many game companies employ. Going beyond just being consumer-friendly, they also donate portions of their proceeds to charities. Other gaming companies have also helped charitable causes before, such as 343 Industries and Games for Change, just to name a couple.

In terms of work conditions, as the spotlight has increasingly shone on the plight of burnt out and mistreated employees in the game industry in recent years, companies have been changing their ways, and work conditions have steadily improved. On the side of the employees, unionisation efforts have been stepping up, further pushing video game companies for better conditions. Game Workers Unite, an organisation founded in 2018 that has grown to over a thousand members across the world, has been a driving force for unionisation, organising awareness campaigns and building relationships with existing unions.

With all that said, as a multi-billion dollar industry with over hundreds of thousands of workers, more certainly needs to be done at a faster pace. 


Discrimination and sexual harrassment against women in the workplace has always been an issue. However, it is still disappointing to face yet another case of such behaviour. Moreover, this hardly comes as a surprise as the video game industry has long been facing allegations of toxic workplace practices especially in relation towards women. In studying this lawsuit, it is thus hard to look at it as an isolated case but rather a symptom of the entire industry’s culture and standards. As the scandal and lawsuit itself is still unfolding, we await to find out if not only the company itself, but the industry will be held accountable for their behaviour. 

Looking at the situation broadly, perhaps as consumers, we can ever so slightly steer change in a positive direction through our personal decisions: by supporting the games of companies trying to make a difference, while boycotting and speaking out against the companies with reprehensible practices.


  1. Matt T.M. Kim. (2021, August 6). Embattled Activision Blizzard Executive Steps Down as Women’s Network Sponsor. IGN Southeast Asia; IGN Southeast Asia. 
  2. Fenlon, W. (2021, August 3). Everything that’s happened since the Activision Blizzard lawsuit went public. Pcgamer; PC Gamer.‌ 
  3. Matt T.M. Kim. (2021, August 6). Embattled Activision Blizzard Executive Steps Down as Women’s Network Sponsor. IGN Southeast Asia; IGN Southeast Asia. 
  4. Rishi Iyengar, C. (2021). The Activision Blizzard lawsuit could be a watershed moment for the business world. Here’s why. CNN. Retrieved 7 August 2021, from
  5. Peckham. (2020)

Author: The Origin*

With great power comes great responsibility.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: