Activision Blizzard: a brief timeline of everything, from the lawsuit to now

A chronological look at how the Call of Duty and Overwatch publisher got here

One of the biggest stories of this year has been the investigation of Activision Blizzard and its internal workplace culture. What started with a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing has escalated as employees, shareholders, and executives have responded to reports coming out of Activision Blizzard.

With the most recent round of reports prompting another walkout, petitions, and a response from the likes of Sony’s Jim Ryan and Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, I thought it would be a good time now to look at how we got here. This will be a brief timeline, tracking everything from the initial DFEH filing to today. We’ll be working to keep it updated moving ahead too, as new developments occur. We’ll be tracking our own coverage, as well as the reports from other outlets.

So let’s go back to earlier in 2021, to see how this all kicked off.

July 2021

Activision Blizzard is sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, as the result of a two-year investigation from the agency, citing allegations of harassment, discrimination, and a toxic workplace culture.

Blizzard executives J. Allen Brack and Fran Townsend address the suit in internal memos. (Townsend’s letter was later found to be written by Kotick.)

Activision Blizzard employees sign a letter, declaring leadership’s response to the lawsuit “abhorrent and insulting.”

Employees organize a walkout and also set forth demands, including a removal of required arbitration and new practices for recruiting, hiring, and promoting.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick calls the company’s response to lawsuit “tone deaf” and promises “swift action.” Employees respond to the letter, highlighting several demands that were not addressed.

Ubisoft employees, who “no longer trust” Ubisoft management to address lingering issues from issues brought to light the year prior, file their own letter calling for change. In it, they specifically reference the worker response at Activision Blizzard: “We need real, fundamental changes within Ubisoft, within Activision Blizzard, and across the industry.”

A Kotaku report at the time details, among other things, a “Cosby Suite” and other reports of misconduct within the company.

The first Activision Blizzard walkout. | Photo via Upcomer/Parkes Ousley.

August 2021

A class action suit alleges Activision Blizzard misled investors over its failure to disclose internal problems.

Workers at Activision Blizzard form a coalition, the ABK Workers Alliance. They send a joint letter to the CEO and leadership criticizing the firm brought on to handle an internal review, WilmerHale, for its previous record of discouraging collective action.

Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack leaves the company to “pursue new opportunities.” Mike Ybarra and Jen Oneal are installed as co-leaders of Blizzard moving forward. Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier also reports that Blizzard head of HR, Jesse Meschuk, is no longer at the company.

Shareholder group SOC calls Activision Blizzard’s response to the lawsuit “inadequate.”

The state of California expands its lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging the publisher has interfered with the investigation.

Several Blizzard developers, including the director of Diablo IV and the namesake for Overwatch‘s gunslinging cowboy hero, leave the company.

As part of its ongoing efforts to remove in-game references to real-life employees, Blizzard Entertainment confirms it will be renaming its cowboy Overwatch character.

Overwatch Cole Cassidy

September 2021

Diablo II: Resurrected design director encourages players to “do what they feel is right” in regards to purchasing the Diablo remake.

The Communications Workers of America files unfair labor charges against Activision Blizzard.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launches its own investigation into Activision Blizzard.

Activision Blizzard releases a statement saying it is cooperating with the SEC’s investigation, as well as those from regulators at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, National Labor Relations Board, and the California DFEH.

Blizzard Entertainment’s chief legal officer Claire Hart leaves the company.

The U.S. EEOC and Activision Blizzard reach an $18 million settlement in lawsuit over the company’s reported harassment and discrimination.

Overwatch executive producer Chacko Sonny leaves Blizzard Entertainment.

October 2021

Blizzard Entertainment confirms the new name for its cowboy sharpshooter will be Cole Cassidy.

BlizzConline 2022 is cancelled, as the company says it will be putting its energy into supporting its teams and progressing development of games instead.

A report from Polygon says Vicarious Visions will be losing its studio name as part of its merge into Blizzard Entertainment.

Activision Blizzard announces it will be dropping required arbitration and adopting a company-wide zero-tolerance policy for harassment, including immediate termination of those found to have retaliated against anyone for compliance complaints. CEO Bobby Kotick says he will take a pay cut to minimum salary under California law, and also says he’s asked not to receive any bonuses or be granted equity, until the Board of Directors has determined certain goals have been met.

November 2021

Blizzard co-leader Jen Oneal confirms she is leaving the company at the end of the year, with her co-head Mike Ybarra assuming her responsibilities.

Blizzard Entertainment delays both Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV to unspecified but “later” launch dates than originally envisioned.

A Wall Street Journal report alleges CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of sexual misconduct at the company for years. The story also sheds light on the departure of Oneal, who was reportedly paid less than her counterpart at the helm of Blizzard, and on Kotick’s own alleged interactions with his employees.

Kotick responds to the report, saying that “anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.” The Board of Directors says it “remains confident” in Kotick’s leadership.

Activision Blizzard workers organize another walkout, calling for the removal of Kotick as CEO.

Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO Jim Ryan sends out an email to employees, as reported by Bloomberg, that criticizes Activision Blizzard’s response to the report. Ryan says Activision Blizzard has “not done enough to address a deep-seated culture of discrimination and harassment.”

Over 1,000 Activision Blizzard employees and contractors sign a public petition calling for Kotick’s removal as CEO.

Xbox head Phil Spencer says he’s “evaluating all aspects” of their relationship with Activision Blizzard and making “ongoing proactive adjustments” in light of the reports, as reported by Bloomberg. “This type of behavior has no place in our industry,” said Spencer.

Eric Van Allen