The biggest gaming stories of 2021
Image via Activision Blizzard.

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

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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.

Activision Blizzard quietly announces a “Workplace Responsibility Committee,” chaired by two existing board members. The company also says it will seek out a “new, diverse director” to add to the board.

Jessica Gonzalez, a senior test analyst who was one of the organizers of the July walkout, announces on Twitter that she is leaving Activision Blizzard, with her last day on Dec. 10. In a message to CEO Bobby Kotick, she says that his “inaction and refusal to take accountability is driving out great talent and the products will suffer until you are removed from your position as CEO.”

December 2021

U.S. State Treasures from California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oregon co-authored a statement of intent to meet with Activision’s board, with the general intent seeming to be confronting the company about the ongoing situation at the publisher.

The Game Awards showrunner Geoff Keighley confirms that Activision Blizzard will not be featured at this year’s event outside of the categories its games have been nominated in. Following backlash over an interview with The Washington Post that suggested indecision on how to “navigate” the situation, Keighley posted a series of statements to Twitter. “The Game Awards is a time of celebration for this industry, the biggest form of entertainment in the world,” he wrote. “There is no place for abuse, harassment or predatory practices in any company or any community.”

Following sudden layoffs at Raven Software in the QA department, developers at the studio walked out. They demanded members of the QA team, including those laid off, be offered full-time positions. Reports soon circled that they were promised a pay restructure for months, only to be called in one-by-one and let go. One report indicated employees moved cities for the roles just a few weeks prior.

ABK Workers Alliance announces a strike fund to support Raven devs and other Activision Blizzard studios who have joined onto what’s become an ongoing work stoppage. The Washington Post reports that employees are asking others to sign a union authorization card.

January 2022

Xbox boss Phil Spencer says the company has “changed how we do certain things” with Activision Blizzard. Uh, put a pin in that.

Lego delays an Overwatch 2 set, as the company re-examines its relationship with Activision Blizzard.

Microsoft announces that it intends to purchase Activision Blizzard for a whopping $68.7 billion, bringing the entire publisher under the Xbox umbrella. Spencer confirms that until the transaction closes, the two companies will continue to operate independently, with Kotick still at the helm of Activision Blizzard for the time being. (Though reports have since indicated he may leave the company once the ink is dry.)

Spencer comments on several of the major questions, with potential Xbox exclusivity as an obvious question. He also discusses the possibility of some franchise revivals from the Activision vault.

Raven Software QA workers announce they are forming a union, Game Workers Alliance. The group calls for voluntary recognition from Activision Blizzard. A spokesperson for the publisher says it is “carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition from the CWA.”

February 2022

Microsoft president Brad Smith tells CNBC that the company is looking towards the Activision Blizzard leadership team to “make culture and workplace safety a top priority every single day,” leading into the potential closure of the deal.

Axios reports that Activision Blizzard CEO Kotick could receive a hefty chunk in stocks, should company culture improve.

March 2022

Activision Blizzard sued for wrongful death by the family of employee who died by suicide, claiming a significant factor was the sexual harassment they experienced.

Microsoft says it will not stand in the way of union efforts at Raven Software.

California court indicates it will approve an $18 million settlement between Activision Blizzard and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, over its lawsuit.

April 2022

Activision Blizzard employees stage a walkout over removed vaccinate mandate, and the publisher soon reverses course.

Activision Blizzard makes over 1,000 testers full-time employees, though those unionizing at Raven do not receive a pay increase alongside the other QA workers.

A lawyer leaves the California DFEH’s suit against Activision Blizzard, alleging the governor’s office of interfering with the case.

Activision Blizzard stockholders vote to approve the Microsoft deal.

May 2022

New York officials file complaint over Kotick and the board, claiming they may have breached their duty and affected the company’s value.

Raven Software QA workers officially vote to unionize, marking one of the first unions at a major AAA company. Phil Spencer says he will recognize the union once the acquisition closes.

June 2022

The parents of the Activision Blizzard employee who died by suicide file to dismiss their lawsuit over wrongful death.

Internal investigation at Activision Blizzard finds “no evidence” it ignored harassment.

Microsoft signs a neutrality agreement with the Communication Workers of America (CWA), promising to take a neutral approach to Activision Blizzard unionization efforts if and when the buyout goes through.

July 2022

Blizzard Albany (formerly Vicarious Visions) QA workers announce they will hold a union vote.

The UK Competition and Markets Authority confirms it’s looking into Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and whether it could harm competition.

September 2022

Phil Spencer reaffirms that Microsoft wants to bring Call of DutyOverwatch, and Diablo to Game Pass.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella expresses confidence in the Activision Blizzard acquisition getting approved.

October 2022

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says Activision Blizzard withheld raises from unionizing workers.

A filing from the CMA investigation reveals Microsoft wants to start a new Xbox mobile platform, to compete with the Google Play Store and App Store.

November 2022

Activision Blizzard moves to postpone the Blizzard Albany union vote validation.

Blizzard Entertainment announces it will suspend services for its games in China, starting in 2023.

December 2022

Blizzard Albany QA developers vote to unionize, forming a second union under Activision Blizzard.

ZeniMax QA employees announce they will vote on unionization.

Phil Spencer announces 10-year commitment to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo, pending approval of the Activision Blizzard acquisition.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sues to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

A Washington Post report details allegations of poor working conditions and mismanagement of the Diablo IV team at Blizzard.

We will continue to update this post as news arrives.


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Author
Eric Van Allen
Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.