Blizzard president J. Allen Brack is to step down from the company after three years as its president. This news comes amid a firestorm of harassment allegations and a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard by the State of California.
Why is J. Allen Brack leaving Blizzard?
This news comes via a notice sent to Activision Blizzard employees by president and COO Daniel Alegre. In the letter, Alegre says that Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra will take over Brack's duties "effective immediately". Brack, meanwhile, will leave the company to "pursue new opportunities". Oneal is the former head of Vicarious Visions and has been working as the executive VP of development at Blizzard. Ybarra, meanwhile, comes from the platform and technology department, where he's been overseeing Battle.net. Alegre's letter doesn't mention any of the harassment allegations that have been the focus on Activision Blizzard for the last week or two, nor does it acknowledge any of the demands made by employees to rectify said harassment.
Brack is one of only two individuals named in the State of California's lawsuit against Activision Blizzard (the other being Alex Afrasiabi). His departure also comes as a shareholder law firm investigates Activision Blizzard for a potential violation of the 1934 Securities Exchange Act. It's also worth noting that Brack's exit from Blizzard comes in the wake of Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick's promise to take "swift action" to rectify the harassment allegations, as well as an internal review of the company by law firm WilmerHale.
What does Brack's departure mean for Blizzard?
Brack leaving Blizzard comes at a rather critical juncture for Activision Blizzard and for the World of Warcraft developer specifically. Last month, Activision Blizzard employees held a walkout to protest harassment that is allegedly endemic within the company. Female employees say that colleagues working specifically on World of Warcraft - one of Blizzard's most famous and popular games - would make derogatory remarks and inappropriate jokes on a regular basis.
In its initial response to the allegations, Activision Blizzard said they didn't reflect the "workplace of today", a position that Kotick later called "tone deaf". Within the original text of the State of California's lawsuit, J. Allen Brack is referred to by name, with the plaintiffs alleging that several attempts were made to report incidents to him directly. Brack apparently did nothing with this information, failing to take "effective remedial measures" in response to the allegations. Supposedly, Brack did have a talk with one of the chief instigators of the harassment, Alex Afrasiabi, but gave him what amounted to a "slap on the wrist", a measure which had no effect in curbing the problematic behavior.
Later today, Activision Blizzard is due to hold its shareholders' conference call, and we'll also get a look at the company's earnings for the last quarter. Under normal circumstances, Brack would be responding to questions from analysts and shareholders, but it seems he'll be absent from this call given that his departure is effective immediately. We'll have to wait and see what information that call yields; it's hard to imagine that the company won't be facing some very difficult questions.