Esports News UK editor Dom Sacco pens some thoughts from the heart following the news that the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is taking Activision Blizzard to court over sexual harassment and its treatment of women in the workplace (content warning: sexual harassment, adult content and suicide).
“This IP will carry his stain on it. Everything in the current lore and setting derives from Alex. Everything is tainted.”
I’m reading through the WoW forums, through tweets, through blog posts and news stories following the news this morning. I don’t know what I’m looking for – I’m trying to digest this awful story I guess.
I search for Alex Afrasiabi on Google, I stumble upon this particular forum thread about him departing Activision Blizzard suddenly, quietly, this time last year.
Others have done the same as me. A few new posts at the bottom of the thread by Warcraft players say what I’m thinking.
“So they definitely knew what was up. Tried to scrub it away. Wow.“
Another says: “Everything in the current lore and setting derives from Alex. Everything is tainted.”
Alex was a quest designer for WoW before becoming creative director for the Warlords of Draenor and Battle for Azeroth expansions. He has NPCs named after him, like Field Marshal Afrasiabi, and items, such as Fras Siabi’s Cigar Cutter axe. He designed the legendary Thunderfury questline.
If you step foot in Azeroth it’s almost impossible to ignore his influence.
Alex was also one of the harassers named in the lawsuit.
Stephanie Krutsick, one of the victims of harassment who was previously working at Activision Blizzard, wrote an important Twitter thread about her experience.
She said: “Most of my coworkers were wonderful, talented people who cared about quality games. And some weren’t. The problem was the lack of accountability.”
In the lawsuit, it’s alleged that J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard Entertainment, had multiple conversations with Alex Afrasiabi about his behaviour towards female employees at company events, “but gave Afrasiabi a slap on the wrist (i.e verbal counselling) in response to these incidents”.
“Subsequently, Afrasiabi continued to make unwanted advances towards female employees, including grabbing a female employee’s hand and inviting her to his hotel room and groping another women.”
This is obviously not okay. Stephanie is right – we don’t have enough accountability in this industry.
So yes. WoW is tainted. It’s arguably been tainted for a while now following Activision Blizzard’s other despicable actions – the poor pay conditions that saw some workers skipping lunch because they couldn’t afford it, the CEO’s absurd bonuses, the huge job layoffs, the sudden culling of the HotS esports scene, the list goes on – and now today’s news.
I stupidly booted it up again last night before the news broke, and logged into a dead Classic WoW server. I don’t even know why. Nostalgia probably. Today I’ve cancelled my subscription again – that was probably the stupidest way I’ve thrown away £10.
WoW for me was one of the most magical game experiences when I played it religiously as a student back in 2005-2007. And I’ve played it on and off over the years. But I’m not sure I can play it again.
The game just reminds me of the behaviour of Activision Blizzard. And this problem is of course not exclusive to them. Ubisoft, Riot Games and others have been accused of similar behaviour, with those publishers producing the likes of Rainbow Six Siege and League of Legends respectively.
As a journalist I still need to cover the esports developments in these games, but I don’t forget the actions of the publishers, I don’t forget wrongdoing, and I will continue to address it. I hope you do the same.
So let Warcraft act as a reminder of Blizzard’s actions. Let it put you off playing it. Let it remind future game developers and others in this industry that there is no place for sexual harassment. Let it prompt publishers to change their workplace practices and bring greater accountability in the future. That’s the least their victims deserve.
Further reading: 5 tweets from the UK gaming community
Content warning: Sexual harassment, adult content and suicide
Further reading: Finding the courage to speak out about harassment in esports
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
A keen League of Legends and World of Warcraft player, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.