Inside Activision Blizzard Workers’ Fight for COVID Protections

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Inside Activision Blizzard Workers’ Fight for COVID Protections

Over 110 Activision Blizzard employees took part in a virtual walkout on Monday to protest the company’s decision to remove COVID-19 vaccine requirements for office work—a demonstration powerful enough to prompt the video game developer to reverse its policy.

In the midst of its $69 billion merger with Microsoft, Activision Blizzard has faced a typhoon of employee lawsuits, antitrust inquiries and unionization efforts. The “Call of Duty” publisher's decision to lift its office vaccine mandate was the latest in this string of controversies, spurring Monday's walkout and leading Activision to change course, allow its gaming studio divisions to implement their own vaccine policies and maintain a "voluntary return to office" policy.

ABetterABK, the Activision workers' group that's been advocating for changes and unionization across the company, was quick to organize the virtual walkout for all of Activision’s global offices.

“Myself and my other co-workers spoke up and after messaging went out on Friday, we saw an almost immediate walk back on the policy,” said Ada-Claire Cripps, a senior software engineer who’s worked at Activision Blizzard since 2019.

Cripps said that after Activision “delegated responsibility to studios,” four have decided to keep enforcing a vaccine mandate. The Activision Blizzard subsidiaries that have chosen to uphold a vaccine mandate include Blizzard, QAMN, QALA and QATX, a walkout organizer told dot.LA.

Some employees said the confusion over the vaccine mandate and in-person work felt like a tactic to derail larger efforts to unionize at the company. An employee who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation told dot.LA that they thought Activision was using its original stance to push out pro-union workers.

“Unfortunately, there has been an overlap in people who support both unionization and vaccination, [and] so in order to make those people uncomfortable it’s more likely they’ll leave the company,” the employee said.

Activision didn’t respond to a request for comment on why it initially made the decision not to require vaccines for on-site work. In a statement to dot.LA last Friday, the company claimed it “supports our employees’ right to express their opinions in a safe and nonthreatening way, and will not retaliate for any decision to participate in this walkout.”

But if Activision’s intention was to discourage unionization, its about-face may have had the opposite effect. The walkout’s success signaled to Activision Blizzard staff that they can leverage worker solidarity to implement change, including pro-union activities.

“I think it's incredibly important to consult employees when making big decisions like this, especially when it affects the health and safety of employees,” said Kate Anderson, a quality assurance tester for Activision Blizzard who joined the company in 2020. “With a union, we would be able to have a seat at the table to help make decisions such as these and ensure that they are in the best interest of workers.”

SInce Raven Software, an Activision-owned studio in Wisconsin, unionized as the Game Workers Alliance in January, labor organizers have sought to incorporate the rest of Activision Blizzard into that union or others like it, according to former Raven labor organizer Alex DuPont. “We definitely hope that other [Activision] locations will see this as kind of a spark—for them to see it is possible that you can get this done,” Dupont told dot.LA at the time of the Game Workers Alliance's formation.

“We've made it clear that when we raise our voices together, we will be heard,” Cripps said. “Our message is loud and clear, and in that respect I think the walkout was a success, so we are not planning on extended action. It's up to [Activision] leadership to decide how they want to proceed with our feedback; for now, we will wait and see.”

After Monday's walkout, organizers said they felt that Activision heard their concerns and were not planning further actions around the company's vaccine policy. But they noted that Activision didn’t directly reply to ABetterABK. “Other than leadership responding that locations will be individually choosing how they enforce vaccines, there has been no response,” Anderson said.

Anderson said one demand Activision has yet to reply to is the request for remote work to be a full-time option. They also noted that not every job at Activision Blizzard is eligible for remote-only work.

“There is a lengthy process for requesting permanent remote work that is not equitable for all,” Anderson said. “Other companies have a hybrid model for return to office and remote work and often let employees choose which they prefer, so there's no reason Activision can't do the same.”

Anderson and several other employees pointed to the fact that Activision successfully launched two games in its biggest franchise—“Call of Duty: Cold War” and “Call of Duty: Vanguard”—while its teams were entirely remote. “Call of Duty: Vanguard” ended up being 2021's top-selling game.

Regardless of declining COVID-19 infection rates, some Activision employees still don’t feel safe returning to the office.

“As time has gone on, they’ve seen the feasibility that work from home can happen,” said Emily Knief, a senior motion graphics designer who’s worked for Activision for 16 years. “That initial email from [chief administrative officer] Brian [Bulatao] that came earlier in the week was very shocking, because it flew in the face of literally everything that they had done up until that point.”

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