Activision Reverses Vaccine Mandate Removal After Workers Walk Out

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.

Activision Reverses Vaccine Mandate Removal After Workers Walk Out
A Look at Activision Blizzard's Workplace Harassment Lawsuit

Activision Blizzard employees walked out of work Monday to protest the company’s decision to nix its COVID-19 vaccine mandates amid a return to office work—a move that Activision has promptly reversed in the wake of threats of the walkout.

The walkout, which began at 10 a.m. this morning and is planned to last through the end of the workday, was organized by ABetterABK, the alliance of pro-union employees at Activision. It comes as the Santa Monica-based video game developer is in the midst of closing a nearly $69 billion merger with Microsoft, which is bringing with it mounting legal pressure and antitrust inquiries.

Activision employees told dot.LA that the work stoppage saw some employees walk out of the company’s offices in Irvine but mostly took place online—with those working remotely posting pictures of their empty desks on Twitter using the hashtag #SickOfThis. They estimated that upwards of 110 employees participated in the walkout.

When reached for comment, representatives for Activision would not confirm how many employees walked off the job on Monday.

“We recognize some employees may be participating in a walkout to express their views,” Activision said in a statement to dot.LA. “The company 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. The company also hopes that those who walk out will conduct themselves in a legal, safe, and nonviolent manner.”

Word of the planned walkout started circulating on Friday evening, after Activision chief administrative officer Brian Bulatao circulated an email announcing that the company was lifting its office vaccine mandate. ABetterABK subsequently sent demands to Activision, which included a reimplementation of the vaccine mandate, a permanent remote work option for employees and the ability for each individual employee to choose whether to work remotely or not.

The backlash appeared to have the desired effect, with Bulatao reportedly swiftly issuing a follow-up noting that Activision would let workers voluntarily decide whether to return to the office. On Monday morning, ABetterABK announced that Activision would allow its individual gaming studio divisions “to create their own policies”—with four unnamed studios having “reversed course” and put vaccination and testing policies back into place.

The head of one of those divisions, Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Ybarra, reportedly told his staff that Blizzard will continue to require vaccinations for “at least the next few months” and that approximately 80% of its workers in Irvine, Albany, N.Y., and Austin, Texas were verifiably vaccinated.

In December, Activision began a “pilot program” for returning to office work. Emily Knief, a senior motion graphic designer who’s worked at Activision for 16 years, told dot.LA that she’s been working in-person at the company’s Irvine offices since Dec. 10. Knief noted that she’s usually the only person on her team working in the office, which is amply stocked with sanitizers, gloves, masks and digital thermometers—safety measures that she said made her feel comfortable with a return to in-person work.

“Up until this [Bulatao] email that came out, they had been pretty good about looking out for worker health and safety,” Knief said.

She added that the company’s sudden vaccination policy reversal was unexpected. “We've seen this back and forth, breakneck change in policy now, without any sort of discussion or forethought to bring it to the workers to see what we're comfortable with,” Knief said.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.