Blizzard Executive Steps Down After Worker Protests Over  'Frat Boy' Culture

Sarah Favot

Favot is an award-winning journalist and adjunct instructor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She previously was an investigative and data reporter at national education news site The 74 and local news site LA School Report. She's also worked at the Los Angeles Daily News. She was a Livingston Award finalist in 2011 and holds a Master's degree in journalism from Boston University and BA from the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada.

Blizzard Executive Steps Down After Worker Protests Over  'Frat Boy' Culture

Video game-maker Activision Blizzard said Tuesday that Blizzard president J. Allen Brack is stepping down. The move comes days after California filed a lawsuit against the company over allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination and income disparity against women employees and employees staged a walkout.

The lawsuit, filed on July 20 by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleges Activision fostered a pervasive "frat boy" workplace culture where women were subject to constant sexual harassment, lower pay and retaliation.

Two Blizzard executives — Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra — will replace Brack and will be co-leaders of the company, according to a statement.

Blizzard president J. Allen Brack

"Both are leaders of great character and integrity and are deeply committed to ensuring our workplace is the most inspired, welcoming environment for creative excellence and to upholding our highest game development standards," the statement from Activision Blizzard President and COO Daniel Alegre said.

Brack is leaving the Santa Monica-based company "to pursue new opportunities," the statement said.

The lawsuit alleges women were subjected to "cube crawls" where male employees drink "copious" amounts of alcohol and crawl to various cubicles in the office and "often engage in inappropriate behavior toward female employees," including groping them.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Activision Blizzard released a statement in response, accusing the state agency that filed the lawsuit of using distorted and false descriptions.

Hundreds of its employees staged a walkout last week to protest the company's toxic workplace culture. Gamers also reacted, calling for a day-long boycott of the company's titles, which include "Call of Duty," "World of Warcraft" and "Overwatch."

The company's initial response, it later admitted, was "tone deaf," but infuriated employees and organizers said it galvanized the workers.

The action comes as the largely white, male tech and gaming industry is facing a reckoning over its lack of diversity.

The Communications Workers of America is behind the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, which is aimed at unionizing tech and gaming companies and helping workers push back on issues like poor workplace culture. CWA organizer Emma Kinema told dot.LA she wasn't surprised by the allegations in the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, saying this type of discriminatory culture is "pervasive."

Oneal was the executive vice president of development, while Ybarra was executive vice president and general manager of platform and technology.

"With their many years of industry experience and deep commitment to integrity and inclusivity, I am certain Jen and Mike will lead Blizzard with care, compassion and a dedication to excellence," Alegre wrote.

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Column: Conference Season Is Here. Are They Worth It?

Spencer Rascoff

Spencer Rascoff serves as executive chairman of dot.LA. He is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire, dot.LA, Pacaso and Supernova, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. During Spencer's time as CEO, Zillow won dozens of "best places to work" awards as it grew to over 4,500 employees, $3 billion in revenue, and $10 billion in market capitalization. Prior to Zillow, Spencer co-founded and was VP Corporate Development of Hotwire, which was sold to Expedia for $685 million in 2003. Through his startup studio and venture capital firm, 75 & Sunny, Spencer is an active angel investor in over 100 companies and is incubating several more.

Column: Conference Season Is Here. Are They Worth It?
Image by David Ruano

How To Make The Most Of Conferences

Fall is much more than the season of change or when school’s back in session. It’s the beginning of “conference season,” when hundreds of business conferences pop up worldwide, attracting professionals from all industries. The question is, though: are they worth it—especially for busy startup founders and leaders?

Build Your Network

At a startup, time is your most precious resource so spending it at a conference can feel like a waste of time. However, there is something to be gained for everyone who attends a conference, whether it's learning the latest skills in your field, meeting a new business partner or investor, or solidifying that M&A connection. It’s important to be building these types of relationships far earlier than when you may need them—and conferences are a great place to do that.

Optimize Your Time

At a conference where you only have a few days or even 24 hours to fit everything in, don’t waste your time. Start by looking at the list of speakers and attendees in advance on the conference website. Are there investors, potential customers or partners attending that you would love to speak to? Try to contact them and set up a time to speak one-on-one during the conference, especially so they don’t feel ambushed if you ask during the conference. If you don’t want to schedule meet-ups ahead of time, I recommend reaching out to people and offering to exchange cell numbers so you can text to meet up once you’re on site. A lot of conferences make it easy now with apps where you can connect and schedule a meeting ahead of time. Be willing to make the time, even if it’s just 10 minutes, to try meeting someone in person. This will help you build a more personal connection than one over Zoom.

Additionally, use your meals and drinks strategically. This could be a great moment to get one-on-one time with an important person or group that you want to speak with. The actual content of the conference is important, but in my opinion the hallway chats are even more critical. Nevertheless, if you see a particularly interesting topic for your industry's future, make sure to block off that time as well. You could learn something that could completely change how you do business.

Make An Impression

Something that many people overlook is the advantage of using social media during conference season. I always like to live tweet sessions using the conference hashtag and tagging the right people involved. This is a great way to gain followers, build your profile and stay connected with those who you met at the conference. It also gives people who aren’t at the conference insight into what is going on at the event. Afterward, take the 20 minutes to write a blog post about your experience and post it to LinkedIn. It could be the difference between a lost connection and a long-term relationship.

In Summary

So, is it worth it? For the actual conference content: maybe. For the networking opportunities: Absolutely. A conference could be one of the few times you can connect with trailblazers in your industry. While some conferences are pricey and can feel like a waste of time, attending them can be a great business investment. If you plan correctly, you could change the direction of your company for the better. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people you meet there because many if not all conference attendees are open to help.

The dot.LA Summit

If you’re reading this on dot.LA, you’ll probably be interested in the upcoming dot.LA Summit. The summit focuses on the L.A. tech and startup ecosystem, inviting hundreds of the top founders and investors. There will be speakers such as Julia Boorstin from CNBC, Alex Israel from Metropolis Technologies and Brian Lee from BAM Ventures. Plus, there will be a pitch competition for the newer founders looking to impress financers in the L.A. area. Sign up for the 3rd annual dot.LA Summit on October 20th and 21st here.

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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.

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