New report reveals more of the 'frat boy' culture and abuses at Activision Blizzard

Blizzard's orc statue
(Image credit: Blizzard)

A new Bloomberg report has revealed further details about the alleged "frat boy" culture at Activision Blizzard, including a 2018 incident in which Derrick Ingalls, then Blizzard's chief information officer, addressed questions about the departure of chief technology officer Ben Kilgore with a crude joke about having sex with subordinates.

"Don’t sleep with your assistant," Ingalls reportedly said about Kilgore's sudden departure in 2018. "But if you’re going to sleep with your assistant, don’t stop."

Blizzard was suffused with a "rock-star mentality," according to one former employee, that was enabled by upper management, which hired primarily men and would overlook inappropriate behavior. "These developers were untouchable," they said. "Not only could they tell you how to do your job, but they had so much power, they could do whatever they want in line of sight with their other powerful friends."

The success of World of Warcraft was a major contributor to that culture, according to the report: Another former employee related a conversation in which a high-ranking Blizzard executive told his staff that they were seen as industry superstars by fans and colleagues alike, and suggested that they should be able to benefit from that adoration sexually. Men also greatly outnumbered women at the company, by a ratio of 4:1 according to a 2017 internal report, which only made matters worse.

"Because there were so few women, the women really had to compete to stand out with their peers," another former employee said. "It created a really toxic, competitive environment, not just between the men and women at Blizzard but the women themselves."

Rather than serving as the adult in the room, Activision, which merged with Blizzard in 2008, only made things worse: Current and former employees said Activision's oversight came with tough deadlines and reduced resources, resulting in increased workloads and stress, and "exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and more." 

At the same time, Blizzard's reputation as a can't-miss studio fell by the wayside, through gaffes, layoffs, esports missteps, and unexpectedly disappointing game releases: The highly anticipated Warcraft 3: Reforged was a major letdown at launch because of "mismanagement and cut costs," and World of Warcraft has stumbled badly as well.

Despite the outrage over its deeply-rooted toxicity, Activision Blizzard's share price has begun to bounce back following strong financial results for the second quarter of 2021. But it is still under significant pressure: On top of the discriination and sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the company by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing in July, shareholders have filed a class action lawsuit accusing Activision Blizzard of covering up the investigation that led to it, while employees have continued to push back forcefully against promises of reform from CEO Bobby Kotick. The Overwatch League is also losing corporate sponsors: Yesterday, Coca-Cola and State Farm said they were reevaluating their relationships with the league, and the Cheez-It and Pringles logos have also now been removed from the Overwatch League website.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.