World of Warcraft players are staging in-game protests against Activision Blizzard

World of Warcraft
(Image credit: Blizzard)

World of Warcraft players are gathering by the hundreds in-game to protest Activision Blizzard after the state of California filed a lawsuit against the company for operating a workplace steeped in sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and "frat boy culture." Players from both factions have gathered in the city of Oribos, where hundreds are sitting quietly on the steps leading to its inn, discussing the lawsuit or expressing anger and dismay at the allegations.

Though the protest appears to be spreading to other servers, it was initially organized by roleplay guild Fence Macabre on the Moon Guard and Wyrmrest Accord servers. The guild is also raising money for Black Girls Code, a nonprofit that helps women of color break into tech industries. Already Fence Macabre has raised $3,500.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

The overwhelming sentiment is one of solidarity and intense care for the victims and survivors of Activision Blizzard's abuse.

Hinahina Gray

"As a queer indigenous individual, witnessing the mistreatment of people in industries which are conditioned against them has always been something I've been passionate about raising awareness for," an Fence Macabre officer named Hinahina tells me. "Fence Macabre as a whole, since I'm a deputy, has always stood by their values in supporting and uplifting marginalized people."

A player named Hinahina Gray is one of the organizers of the protest, acting as an "anchor" that invites participants into a raid group so that they're able to physically see each other. To keep the game servers stable, Warcraft dynamically controls the population visible in crowded spaces by automatically phasing players out. Hinahina and other players get around this by getting players into large groups of up to 40 people so protesters remain visible to each other.

Hinahina tells me that since this morning, hundreds of players have flocked to Oribos to join the protest. "[The community] has been very supportive," she says. "We have far surpassed our charity goal and intend to keep going as long as there are people here. The overwhelming sentiment is one of solidarity and intense care for the victims and survivors of Activision Blizzard's abuse."

Part of the reason players like Hinahina have decided to protest in-game as opposed to other methods, like organizing a blackout, is because they're "sublocked"—meaning they purchased a six-month subscription that cannot be refunded. "Most of us have cancelled our subs, we're using the remaining game time to take up server space and raise awareness, and it's worked!" she says.

In parallel, over on the WoW subreddit, however, players are venting their anger at Activision Blizzard and its treatment of employees. In a thread about the lawsuit with over 5,800 comments, many are expressing their rage and disgust at the allegations—some of which name Blizzard executives directly, like Alex Afraisiabi. He served as WoW's creative director for years until quietly leaving the company in 2020. "His sudden resignation last summer [is] hitting a little differently now," one commenter wrote.

The WoW subreddit reader count text, which Reddit moderators can modify, currently reads: "2,150,693 fed up with Blizzard; 19,279 subs lost every minute."

For a lot of players, Hinahina included, the allegations are also trudging up a lot of issues with WoW that have been simmering in the background for years. "Being Native Hawaiian, and having already seen how Blizzard handles writing Indigenous and other PoC coded storylines, I wish I could say my perception had been drastically changed, but this seems to be really getting to the heart of why they have failed to write these stories and concepts well," she tells me. "The way Blizzard codes "monstrous" races with stereotypical PoC traits as though cherrypicking from multiple real-world heritages to effectively establish them as the barbaric "other" in the game is also a problem."

(Image credit: Blizzard)

I want to see the people who inflicted harm held accountable.

Hinahina Gray

A thread trending on the WoW subreddit, simply titled "Hypocrisy," links to an image of a statue outside of Blizzard's head office that reads "Every voice matters" juxtaposed with headlines about Blizzard banning Hearthstone pro Blitzchung for supporting the Hong Kong protests.

Players are disgusted, angry and, for those gathering in Oribos in protest, want to see change. "I want to see the people who inflicted harm held accountable," Hinahina says, "I think all references to Afrasiabi and other employees who have contributed to the harmful work culture of Activision Blizzard should be removed from all their games. I believe that Activision Blizzard needs to take ownership of the harm and narratives they have enforced and thus used to inform their work with the intent of content sales. Those who caused this harm should be fired without severance (including those in power to do something and did not despite being aware), those who were harmed and Activision Blizzard failed should be given personal amends and reparations for the trauma the company forced on them."

"It's their company, but the community made it what it is. They need us more than we need them."

Thanks, Polygon

Steven Messner

With over 7 years of experience with in-depth feature reporting, Steven's mission is to chronicle the fascinating ways that games intersect our lives. Whether it's colossal in-game wars in an MMO, or long-haul truckers who turn to games to protect them from the loneliness of the open road, Steven tries to unearth PC gaming's greatest untold stories. His love of PC gaming started extremely early. Without money to spend, he spent an entire day watching the progress bar on a 25mb download of the Heroes of Might and Magic 2 demo that he then played for at least a hundred hours. It was a good demo.