Activision Blizzard CEO claims widespread toxic workplace allegations are ‘mischaracterizations’

Bobby Kotick got on the defensive in a rare interview

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has deflected blame for the widespread allegations of a toxic workplace at his gaming company.

Speaking to Variety in a rare interview, the embattled executive claims that reports of the misconduct at Activision Blizzard are actually “mischaracterizations” by the media.

“We’ve had every possible form of investigation done. And we did not have a systemic issue with harassment — ever. We didn’t have any of what were mischaracterizations reported in the media,” claimed Kotick. “But what we did have was a very aggressive labor movement working hard to try and destabilize the company.”

In July 2021, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging that the Call of Duty maker has fostered a “frat boy” work culture in which women often faced sexual harassment, unequal pay and other forms of mistreatment. Male Blizzard employees are accused of regularly coming into work hungover and playing games while delegating their responsibilities to their female coworkers, all while making sexual comments and jokes about rape. One female employee even reportedly committed suicide after an unnamed male supervisor made advances on a work trip with lubricant and butt plugs.

Later that year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kotick was not only aware of this toxic work culture, but actively worked to cover it up. Allegedly, this even went so far as Kotick threatening to have an assistant killed in a voicemail message and, in a separate incident, firing a flight attendant on his private jet after she complained that the pilot sexually harassed her. At the time, Kotick repeatedly denied all of these reports, instead simply outlining steps to increase diversity and inclusion efforts within the company, such as improved “employee support” and “listening sessions.”

While many Activision Blizzard current and former employees staged walkouts and called for Kotick to step down, the executive has refused to do so. Instead, he signed a deal with Microsoft shortly thereafter to sell Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion USD (about $93.2 billion CAD). We’ve also heard mixed messaging regarding whether Kotick will remain with the company should the pending acquisition, which faces an appeal in the U.K. after being blocked, be approved.

In his new interview with Variety, Kotick has continued to push back against the negative reports surrounding him and the company. He accuses “outside forces” of spreading these allegations and claims that Activision Blizzard has had a relatively low level of complaints related to harassment and assault for a company with 17,000 employees worldwide. As evidence of this, he claims the company is preparing a transparency report compiled by third parties.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if any of what you read in the inflammatory narrative was truthful,” Kotick told Variety.  “No board of directors in a noncontrolled company is going to allow the CEO of an enterprise to stay running the enterprise if those things were truthful.”

He also claims he’s not “anti-union” following reports that the company attempted to stop unions from being formed at the company. This year, the Communications Workers of America even filed charges against Activision Blizzard for violating several workplace laws by firing two QA testers.

“I’m the only Fortune 500 CEO who’s a member of a union. If we have employees who want a union to represent them, and they believe that that union is going to be able to provide them with opportunities and enhancements to their work experience, I’m all for it,” claims Kotick. “I have a mother who was a teacher. I have no aversion to a union. What I do have an aversion to is a union that doesn’t play by the rules.”

Since becoming Activision’s CEO in 1991, Kotick has overseen the creation of many big gaming franchises, including Call of Duty. He also became the CEO of Activision Blizzard when the two companies merged in 2008. Currently, Activision Blizzard stands as the fifth largest producer of games in the world with titles like DiabloOverwatchCrash Bandicoot and Candy Crush on top of the aforementioned Call of Duty. During this time, he was also named gaming’s “most overpaid CEO” relative to how much his employees actually make.

Perhaps the most questionable aspect of the piece, however, is when Variety frames Kotick as a victim:

As Activision has grown, Kotick has become a handy villain, depicted as the rich suit who lives off the money that gamers shell out on their favorite pastime. The slogging on video game-centric social media platform has taken its toll on Kotick, and his family.

Kotick himself claims he’s faced “a lot of antisemitism,” adding, “When you look at images of me on the internet, there are these antisemitic undertones. My kids have gotten death threats.”

It’s unclear exactly how true this actually is, but it should be noted that women, people of colour and LGBTQ2S+ people continue to face immense abuse — all of whom are far less privileged than Kotick — both within companies like Activision Blizzard and from gamers online. And given all of the allegations against Kotick on top of that, it’s hard to feel sorry for him.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Variety