“I am doing this not because I am without hope for Blizzard”
Jen Oneal, experienced producer and studio head on games such as 2020’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, and Destiny 2, has announced she is stepping away from her role after only three months as Blizzard Entertainment’s ‘co-leader’. This leaves Mike Ybarra more (but not totally) conventionally as sole ‘leader’ “effective immediately.”
In a statement addressed to “the Blizzard community,” Oneal states that as co-leader she had sought to “navigate the important changes [Blizzard] must undertake… all while ensuring [Blizzard’s] workplace and game communities are truly inclusive, safe, and inviting to all.”
“Mike and I have been working together to develop many of the actions we’ll be taking to continue making Blizzard a safer, stronger, and more inclusive workplace, and I know he plans on sharing some of those actions with you soon.”
The referred to ‘healing period’ is a natural point to stress given Oneal and Ybarra took on their roles in a pronouncedly volatile period for Activision-Blizzard. Given previous controversies like 2019’s mass layoffs after record profits, this is of course saying something.
In July, a lawsuit was filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing against Activision Blizzard after a two-year investigation found “constant sexual harassment, unequal pay, and retaliation” against its 20% female employee workforce and discrimination “in terms and conditions of employment, including compensation, assignment, promotion, and termination.”
A lot can therefore be read into such swift shifts in leadership and the perforce formal corporate statements that come with them, but Oneal officially stresses that she made the decision to step away as co-leader “not because [she is] without hope for Blizzard.”
Oneal continues, “…quite the opposite–I’m inspired by the passion of everyone here, working towards meaningful, lasting change with their whole hearts. This energy has inspired me to step out and explore how I can do more to have games and diversity intersect, and hopefully make a broader industry impact that will benefit Blizzard (and other studios) as well. While I am not totally sure what form that will take, I am excited to embark on a new journey to find out.”
Jen Oneal headed up Vicarious Visions when it merged into Blizzard in January this year to contribute to Diablo 2: Resurrected‘s development. She was then promoted to Blizzard executive vice president of development where she oversaw the Diablo and Overwatch franchises.
In August, Blizzard Entertainment’s president J. Allen Brack left “to pursue new opportunities” amid the fallout of the California lawsuit and a 2000-strong petition from Activision Blizzard’s own employees that referred to the company’s response as “abhorrent and insulting.”
Notably, when Oneal and Ybarra replaced him they did so as ‘co-leaders.’ Neither were referred to as president or CEO, potentially implying a morphing relationship between Activision Blizzard and its subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment. It remains to be seen from Oneal’s statements whether these were merely interim titles or Mike Ybarra will remain a ‘leader.’ Again, it is just speculation as to whether such title changes reflect any real material changes in leadership.
Oneal is now transitioning into a new role, structuring a partnership between Activision Blizzard and Women in Games International to determine where a $1 million grant can be best used by the non-profit organisation. A non profit that seeks to advance equality and diversity in the games industry, Oneal says the money will likely “fund skill-building and mentorship programs.”