Three senior developers have been dismissed from Activision Blizzard, a Kotaku exclusive reveals. A company spokesperson confirms the names to be: Diablo 4 director Luis Barriga, level designer Jesse McCree, and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft. They were officially let go on Wednesday and promptly removed from the company’s Slack directory. Two sources with insider knowledge of the firing tipped Kotaku at least a day in advance.
Activision Blizzard is splicing heads off the company Hydra in a last-minute bid to appease fans and comply with a California lawsuit’s demands filed on July 20. The Overwatch creator is facing public backlash in light of widespread sexual harassment claims, which executives have previously denied.
Whistleblowers have come forward since with integral information about the case, notably the infamous “Cosby Suite,” a company-sanctioned group led by longtime World of Warcraft developer Alex Afrasiabi, one of two individuals personally named in the complaint. Afrasiabi is the designated ringleader of the Cosby Suite, where male developers would chug drinks while making demeaning sexual remarks about their female colleagues. Afrasiabi himself has been accused of groping women. Blizzard president J. Allen Brack has been criticized in the lawsuit for turning a blind eye to Afrasiabi’s antics; the latter left Activision Blizzard last year for reasons unknown, with Brack resigning last week.
The history of Activision Blizzard’s Cosby Suite is as convoluted as it is unnerving. The name of the group was derived from comedian Bill Cosby, a convicted sex offender, and poorly conceived in hindsight. Afrasiabi’s BlizzCon 2013 hotel room reportedly resembled Cosby’s sweaters — dated and ugly, like the carpeting — and the nickname was a company inside joke. But it didn’t take long for the Cosby Suite to live up to the confounding legacy of its moniker. Afrasiabi’s outrageous behavior soon defined the Cosby Suite, with male staff following suit, and members began carrying a framed portrait of Bill Cosby to meetings, as if in subtle veneration. The group developed a menacing reputation.
The “frat boy culture” mentioned in the class-action lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is a thinly-veiled criticism of the Cosby Suite. This news comes to us from anonymous developers from within Activision Blizzard itself, as well as the accused’s personal Facebook posts.
Luis Barriga, Jesse McCree, and Jonathan LeCraft are closely affiliated with the Cosby Suite, though they aren’t the only ones. Plenty of current and former Activision Blizzard developers were seen in pictures and have yet to be called out by whistleblowers or the company itself. Cory Stockton, for one, is still lead designer at Blizzard. He was seen interacting with McCree in a Cosby Suite group chat entitled “BlizzCon Cosby Crew.”
Other individuals involved are former designer David Kosak and former developer Greg Street. No word from Kosak, but Street has already tweeted out a response to the controversy, claiming to be thoroughly “embarrassed” by the off-color origins of the room. He asserts, however, that the Cosby Suite was originally for taking breaks during BlizzCon, and had nothing to do with any expressions of sexism, misogyny, and the like. Activision Blizzard employees beg to differ.
Of course, intentions matter little when considering the group’s legacy as a whole. And if the group’s activity had become as pervasive as it has, enough to bring authorities into the fold, then it’s definitely an inside joke no longer. Ugly boardrooms aside, the Cosby Suite had clearly transcended what it used to stand for. And at present, Activision Blizzard bigwigs agree.
Activision Blizzard has since rescinded its earlier statements denouncing the lawsuit as unfounded, now fully committed to cleansing its hierarchy of any form of harassment and prejudice. A spokesperson tells Kotaku in an email: “We have a deep, talented roster of developers already in place and new leaders have been assigned where appropriate. We are confident in our ability to continue progress, deliver amazing experiences to our players, and move forward to ensure a safe, productive work environment for all.”
Activision Blizzard was handed another lawsuit last week, this time from the
U.S. District Court of Central California.