You may think a leading software development company, whose products are often at the beating heart of the burgeoning esports industry, would be one of the world’s most enthralling and enjoyable places to work.
However, things are seemingly not all that well in the maelstrom that has become Blizzard Entertainment over the past few months.
The company is responsible for games such as Hearthstone, Starcraft II, Call of Duty, Diablo, Heroes of the Storm and the Warcraft series. And it’s perhaps best known as the company behind the massive success that is the Overwatch World League, which now features 20 franchised teams.
The franchise issue
Indeed, you can trace Blizzard’s current issues back to the somewhat controversial decision a few years ago to price league franchises at $20 million.
Many gamers at the time spoke out about this move. They accused Blizzard of greed and going against esports’ grassroots ethos.
Despite the vocal criticism at the time, the Overwatch World League proved to be a success, so much so that additional franchises were made available for Season 2 — and for well over $20 million apiece.
Despite making significant profit over 2018 and 2019, Blizzard then upset many earlier this year by laying off eight percent of the company’s workforce. Profiteering was again the accusation.
Indeed, there is already talk that the 134 French employees sacked by Blizzard could well take legal action against the company with the support of two organisations, Game Workers Unite International and Solidaire Informatique.
Blizzard blows in changes at the top
There has also been a changing of the guard at Blizzard in recent months when it comes to its top positions. The original commissioner of the Overwatch League, Nate Nanzer, has left that post for Epic Games and Fortnite’s esports development.
Nanzer was generally well-liked by the esports teams and employees at Blizzard. His replacement, Pete Vlastelica, doesn’t seem to enjoy such popularity.
Speaking to the Dexerto site, one anonymous source from Blizzard stated that “people are really getting tired of working for Pete Vlastelica.” Firstly, there are reports that the esports teams run by Activision Blizzard responsible for games such as Call of Duty and Overwatch are increasingly low on morale, with a number of important staff members ready to quit the company.
Several names were forwarded to Dexerto, but they only revealed that Kim Phan, the Global Product Director at Blizzard Esports who has been with the company for 13 years and is “synonymous with Blizzard esports,” is expected to tender her resignation. Many more could follow her out of the company.
Vlastelica reportedly insists on putting the commercialization of esports at the heart of his vision rather than focusing on creative programs for players.
Another source stated, “Many people internally are laying that on Pete, and it has crushed morale among the Call of Duty and Overwatch teams especially.”
Commentators believe that Vlastelica, who joined Blizzard in 2016 from Fox Sports where he enjoyed a background in traditional sports gaming, is ill-equipped to judge what is best for the esports market, which is very different to the markets for traditional sports.
Blizzard may be at the heart of a storm at the moment, and there doesn’t seem to be any willingness from leaders to change course. That is a worrying situation for all those involved with the company, those invested in it and, of course, the fans who’ve made Blizzard Entertainment the esports behemoth it is today.
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