Blizzard’s reputation has taken a pummelling over the last few years. In 2021, horrifying descriptions of the company’s toxic workplace culture spilled onto the Internet, after a lawsuit was filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment regarding “unlawful harassment, discrimination, and retaliation”. Following the lawsuit, Blizzard made extensive promises about how they were going to address these problems. In an article published in January 2022, former President Mike Ybarra explained the company had established clear internal guidelines as to appropriate conduct, and had made multiple hires to improve culture leadership, human resources, and equality within the company.
Three years on from the initial fallout, you might be wondering how all that is going. Well, if recent statements made by former Overwatch 2 artist Chris Sayers are anything to go by, the answer is ‘extremely badly.’
On Thursday evening, Sayers took social media to describe a shocking run of events that led to his departure from Blizzard. Sayers, who was promoted to lead VFX artist on Overwatch 2’s cosmetics team in July 2023, says he spent “most of a year stressed out of my mind” due to an array of alleged mistreatment by Blizzard management that included lying to him, gaslighting him, and giving him a “fake promotion”.
In a lengthy thread posted on Twitter, Sayers explains the trouble began with that promotion. “In July of 2023, I was invited to a meeting by Art Leadership and production, to let me know they were interested in promoting me to Lead VFX artist of the cosmetics team,” he writes. Sayers, who had only been at Blizzard for six months, accepted the role. Before doing so, however, he insisted everyone was “on the same page” regarding the details. “What it meant, what I would be doing, and also, what the ‘promotion’ would come with (pay increase, title change).”
so, enough time has passed now for me to talk about why i decided to leave Blizzard. a mixed year with great teammates, but a management that mistreated, lied to me, gaslit me, gave me a fake promotion, and HR that refused to help. buckle up friendos. 💪February 8, 2024
Sayers states numerous management leads were present for these discussions, including “Lead VFX, Art Directors, Associate Art Directors, Production Directions and also HR.” He adds that everyone was “happy” with the agreements made, and that Sayers would “start the job “effective immediately, with the details to come at the end of the week.”
The first warning signs appeared days after Sayers commenced the role. “Friday of that week comes, nothing,” he writes. “But the Production Dir[ector] does announce my promotion to Lead to the whole team on the Thursday!”
Sayers didn’t worry about this too much at the time, though, as he was “so excited”. He was quickly brought back down to Earth, however, when one of his first jobs was to “fire one of my new reports because he won’t [return to the office]. Sayers pointed out the individual, one of his “closest friends” on the team, was “‘waiting for a medical accommodation because he is a carer for his parents'”. To this, Blizzard management allegedly responded “‘Yeah [laughing] we’re not gonna do that for a junior'”. Blizzard management then apparently refused to hire an intern to help with Sayers’ workload, which now included the responsibilities of his previous role, his new role, and the role of the artist he had just fired.
After a month, Sayers states he still had not heard about the pay increase and title change he was supposed to be receiving. Blizzard apparently told him he’d have to wait until August for details in writing. At this point, he also discovered that he was “earning less than 50% of every other Lead VFX Artist at Blizzard, so much so, that as a Lead, my salary is lower than every person I [was] managing.” Blizzard management allegedly told him it’s because he is UK based, and that the salary is based on “market value, not my value.” Sayers took the issue to HR, who responded “‘why would we pay you more than we have to? That doesn’t make any sense.”
After three months with no sign of pay increase or recognition of his promotion, Sayers sent an ultimatum to management. “If there is no written information by Sep 1st, I will stop doing the role immediately.” He says HR got back to him immediately, and asked “‘what promotion? I have no idea what you are talking about?'” Sayers then raised a formal complaint. According to Sayers, Blizzard HR responded with a litany of excuses, such as “‘you seem to be confused'” and “‘there is no promotion'” and “‘leadership is a lateral move'”.
Sayers’ formal complaint triggered an investigation, which came back “after a few weeks” and concluded “HR did nothing wrong and followed all processes correctly”. Sayers responded to this by handing in his resignation, which is when things took a turn for the surreal, as Sayers describes below:
and, you may be rightfully thinking “oh, so this is a *paid* 3 months, right? you cant stop someone from working at ALL for 3 months without paying the-…” INCORRECT that is exactly what they did, and unfortunately, completely legal, because get fucked, i guess???February 8, 2024
In other words, Blizzard prevented Sayers from working anywhere for three months, with no compensation to cover the Non-Compete clause. Sayers explained that he couldn’t survive without being paid for three months, to which Blizzard allegedly responded “‘well, you probably shouldn’t have signed the contract then.'”
This, more or less, marked the end of the saga. Sayers ends the thread by thanking everyone who “purchased a mentorship session or portfolio review” from him at the end of last year, as it “quite *literally* saved me”. He’s also keen to emphasise, management aside, how much he liked working with the Overwatch 2 team. “They were warm, welcoming, fun, friendly, and just so goddamn talented.”
Nonetheless, Sayers’ accusations are deeply concerning. Not only because these events allegedly took place after Blizzard made extensive promises about how it would fix the studio’s workplace culture, but because they relate specifically to structures that were supposedly put in place to prevent this kind of thing happening again. One of Ybarra’s key changes following the lawsuit scandal was to hire “a new organizational leader for Human Resources who will build trust”. The studio is also supposed to have an “upwards feedback program” for evaluating management, whereas it doesn’t sound like Sayers’ feedback was getting anywhere at all. Indeed, he says explicitly that “Blizzard had every opportunity to do the right thing, and they continually failed at that.”
Sayers now works as lead VFX Artist at Anchor Point Studios, which was founded in 2022 and is currently working on its unannounced debut project. You can see some of Sayers’ previous work on his ArtStation page here.