Former Blizzard president J Allen Brack stepped down in August in the wake of a lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging widespread discrimination and sexual harassment at the company. He was replaced by Mike Ybarra and Jen Oneal, who took over as co-heads of the studio, marking the first time that Blizzard had been led by a woman.
Just three months later, however, Oneal has announced that she is stepping down from the role, and leaving Blizzard entirely at the end of the year.
“Effective immediately, Mike Ybarra will lead Blizzard,” Oneal said in a statement. “I am doing this not because I am without hope for Blizzard, 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.”
Activision Blizzard leadership is supporting Oneal’s move with a $1 million grant in support of Women in Games International, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing diversity and equality in the industry. Oneal, who sits on the WIGI board, said the money will fund “skill-building and mentorship programs.”
An Activision Blizzard representative confirmed that the $1 million grant “will be funded and supported separately” from the $18 million compensation fund the company agreed to establish in September.
There’s no overlooking the fact that her tenure lasted just three months, and came to an end amidst ongoing turmoil at Blizzard, which recently announced a cancellation of the BlizzCon online event scheduled for February 2022 so it could focus on “supporting our teams” instead. But she said that Ybarra has been “incredibly supportive” throughout the process, and that the two of them “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.”
“Blizzard’s best days are ahead,” Oneal wrote. “I truly believe that. I also am hoping this letter helps you to think about what you can do to make everyone around you—no matter their gender, race, or identity—feel welcome, comfortable, and free to be themselves.”
Ybarra shared similar sentiments during today’s investors call. “I’d like to first recognize Jen Oneal, who has been an incredible partner here at Blizzard,” he said. “Though we will all miss her greatly, we wish her all the best as we work with her on a plan to make an industry-wide impact through the WIGI grant. I personally want to thank her for her leadership.”
And all three of us were the first women to ever serve in our specific roles, and we were also the most senior woman in the company for our respective disciplines. All left this year.November 2, 2021
The departure has hit Blizzard morale hard, according to a source inside the company who spoke to PC Gamer. Former Blizzard technical director Amy Dunham, who also announced her departure just yesterday, pointed out on Twitter that the three most senior women at Blizzard all left this year.
“Jen leaving Blizzard is heartbreaking,” wrote Dunham. “I mean absolute love for her and her choice, and I genuinely respect the hell out of her. She is a world-class leader. She was also the one thing out of the entire year that made me hopeful for the company.”
Oneal joined Blizzard in January as executive vice president of development. Prior to that, she was studio head at Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 developer Vicarious Visions.