AFK Weekly: U.S. Court Approves $18M Activision Blizzard Settlement
Hello everyone! This week we saw Activision Blizzard make headlines multiple times related to issues with the treatment of employees. It is fair to say that the major focus was on the news of an $18M settlement in the sexual harassment suit. This agreement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which would be in effect for three years, would require the implementation of new policies and procedures such as a new personnel evaluation process, mandatory sexual harassment training, and a feedback system. The question that only time will answer is whether this would affect the other ongoing lawsuits that the company is facing.
EA also faced a little bit of heat this week and was forced to revise its stance on covering travel expenses of teams participating in the ALGS LAN in Stockholm. This came to light following pro players and the community called out the publisher to “do better.”
Finally, showing the power and impact of the gaming community, Riot Games and its players were able to raise $5.4M in funds for humanitarian relief in Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
With these top stories out of the way, here’s a breakdown of this week’s most impactful and important esports business news and more in the latest edition of Esports Business Insights by AFK Gaming.
Sadakshi Kalyan Ramun, features writer and copy editor, AFK Gaming
Activision Blizzard settles federal sexual harassment lawsuit for $18M
U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer approved Activision Blizzard’s $18M settlement with the federal agency of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Tuesday. This settlement comes months after the two entities had agreed in principle in September 2021.
Following this decision, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a release announcing the settlement reflected the company’s unwavering commitment to ensuring a safe and equitable working environment for all staff: “Our goal is to make Activision Blizzard a model for the industry, and we will continue to focus on eliminating harassment and discrimination from our workplace. The court’s approval of this settlement is an important step in ensuring that our employees have mechanisms for recourse if they experienced any form of harassment or retaliation.”
As part of the agreement with the EEOC, Activision Blizzard agreed to continue enhancing policies, practices, and training to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace by implementing an expanded performance-review system. It will also engage a neutral, third-party consultant approved by the EEOC to oversee the company’s compliance with the agreement.
The findings reported by the independent consultant will be directly communicated to the EEOC and the company’s board of directors. Additionally, Activision Blizzard has brought Stacy Jackson on board as an internal EEO coordinator with experience in gender discrimination, harassment, and related retaliation.
The company still faces multiple suits from shareholders, former employees, and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Even prior to the EEOC lawsuit in September 2021, the DFEH sued the company in July 2021 for allegedly fostering “a frat boy culture.” The DFEH and EEOC have been at loggerheads over how much victims should receive from Activision Blizzard as compensation.
As per this ruling, those who wish to be a part of the EEOC settlement cannot also be a part of the DFEH lawsuit on issues of harassment, retaliation, or pregnancy discrimination.
Key Takeaway: The settlement seems to be a clear win in the books of Activision Blizzard, especially coupled with a potential Microsoft buyout. Naturally, the $18M settlement with the federal agency for the sexual harassment lawsuit has raised a lot of eyebrows and has been compared to Riot Games’ $100M settlement for the class-action gender discrimination lawsuit. This “woefully inadequate” settlement, as quoted by labor union Communications Workers of America, is also likely to downplay the lawsuit of DFEH, which has been more aggressive in its pursuit of seeking higher compensation.
Lionsgate Play announces India's first esports sitcom
Indian mainstream media is geared up to create a show with esports and gaming as a backdrop. Lionsgate Play, a streaming platform owned by Hollywood studio Lionsgate, announced "Gamer Log," a sitcom that would showcase the world of esports. The title of this coming-of-age show in Hindi translates to Gamer “People.” It is being produced by RDP Pulp Fiction Entertainment (headed by Abhinay Deo and Neeta Shah) and created by Karmanya Ahuja. Game Log will follow the misadventures of a team of professional esports players and is billed as the first-of-a-kind Indian gaming series.
As reported by Panache, The Economic Times, the VP of Originals at Lionsgate Play, Mrinalini Khanna said, "Gamer Log embodies the exact principles of content coming out of Lionsgate stable - innovation blended with entertainment. The series is placed in an enthralling universe but has the classical challenges of a coming of age."
Director Abhinay Deo is attached as showrunner with Gamer Log and will also be co-producing it alongside Shah.
Key Takeaway: Gamer Log shows that esports and the gaming industry are becoming mainstream forms of entertainment in India. A show like Gamer Log is likely to make heads turn and shake up the narrative of how esports is not viewed as a mainstream profession in India. At a time when Riot Games and Paramount+ also announced “Players” a League of Legends mockumentary, an Indian take on the subject like Gamer Log might draw a ton of attention.
EA to cover team travel expenses to ALGS’ Stockholm LAN
EA and developer Respawn Entertainment have decided to cover the travel expenses of all the teams competing in the Apex Legends Global Series Stockholm LAN and all other live events scheduled for Year 2. Originally, EA only offered to bear the expenses of half the teams that had qualified for the LAN, casting doubt on the participation of smaller teams and organizations. After community backlash and criticism, the company changed its stance and tweaked its policy.
Complexity Gaming secures multi-year partnership with Lenovo
GameSquare Esports-owned organization Complexity Esports announced that it has secured a multi-year partnership with tech-giant Lenovo. Following this, the GameStop Performance Center based in Frisco, Texas will be renamed the “Lenovo Legion Esports Center.”
Usain Bolt sprints into the world of esports as co-owner of WYLDE
Dublin-based esports organization WYLDE announced that Usain Bolt has joined the business as co-owner. Bolt will also be an active member of the leadership team and will be participating in a range of activities to elevate the growing brand of WYLDE. He will also support the organization’s mission to identify, empower and support talent while remaining committed to ideals including diversity and inclusivity. At the moment, WYLDE has teams competing in Rainbow Six Siege, Valorant, Rocket League, and FIFA.
Singapore-based esports firm Ampverse nets $12M in Series-A
In a Series A funding round led by Falcon Capital, Singapore-based Ampverse has raised $12M. The round also saw follow-on investments from Singaporean fund Vulpes and Gandel Invest.
Enthusiast Gaming’s financial results for 2021 revealed
Canadian gaming and esports company Enthusiast Gaming revealed its financial results for 2021. While the company recorded increased revenue, it also saw increased operating expenses and a sizeable loss for the year. In 2021, it had recorded $133.8M in revenue, a significant increase from its 2020 revenue figure of $58.2M. Likewise, the overall gross profit for the company was $30.3M in 2021 whereas it was only $14.9M the previous year. At the same time, Enthusiast recorded a sizeable loss of $41.6M in 2021 while it only recorded an overall loss of $21.5M in 2020. Enthusiast Gaming owns Luminosity Gaming, Call of Duty team Seattle Surge, and Overwatch team Vancouver Titans.
Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour returns
Wizards of the West Coast announced that Magic: The Gathering will return to tabletop play. The developer also stated that there will be three Pro Tour events for 2022-23, the dates of which will be announced at a later date. The current season will conclude with the New Capenna Championships in May and the World Championship scheduled for later in 2022.
Riot Games Donates $5.4M to Humanitarian Efforts in Eastern Europe
Riot Games announced that it has raised $5.4M in funds to support humanitarian efforts in Eastern Europe and Ukraine, thanks to the contributions of its player base. Riot is equally distributing the funds – $1.8M each – to the International Medical Corps, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The proceeds from the sale of battlepasses of Wild Rift, Valorant, Legends of Runeterra, Teamfight tactics, and Bee skin line in League of Legends between 5th-12th March accounted for the fundraiser. In addition to this, Riot also contributed $1M over and above the player-supported fundraiser.
Twitch streamer Amouranth invests $2M in Activision Blizzard
Twitch streamer Kaitlyn “Amouranth” Siragusa purchased nearly $2M in Activision Blizzard stock. Explaining her move, Siragusa said that she would be making a 20% “uncorrelated” return if the Microsoft deal ends up going through.
Microsoft will respect outcome of Activision Blizzard union drive
According to a report by The Washington Post, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President and General Counsel Lisa Tanzi stated that the company “will not stand in the way” if Activision Blizzard employees vote to unionize. She added that Microsoft respected the employees’ right to choose to be represented by a labor organization. Fifteen workers at Activision Blizzard-owned studio Raven Software signed a letter dated March 23, calling for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to encourage Activision Blizzard to voluntarily recognize their union, the Game Workers Alliance. In January, Raven’s workers asked the management to voluntarily recognize their union, but Activision failed to respond by the deadline.
Riot taps Wisdom Gaming for Wild Rift NA Regional Championships Season 1 Championship
Wisdom Gaming has partnered with Riot Games to produce the Wild Rift NA Regional Championships Season 1 Championship in the next two months. Wisdom Gaming will officially serve as the broadcast and operations partner for the event, which will culminate in a finals event at the Mall of America later this year. Wisdom is a long-time Riot partner on many other competitive esports events in North America.
People on the Move
It’s been a relatively quiet week for personnel changes at most gaming and esports companies but there were a few notable exceptions. Here’s the big movers and shakers of the week:
Stefan McGarry has been promoted to UK communications director at Ubisoft.
Tyler Wentz joins Complexity Gaming as manager of sponsorships.
Brennan Altringer joins Complexity as director of audience development.
Usain Bolt joins Irish esports organization WYLDE as a co-owner.
Blair Herter joins Team Liquid as global managing director.
Josie Brown joins Team Liquid as senior VP of brand, marketing and content.
Jennifer Gares joins Team Liquid as its senior director of talent.
Motorsport Games has hired pro driver Romain Grosjean as technical advisor.
Former Excel Esports Head of Partnerships Patrick Collins launches Leapfox.
Riot Games Brazil has hired Mauricio de Lima as its new competitive operations lead.
Brett Claxton has been promoted to the role of head of gaming at Social Chain.
Rita B.Landells joins Complexity as the new director of creative strategy and brand partnerships.
Entain has hired Brian Lancey to serve as chief marketing officer, with a focus on its Unikrn esports brand.
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