Blizzard confirms developer named in lawsuit was removed for “misconduct”

Ex-Blizzard developer Alex Afrasiabi as he appeared in <a href=
Enlarge / Ex-Blizzard developer Alex Afrasiabi as he appeared in a 2019 video promoting World of Warcraft.

Last year, reports started to bubble up among Blizzard-watchers that longtime World of Warcraft developer Alex Afrasiabi, who was first hired in 2004, had quietly left the company without any official explanation. Now that Afrasiabi has been specifically named in a gender discrimination lawsuit brought against the company by California state, Blizzard is confirming that Afrasiabi was let go in early 2020 “for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”

That confirmation from a Blizzard spokesperson comes from a scathing Kotaku report that includes pictures of and stories about the so-called “Cosby suite,” a hotel room at Blizzcon 2013 that was reportedly used as an alcohol-filled party space for Blizzard employees and fans.

The California lawsuit refers to a “Crosby Suite” (misspelled in the suit), alleging that “Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the ‘Crosby Suite’ after alleged rapist Bill Crosby [sic].” More specifically, the suit alleges that Afrasiabi “would hit on female employees, telling [them] he wanted to marry them, attempting to kiss them, and putting his arms around them. This was in plain view of other male employees, including supervisors, who had to intervene and pull him off female employees.”

Kotaku’s reporting found contemporaneous social media images and discussions showing multiple employees in the suite, often posing with a framed photograph of Cosby (who by 2013 had faced multiple accusations of sexual misconduct but was years away from his 2018 conviction and its overturning earlier this year).

Some sources in Kotaku’s piece dispute the room name’s association with the sordid side of Cosby’s past, though. Ex-Blizzard employee Josh Mosquiera wrote on Medium that he thought “the suite was named after Cosby because of the hideous carpet that reminded us of his sweaters.” He also wrote that the suite was the scene of a party he attended with “close to 100 people,” including “Blizzard employees and also their spouses, friends, and even family.”

Former Blizzard employee Greg Street, who is shown in some of the Cosby Suite pictures and now works at Riot games, tweeted a short statement saying the suite was “a green room at BlizzCon that many of us at the time used to take a break and relax during the convention.” Street says he “never saw or experienced any of the harassment described in the allegations—and if I had I absolutely would have stepped in.”

But Kotaku’s reporting shows that Street participated in text conversations in which former Blizzard employee Dave Kosak mentions “gathering hot chixx for the Coz,” among many other sexualized references.

“An employee brought these 2013 events to our attention in June 2020, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Kotaku. “We immediately conducted our own investigation and took corrective action. At the time of the report, we had already conducted a separate investigation of Alex Afrasiabi and terminated him for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees.”

Though Afrasiabi is no longer with Blizzard, he is the namesake of a handful of World of Warcraft characters and items. The World of Warcraft development team promised Tuesday it was working to take “immediate action in Azeroth to remove references that are not appropriate for our world,” though the team didn’t mention Afrasiabi by name.

Ahead of a Wednesday “Walkout for Equality” organized by a number of Activision Blizzard employees, CEO Bobby Kotick wrote a public message late Tuesday apologizing for the company’s “tone deaf” initial response to the lawsuit and promising several actions to encourage “long-lasting change” at the company. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding,” he wrote.

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