The Overwatch League Sponsor list is a very short one now. Down to just three sponsors, and with the off-season approaching, things are not looking good for the League.
One of my favorite books of all time is “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie. It’s a mystery novel about a group of people who are summoned to an island and killed off one by one after it’s discovered that each of them have committed terrible crimes and have gotten away with it.
I cannot help but feel that the reverse is happening with the Overwatch League. As of August 8th, every sponsor except for Xfinity, Coca-Cola, and TeamSpeak have severed their contracts due to the explosive harassment lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard. Five sponsors dropped out or announced their reassessment actions within five days. There were also some expected staff changes at Blizzard HQ. And while most people would think this is nothing more than karma, that big businesses only seem to learn their lesson if their wallets are hit hard, the situation here is more nuanced than that.
So let’s recap what happened last week and why this is more catastrophic than we realize. Why the right people are not facing any punishment.
On August 2nd, as reported by CharlieIntel.com, T-Mobile became the first major partner to end their sponsorship after Activision Blizzard’s tepid and rather tone deaf response to the allegations set forth in California’s DFEH lawsuit. This was first made apparent when the CDL abruptly ended their 5G Weekly Drop activation with no explanation. This event allowed fans to text a code to a number to enter for a chance to win different prizes that varied from controllers to a trip to CDL Champs.
No explanation was officially given as of publishing, but it’s very safe to assume it is because of the lawsuit.
This was even more apparent previously, when the New York Subliners used stickers to cover up T-Mobile’s logo. And in the Overwatch League, the New York Excelsior no longer has T-Mobile listed on their sponsorship banner during broadcasts. T-Mobile was also removed from the Overwatch League official website’s list of sponsors.
Understandably, this sent the OWL community into a panic. Many fans believed that this was finally the beginning of the end.
And then there were six. But that wouldn’t last long.
The Domino Effect
A day later on August 3rd, the same day as their earnings call, Blizzard released a statement out to the community stating that J. Allen Brack, president of Blizzard, would be stepping down and be replaced with “co-leaders” Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra. The head of global human resources also stepped down due to the department’s complicity with Blizzard’s hostile culture.
That may sound like progress. But as pointed out by Jason Scherier, a reporter for Bloomberg, titles are important in the corporate world. It became much more clear that this is more damage control on the part of CEO Bobby Kotick than implementing real culture change.
This is also not mentioning that these staff changes weren’t part of the employees’ list of demands they sent to Blizzard leadership.
And it seems that the Overwatch League sponsors agree with how superficial these actions have been, especially after a rather objectively untimely earnings call that displayed no remorse or real plan of action for change.
So on August 6th, the Washington Post reported that Coca-Cola, Kellogg, and State Farm have also began reassessing their sponsorships with the Overwatch League, which many believed spelled nothing more than doom.
Cheez-It and Pringles also followed suit on Friday. And as the fallout continued, it seems as of today, August 8th, IBM and State Farm have officially pulled their support. They no longer appear on the Partners page on the Overwatch League website.
And then there were three.
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OWL Twitter was in an uproar, claiming that the League was dead and many fans publicly experiencing a range of emotions between hardened cynicism and unadulterated despair. Some even called for talent to comment on these. They do not fully understanding that they are just collateral damage for things completely out of their control.
Yet the problem is that these are the very same employees we should be advocating for. The reason why these actions are not good, despite the initial schadenfreude one must feel when the wallets of big time corporations are set on fire, is that they are rarely ever truly punished. Bobby Kotick already got his money. Leadership already got their money. The loss of sponsors in the Overwatch League do not affect anyone but those who care the most about Blizzard. About making games people love. About creating stories, worlds, characters, and personalities that change people’s lives.
It affects the players that fans admire for their skills and personalities. It affects the staff who put incalculable time and effort into their work to provide an incredible experience. And because it’s easier to not think about the very real possibility that those who caused this will probably never be held truly accountable, it’s easier to look at those who we see on TV for any real change. And it isn’t fair.
So to see an esport potentially die because of the toxic actions of its parent company is tragic. Especially since there truly are people who work there who want change and to be inclusive. They are the ones being punished for crimes they didn’t even commit.
Furthermore, this was after one week. Imagine what will happen in the weeks to come, with the offseason fast approaching and people truly unsure if there will be a fifth season. All because of the pervasive reality of a toxic work environment for women, non-women and people of color. And then I’d have to utter the now immortal words of the rhyme that could very well spell the end:
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