With the recent news about Blizzard Entertainment’s mishandling of a situation in China involving esports athlete Blitzchung, I wanted to make it known that this isn’t the first time they’ve gone against their motto of “Every voice matters”.
Being a superfan
I’ve been a Blizzard fangirl since Diablo 2 was released and was an avid WoW(World of Warcraft) player since it debuted in 2004. I bought every single expansion of WoW as a collector’s edition and never missed any events involving the game. I was a hardcore fan.
When I moved to Austin, Texas, I knew that they had an office here, which is where a lot of the Game Masters would work. Playing the game, I always appreciated the help that a Game Master would provide and I loved how passionate they were about the game itself.
So I applied to work there as a Game Master myself. The process was a bit different than you would think. It was actually through a temp agency and they really hired for the big pushes of their expansions. But if you made it past the temporary time of about three months, they would hire you on full time and you would start to get benefits and be included in all of the top secret meetings about game timelines and all that.
I honestly don’t know how the situation is in their main headquarters in California so keep in mind, this is only about their Austin office.
Rose colored glasses were mandatory
Everyone that worked there full time was a major fan and I quickly realized you could not speak ill about anything involving the company if you wanted to get hired on full time. This meant that even if a part of the game was buggy, it was not in your best interest to mention it during those three months of temporary time if you wanted a chance to get hired on as a full time employee. A good majority of the time I spent as a temp employee was keeping up a facade that everything was perfect. As a game master, you needed to always be pumped about their games, online and off.
It was also pretty much expected that during lunches and after work, you would be playing Blizzard games. It was encouraged that you spend a lot of time playing them to keep up with everyone else and be seen as the all knowing game master.
So, I get why that would be expected. You would want your employees to care a lot about the game so they could provide the best support and be happy supporting games that they love. But if someone overheard you talking about something you didn’t like about one of their games, it would be frowned upon. Like, really frowned upon. I mentioned a bug that had been in WoW for a while and should really be fixed or get a workaround and I actually was shushed by management for talking poorly about the game.
There wasn’t a good ratio of women to men and it showed
I play a lot of video games so I’m accustomed to being around men most of the time. And I’m also used to condescending tones when talking to me about video games. But anything I experienced online did not fully prepare me for working at Blizzard.
I was one of the only females on the team that I worked with and there would always be side notes to explain gamer lingo to me. Even when I explained that I have played these games before, I would still have men explaining what it was they were talking about. I worked my ass off to show them that I was capable of handling things on my own and because of that, I was offered a full time position at the company.
But that’s when it got worse.
The dynamic between males and females as a game master was one that I would equate to high school. And sometimes, some weird hidden sex ring that I did not want to take part in.
On any given day, I would walk into the office and find presents and candy at my desk. If I asked for help, I would have people jump to help me out. I thought it was because people loved helping but a lot of the time, they would later follow it up with requests for sex. I wish I was joking about that but that’s something that happened a lot more than I thought it would.
The flip side to that would be that if I ever got an award or a promotion, according to some of the people there, it was because I fucked my way to the top. I can tell you for sure, they never said that about a man who got promoted.Even though it’s been a few years now since I worked there, I remember one of my co-workers screaming at me that I only got promoted to a tier 2 game master because I slept with management. Because he felt he deserved it more than me.
They probably felt that I and other women were sleeping with management because there were a lot of managers there that would try to hit on game masters. I ended up having to go to HR about one of the managers who kept trying to invite me over to his house and would constantly be saying dirty things to me while I was at work.
But HR did nothing. In fact, after I went to HR people had found out about it and started to treat me differently. It was like they suddenly realized I wasn’t going to stand around and take sexual harassment so they instead called me a bitch.
I ended up embracing being a bitch which worked out in my favor. I ended up getting further than I had been in my career and also squashed all the rumors that I was a slut.
The pay wasn’t even worth it
The cost of living is pretty high in Austin. Not San Francisco’s level but at the rate that Blizzard was paying their game masters (11 dollars an hour), it was rare to not meet someone who had 2–3 roommates just to be able to live comfortably.
They had this meeting every year where we could voice our opinions and they would do a rating on which item meant the most to us for our work situation.
It was always that we needed to make more money.
Because we weren’t just tech support. It was an unspoken requirement that we act a certain way because we were the face of Blizzard that fans interacted with every day. We even had profiles about our likes and dislikes that people could see when they opened a chat with us. We even had unique game master names that people could and would refer to in forums on the website.
And for the same pay, you could sign up for what essentially was just more work. You could sign up for doing 3 webchats at a time instead of 2 or you could sign up to be in retention or to be a glorified tech expert.
Blizzard eventually raised the pay to 12 dollars an hour after seeing every year that it was one of the top priorities. A raise of only a dollar an hour was just a drop in the bucket. People still could not afford to live comfortably and have a good work life balance with that. Most people still had to work 2–3 jobs to make a living, especially if they had children. If you complained about the raise though and asked for more, you were given a carrot on a stick, the idea that you could get promoted and get a raise. Or you were shunned by everyone because if you complained about money, you didn’t clearly love the games enough.
Which means a lot of people ended up drinking. There wasn’t much they could do and there was a bar that stayed open late not even a mile down the road. I had not been much of a drinker before but when I started working there, I joined the crowd and I would drink heavily almost every night.
Will they ever learn?
These were all items that were talked about at length with Blizzard which was always met with silence. Or small victories that were supposed to keep you from asking more questions.
The culture at Blizzard Entertainment had gotten so bad around the moment that I left that I dreaded coming into work. I would drink every night and I was desperately looking for another job.
While it may not have been the CEO’s fault directly, a culture that consisted of immaturity, alcoholism, and complacency had grown and they did nothing to stop it. They still hired temporary employees instead of helping their full time employees grow within the company. They cut corners in how the whole operation was managed.
I still have Blizzard to thank though. I did make friends there that I’m still friends with to this day and I have a new appreciation for the gaming industry. It was also that job that I realized I deserved more than what I was getting and what has helped launch the career that I have now. But, it would have been nice to have our voices heard. To know that as a Game Master, you mattered.