The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt in the video game industry. In an interview this morning with Sports Business Journal, Tony Petitti of the Esports section of the company has had to face mass layoffs. The division handles live events—including the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League—and they plan to pivot away from those events to a degree in the post-pandemic world. The company is not totally abandoning live events though, just refocusing on more profitable ventures.
“We learned a lot last year in terms of how the leagues can be structured for online play, and we’ll look to carry forward the best practices from that,” said Petitti, who joined Activision Blizzard as president of sports and entertainment last August after a longtime role at MLB. “In terms of timing, it’s a reaction to the realities of how the leagues are playing and what resources we need to allocate to best serve the league, owners, teams and fans.”
It would seem that the post-COVID world is just cheaper for companies to be in, if they slash costs. It makes sense to do this, but it’s still a major thumb in the eye in some respects. Activision Blizzard once again reported record revenues this past year, as gaming was more popular than ever before, as a way to waste time.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact here, likely leading to Activision Blizzard letting the staff go as a cost-saving measure. Those that made the decision are probably thinking it will be cheaper to transition into online-only or restricted events in the future. We’re now seeing the downsides of such a shift.
Reporting for Bloomberg, Jason Schreier reported that those roughly 50 affected included some outside the Esports and live events staff as well. It’s worth noting that the figure of 50 affected is from the company themselves, some sources suggest it could be as many as 200 affected.
Those fired were given three months’ worth of severance pay, as well as one year of extended medical benefits coverage. That’s all good, but there are some other things to think about. The severance package includes $200 worth of Battle.Net gift cards. That’s kind of insulting if I’m honest. How would you like to be reminded of the company that just fired you during a pandemic? And speaking of the pandemic, I have to wonder if that had more influence here than just the surface elements.
I have to ask myself, if the pandemic had not been raging, and Activision Blizzard just fired these people; would the company have any impetus to give the employees the severance they did? Maybe I’m too cynical, but I have a hard time believing that’s the case.
According to Petitti, the timing of the decision was a matter of fact with how the company decided to approach things. The thinking seems to be that it’s better to get it out of the way now, rather than wait months for the pandemic to hopefully abate as vaccinations become more common. During the announcement, they said that “you never take anything like this lightly; these are our colleagues and something you spend a lot of time on thinking about making the best decisions you can make.”
Although it would seem that adopting more diverse hiring practices was, in fact, too hard of a decision to make. But hey, that’s just the cost of doing business at a multi-billion dollar company that fires 800 employees.