The LEGO Group has postponed its new Overwatch 2 set to review its partnership with Activision Blizzard. Here’s why that matters.
Originally revealed back in December through an online retailer before appearing in a LEGO catalogue earlier this month, 76980 Titan is – to date – the one and only confirmed set based on Overwatch 2, the long-delayed sequel to the multiplayer first-person shooter. But its planned launch in February 2022 has now been postponed indefinitely while the LEGO Group reviews its partnership with Activision Blizzard, the parent company behind the game’s developer.
That’s because in the time between the LEGO Group’s original Overwatch sets arriving in 2019 and 76980 Titan being revealed, Activision Blizzard has been served with a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The suit alleges that Activision Blizzard’s management engaged in discriminatory employment practices; maintained a general ‘frat boy’ culture; and allowed and encouraged sexual misconduct directed towards its female employees.
It’s the result of an investigation that’s spanned several years, and involves horrific stories of women suffering abuse and harassment at Activision Blizzard. The DFEH originally filed the civil lawsuit on July 20, 2021. Eight days later, hundreds of employees participated in a walkout to protest operations at Activision Blizzard, demanding the creation of a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion task force (among other things) to improve representation.
Since then, countless reports have emerged of women being mistreated, assaulted, harassed or otherwise psychologically abused while working at Activision Blizzard; several partners have pulled sponsorships of Esports leagues involving games like Overwatch and Call of Duty; and staff in top leadership positions – including Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and HR executive Jesse Meschuk – have stepped down from their roles.
CEO Bobby Kotick remains in place, however, despite The Wall Street Journal reporting that he was not only aware of the sexual harassment claims, but actively attempted to sweep them under the rug. He’s also been accused of threatening an employee himself. His response didn’t address those allegations, and when the board of directors stood by Kotick, employees staged another walkout in protest.
Major video game companies including PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo have reacted to the lawsuit, with head of Xbox Phil Spencer reportedly telling employees that he’s ‘evaluating all aspects of our relationship with Activision Blizzard’. Halo and Destiny developer Bungie has also acknowledged the need to ‘push back on a persistent culture of harassment, abuse, and inequality… in our industry’, while multiple press outlets have ceased coverage of Activision Blizzard games.
With all that in mind, it’s little wonder that the LEGO Group has decided to postpone 76980 Titan – even if it has happened at essentially the last minute. The lawsuit was originally served in July 2021, but the LEGO Group has only today announced it’s reviewing its partnership with Activision Blizzard, some three weeks before the set was due to launch.
While Overwatch has been very carefully curated as a video game experience that celebrates diversity (even if it doesn’t always get it right), the alleged actions of its developer’s parent company sit in sharp contrast to that ethos – and by extension, the very same values that the LEGO Group prides itself on, as evidenced by its recent championing of diversity and inclusivity.
It doesn’t really matter if Overwatch itself isn’t inherently problematic, because the wider issue here is the LEGO Group continuing to work with a company at the centre of some genuinely appalling allegations. The LEGO Group has defended a similar conflict in values in its Harry Potter theme by stating that it’s working with Warner Bros. rather than J.K. Rowling, but it can’t fall back on the same excuse here: 76980 Titan has been produced in direct collaboration with Activision Blizzard.
That likely explains why it’s taken a firmer stance towards this set than its Harry Potter theme, although the outcome of the review remains to be seen. 76980 Titan could yet go on sale – or it could simply be cancelled altogether.
If you’d like to direct your LEGO budget towards a more worthwhile cause in lieu of buying any future Overwatch sets that may or may not eventually arrive on shelves – including 76980 Titan – consider donating to charities specialising in women’s rights, such as EqualityNow or TIME’S UP, which is geared specifically towards creating ‘a society free of gender-based discrimination in the workplace and beyond’.