Real Reason why I left Blizzard Entertainment: Racial Abuse and Discrimination
I’ve written this retelling several times—too many that we’ve lost tracked—when I was reaching out to attorneys and later the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
During my employment at Blizzard Entertainment in the Blizzard Esports Team supporting Hearthstone and the Hearthstone Championship Tour, I was the victim of racial abuse and discrimination during April-December 2016 until I was transferred to the Blizzard Esports Business Operations Team.
I write this, not only, to finally get closure, but to tell my story as a minority who was abused and later failed by leadership.
I joined the Hearthstone Esports Team as a Temporary Assignment (TA) February 2016. During this time I would handle all day to day operations (tournament, inbox, points, events, etc.) for the Hearthstone Championship Tour. My team was comprised of Trevor Housten, Drew Higbee, and Gemma Barreda—Trevor would transition to Overwatch on a fulltime basis and this is when it all started going wrong as the team was left rudderless and without a leader.
I worked tirelessly on the Esports program, growing the Tour by 3x—400+ weekly cups—and at the end of the year the program would’ve hosted 1300+ weekly cups dispensing thousands of points to HCT hopefuls . . . my time interacting with the Hearthstone community would be the highlight of my tenure.
It wasn’t uncommon for me to stay into the early hours of the morning—2-3:00 A.M.—to get points done since we were always late . . . we always ran tournaments to the last hour and it was very manual work.
During the months of February-April things went well, but working the hours and making QA pay—far lower than what I would later made—made it so that it took its toll. I kept powering through.
Finally, I would get my chance to join the team, as I applied to the Hearthstone Esports team for the fulltime position and after interviewing all the candidates, Drew and Trevor happy with my work, I would stay fulltime. Trevor was transitioning to the Overwatch Team, and I felt a responsibility to stay by my friend and now manager Drew Higbee instead of going with, perhaps, the greatest person I’ve had the pleasure to work with, Trevor Housten.
When I was hired fulltime that’s when the mood in my team changed . . . we were no longer a unit, but two people—Drew and Gemma Barreda-Mirkovic—and me.
Meetings, calls, and important components of the Tour would be a secret to me and only a task to execute when things were due or on fire, and I felt more like an outsider. At first, I thought it was normal since I was still new, but having taken a lot of work—Hearthstone, business operations, and whatever little I could help Trevor with (I was still supporting him until he got his hires)—made it so that I didn’t notice much or care.
It all changed when Gemma would joke about my sexism, or natural inclination to be sexist, due to my heritage: having been born Mexican and raised in Mexico, Gemma would experience “Mexican culture” as an exchange student . . . The assumption then became that I was just like everyone else, and that my attitudes, beliefs were that of a Mexican machista (male chauvinist). I didn’t make much of this since she said it “in jest” but this would weigh on me, and I would later confide in my Mrs.
I came to Orange County, specifically; Blizzard Entertainment after my Mrs. Brissia Jimenez accepted a role at Blizzard Entertainment. I would thankfully join her in November 2013, Game Master, Customer Support Team. I had uprooted my life in San Diego, CA for her and I would do it all again. I knew that Blizzard was her dream job so she took the plunge and I followed . . . A machista putting his significant other’s career in front of his life.
The “jokes” regarding my “machismo” and me being Mexican, would only become more frequent, and finally culminate in the events that started my descent into literal madness. I was diagnosed with major depression and would later develop anxiety (getting weekly anxiety attacks, then panic attacks), nervous breakdowns (one of which I almost took my life), and finally suicidal thoughts (I had measured the amount of rope I would need, the knot, and the place of where I was going to do it in Christmas).
The bullpen was Gemma Barreda, Drew Higbee, and me. During the months of May-July 2016 the frequency and vitriol in the “jokes” about my machismo would intensify, bringing these concerns to my friend and manager Drew and then later my personnel manager, Jeramy Mcintyre. At the time, the structure was set up so that my HR, life concerns would be handled by Jeramy while Drew managed me on the product side. When I approached Drew I was told that I was being moody, and that nobody knew how to approach me in the bullpen. When I told him what was happening I was told to not pay attention and that he would take care of it. That wouldn’t be the case and the racial attacks continued.
During a heated debate over the etymology of male derived words that Gemma and Drew were having in the middle of the work day, I decided to weigh-in, since I was in the midst of completing my B.A. in English Writing from UCDenver’s online program. What would happen next would be a scene out of the twilight zone as Gemma would then single me out direct her ire towards me . . . I only posited the question, into what would you change terms like corpsman, yeoman, and other military or official terms. This was a terrible mistake as I was then called out for being sexist because I was Mexican—mind you, Gemma and I had a great relationship at the start since we spoke Spanish to each other, but she would then use Spanish to remind me of being Mexican, and therefore sexist.
My embarrassment, however, would not end there. Kim Phan, Director of Esports, would walk into the bullpen—we had an emergency exit most people used to access that building—and Gemma would immediately stop Kim and reel her into the conversation.
Gemma in joy, raved that Kim was there, and she would see things her way. When she went on to discuss what the conversation was, and how these guys, pointing at me with her gesture were taking a “sexist stance” and that they (the girls) should stick together. Gemma went to tell her the conversation, omitting that this was Drew and her, but I was simply trying to not take a side and move on since the conversation was not workplace appropriate. Instead, she used that time and platform to launch her tirade against me, singling me out, and then insinuating that I was sexist . . . this would destroy me inside because I was furthest from this truth and she was telling this to our Director!
I was livid! I reached out to Drew, asked him for a meeting, and we drove to a Wendy’s drive-thru so he could eat and we could talk peacefully. I told him about why I joined Blizzard, why Gemma was attacking me, and why I had become the team’s punching bag for any general grievance in the team. By this time, I was being ignored of all meetings, changes to the Tour, and anything of relevance to my daily job of running operations for the HCT . . . not like I need to know or be in the conversation of any changes to the program I approved hundreds of events, to the players or organizers I was in daily contact, or the thousands of points I would have to oversee to ensure that players were able to fulfill their Esports dream. No, I was simply a person that sat in a computer in front of excel and outlook for hours and somehow events and players appeared.
Drew assured me that he would talk with her, that she was going through life things, and that things would get better once we got more headcount and my workload reduced—I was still working stupid hours to get things done regularly and my health under the pressure of having to deal with Gemma started to nosedive. My doctor visits intensified, with my doctor noting the sharp decline in my health, and this latest attack in front of Kim would lead me to my first ever panic attack—after dinner with my Mrs. I passed out the minute we got home, like a bad episode of Tony Soprano, and I woke up not knowing what had happened or where I was. I would go to the doctor and he would explain to me that this is anxiety and that I was now going through panic attacks . . . I guess I was lucky that it happened at home and not somewhere else or worse. My doctor would then go on an prescribe me Lorazepam and something stronger—can’t recall the name—but to take as needed in the event of an anxiety or panic attack. I ended up taking the as needed daily because of the stress and pressure of being in that environment. Because of this environment I would develop PTSD by August and now concerns were being raised by me almost weekly. Nothing was done.
During August 2016 we would be invited to Amy and Mike Morhaimes house as part of a thank you dinner with the Hearthstone Esports Team and executives of Team 5 (Hearthstone) and I would be unable to attend because I was out two days after yet another panic attack and subsequent doctor’s visit. I had a doctor’s note written, and a higher dosage provided so that I could cope with the stress but my Doctor was alarmed that my health had deteriorated so fast.
The relationship was frosty across the Hearthstone Team and when our latest member of the Hearthstone Esports Team, Brian Carl joined us, I knew that I was personally being ostracized and attacked. I was left out of key meetings to the program I was working on daily, and not given important tasks to the program I was working on till the last minute. My long work hours continued, working BlizzCon hours (80-100 hour work weeks), on a non-BlizzCon week at least once a month. By this time, I was getting anxiety attacks at work, and under three different meds—I had never had more than one prescription and it was mostly for 1-3 months at a time max!
Finally, in October 2016 I had decided to leave the team, and started applying across the entire company to leave. The Blizzard Esports Team wouldn’t get an HR manager until October 2016 and during the 5-6 months prior we navigated with non-existent HR personnel—they introduced themselves once but I didn’t know where to find them or reach them at campus.
The Hearthstone Championship Tour would go on to have its greatest season ever, and during Opening Week 2016—the prelude to BlizzCon 2016—I was approached by Kim Phan during our broadcast of the HCT at our studio in Torrance. Kim had received the notification that I was looking to leave Esports, and I was told that leadership was coming since neither Drew nor Gemma was apt or capable of leading the team. She would recommend I wait to meet Che Chu, Hearthstone Esports lead, they had recently hired before I left.
I met Che during BlizzCon for the first time, and would have lunch with him before Thanksgiving break. I explained to him the team dynamic—omitting my situation because I didn’t know him—and what I wanted to see. He didn’t listen to a single word I said. Che had made up his mind about how the team would be operated and any feedback I had was falling on deaf ears. Afterwards, I would not say much, but nod. And from that point on any professional relationship Che and I could’ve had went out the window; instead, I would intensify my job search.
After this conversation, Gemma then scheduled a meeting with me, so we can go over my new role and how she would be managing my workload. I received the meeting invite and what happened during that meeting would send me on a spiral.
Gemma booked the meeting room next to Kim Phan’s office, the walls were paper thin, and I took the furthest seat from her. She revealed to me that going forward she would be responsible for handling my work, not Drew, and that all tasks needed to be done a certain way and I had to provide her with detailed breakdowns of what I was doing. This was news to me and I simply said, “This is news to me…” realizing that I had said what I thought—she pounced and started to scream at me.
“I don’t know what your problem is with me!” A screaming Gemma would start as she launched her tirade at me, calling into question me, and how I was “questioning her, her authority” because she was a woman. I was stunned because I was just finding out news that I had dreaded to find out: that she would be responsible for my job while she despised me.
I went into my chair and clammed up, fearing that things would escalate, that I would be fired since she was one of Kim’s best friend’s, and that Kim was listening to this next door. I felt little, I felt worthless, and I simply stated, “I’m just finding this out and I just said what came into my mind…” Realizing that I was clearly stunned, aghast, and fearing for my job she reeled it back in. She tried to compose herself, but the damage was done and I didn’t know what to do.
After the meeting I asked Ohm, another manager in the Esports Team, to join me for a smoke. I would tell him what happened and he advised me to reach out to Paul Gemmell, HR Manager, and the lighthouse I needed to find some sense of direction after now 7 months of riding storms.
I confided in Paul everything that happened that day, and, foolishly, not telling him about my brushes with her discrimination—I was ashamed, and I was just a shell of the man that walked into those doors…I thought about suicide every day, and I felt lonelier than ever. I didn’t want to say what had happened, maybe because I feared for my job, I feared that Gemma being friends with Kim would still get me fired, I feared that I had maybe imagined this, but my Mrs. would reaffirm to me much later that I was in fact constantly discriminated against. That same day, I would go home, having another panic attack and miss two more days of work.
For anyone not having had a panic attack, it’s like having a heart attack at first, then a surge of emotions—vitriol, sadness, impotence, anger—and in my case: an outpour of crying, anger, and my heart feeling like it was bursting repeatedly, like someone driving an icepick into your chest plate, and uncontrollable feelings of despair.
I thought having reached out to Paul things would change, but Gemma wasn’t done bullying me and harassing me. She would do it again in December 2016. I would report the issue and meetings ensued to try and iron these issues out. At this point, I was getting anxiety attacks at work almost daily, I had a panic attack at work, in Paul’s office during a one-on-one, and I ran out the building in tears, covering my face in shame, as I left Esports behind and headed to the trail—Blizzard has a walking trail people would use—and I broke down just outside my office. I came in several minutes later (30-40) and I apologized to Paul, asked him if I could leave, and continued to sob—some member of my team would see me adding to my shame.
Paul would suggest I seek the guidance counselor at Blizzard, and I followed suit. I reached out believing I was the problem and after three visits I started seeking counseling. I still believed I was the problem and I would be in therapy for the next year.
When I visited my Doctor it was decided that I would be placed on a medical leave of absence. My health was deteriorating at a startling rate—medically documented—and I posed a suicide risk: my Mrs. already had instructions of me to commit me if my conditioned worsened or I grew mad to the point I couldn’t be cared for by her.
When I told this to Che during a walk, he would tell me that they would have to find a replacement for me—not what you want to hear—but it is illegal if it is within 90 days to find a replacement: my job needed to be there when I returned after my medical leave. This would prompt another anxiety attack, “clarification”, and an apology because this leave was work related.
I went on Medical Leave of Absence—not uncommon at Blizzard—from February-May 2017. Upon my return I was transferred to Blizzard Esports, Business Operations, and at first it felt like I would be able to make a recovery.
I would be mistaken as Kim’s demeanor towards me went from “you’re indispensable” and look after Gizmo, her puppy and my companion during most days while I was alone at my bullpen, to borderline hostile. During a Hearthstone meeting, boasting about 2016’s successes, which I was “instrumental” I was wholly omitted from the team’s accomplishments. And I’ll never forget her face, that death stare, and my omission of what Hearthstone accomplished even though I was “the ops guy”. Instead, the credit went to everyone, and the praise went to others, including promotions to Drew and Gemma.
I wouldn’t get my end of year review until August 2017, after chasing my review for months, and playing a cat and mouse game with my former manager Jeramy. I would receive my lowest performance ever! In the five years at Blizzard I was always a highly reviewed employee and this time I was not. I was labeled “difficult to work with” and “not a team player” despite doing things outside of my JD—too many to count—and I would stay into the early hours of the morning to come back the next day at 10-10:30 and receive cracks from Gemma for coming late.
In my review, a lot of my work, achievements, overall quality of life improvements in the department would be omitted, and my now manager Cara LaForge would see how livid I was. Esports would never be the same, and my job search continued internally and externally. I knew that if I stayed in Blizzard Esports I wouldn’t be promoted despite my quality of work, and that I had to move on.
My health would never recover during my time at Blizzard. Business Operations was constantly underwater, the pressure was too much, and I always felt like I had a target on my back.
My doctor visits would occur once a month, my psychologist would see me weekly, and my psychiatrist monthly or as needed. I had 4 different prescriptions, and I would later develop gastro intestinal issues that led me to the ER. I had developed several stomach issues in my time at Blizzard Esports and after the ER visit in August 2017, I felt dejected, and lost because now my body was failing me.
My mental health began regressing, and before I knew it I had a full relapse. I was ordering lunch, and a chain of emails would spark a nervous breakdown while I was driving. I will never forget that day . . .
I was at the S’wich bistro, I placed my order, and I was already growing increasingly frustrated with things happening in our department. I recall seeing emails, and one in particular “jules you messed up” from my manager. I lost it. I had made sure everything was done meticulously but I had fucked up . . . I lost it. I got in my car and I started driving, I realized I was having a panic attack, and I headed for home—I lived 3-4 miles from Campus—and I didn’t care if I was going to be fired because I had so much medical history that it would almost be a blessing. I started laughing while I wept, cackling, and then I lost it. I was driving down Sand Canyon, and then gave it the beans barreling 80-90 miles an hour. On the way towards the WoodBury area there were always dump trucks headed towards the mountains, and I maneuvered my car so that it could hit the 18-wheeler head on, seat unbuckled, and suddenly I got out. The gap that I was going to use to ram myself head on was the gap to enter the 5 north freeway—I’ll never forget—and I got back on my side of Sand Canyon and drove home. I don’t know what made me get back into my lane, but I somehow made it home. I texted my Mrs. and she would pick me up from the car, I was pale, white like a paper and I’m brown, and I was in tears. She walked me upstairs, like an invalid, like a 90 year old person, and I wept. I remember I wept for almost two hours. My Mrs. didn’t know what to do but just try and console me. I would be out a week, I had already given new instructions to institutionalize me, and had conveyed this to my doctors.
After that incident I would be monitored more, making sure that I didn’t endanger myself, or try to, and it would culminate in a new nervous breakdown at work.
October 2017 I would get a nervous breakdown at work. Maybe the stress of work in preparation for BlizzCon or the stress that I was a skip and a hop away from losing my job led me to that point. I blacked out. I had gotten a panic attack and went on the trail to walk and get air. I texted my Mrs. and she came to me, finding me on the side of the trail in tears, and trying to overcome this panic attack hoping it didn’t become another nervous breakdown. Paul and Cara insisted I come inside, into their office, and talk to them but on my way there I would black out. My Mrs. said I was screaming, “I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, please, don’t take me in there, I don’t want to go” screaming like if I was begging for my life, and Bri told me she screamed at Paul, “GTFO inside, can’t you see you’re triggering him.” I kept screaming and trying not to walk closer towards their office. This happened with people in the office, but thankfully BlizzCon preparation had half the office out of campus. I finally came to when I was outside and both my Mrs. and Cara kept trying to comfort me while I sobbed. I would go back to work that same day because we needed to get things done in preparation for BlizzCon . . . that would be my last one.
During November I would have another nervous breakdown at work, this time, they sent me home and activated a leave on my behalf. I was clearly becoming a liability and they would look for a new team outside of Esports since it wouldn’t get better.
During December 2017 I reached out to the EEOC, hoping to get a resolution should Blizzard fail, and that’s when I realized of the statute of limitations regarding my racial discrimination and abuse. I didn’t have much to go by and my case would be dismissed . . .
It was this December I figured it was time to end my life. My Mrs. had plans to visit her ailing grandmother in Mexicali and I would be left alone during the holidays. I was going to kill myself December 24th 2017. I had measured the rope—I needed several loops around the pillar on the outside of my 3rd floor apartment to account for weight—and the pillar I would use to support my frame. I think my Mrs. sensed when she was leaving that this would be goodbye, she wouldn’t come to see a dead body, since I would be in plain view of my apartments because I couldn’t do that to her . . . I couldn’t have her find my body. So, I was going to do it alone with my girls (Idonis and Ili, my cats), and say farewell. Bri stayed and I stayed because she was there for me.
I would not return from this leave of absence, and on February 2018 I handed my resignation after being placed on a new unpaid leave of absence while they “found me a home”. Nothing was done during my initial leave and I was left to the wind.
I write this today because the Soldier 76 announcement and subsequent tweets I did triggered me. The reason why it triggered me wasn’t the message, but who it was coming from: Blizzard Entertainment. The idea of inclusion, of representation, and “every voice matters” and “think globally” never meant that for me and other people of color I have spoken to. Because up until recently—in the last 2 years—has the community had some representation and initiatives. But are we really represented?
My Mrs. dealt with her own discrimination—that’s her story—and other current and former alumni have confessed similar or worse treatment and nothing being done.
This is my closure. Most people didn’t know why I departed Blizzard Entertainment, but I couldn’t stand idly while others didn’t have the slightest clue why my vitriol towards a company I truly loved and that I poured everything to only be shown the backdoor. I had filed the federal complaint, this is public knowledge, and nobody can tell me I cannot share what happened to me personally!
Few people know what it’s like to believe that the only way out is suicide, and that no matter what it’s the only option.
I’ll never forget Jill’s face when she saw in my eyes that I wanted to die. I confessed to her and Paul that I was thinking about doing it. I’ll never forget Paul asking me alone, if I had plans on harming myself, and I told him, “I couldn’t do that to Bri.” But I knew that she was the only one that kept me on this plain.
Nobody will ever understand the anger I feel towards Blizzard Entertainment because they drove me to almost take my life countless of times. I’ll never forget Noni (Idonis’) face when I was saying my goodbye to her as I was going to go into the tub to slice my wrist. I couldn’t do it when I saw her face, it’s as if she knew, and Bri would instead find me unconscious after taking several pills. Nobody will ever understand, but at least whoever reads this will know.
This is my closure.