What is the 'Cosby Suite'? Activision Blizzard's 'frat-boy culture' exposed in shocking lawsuit
Activision Blizzard, an American video game holding company based in Santa Monica, California, that has produced games like 'Call of Duty' to 'Overwatch' was sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for widespread harassment of women. According to the lawsuit, the company harbors a 'frat boy' culture, which has led to years of harassment and abuse targetting women in the company. Many male developers of the company responded to the allegations with 'shock' and 'dismay'.
'World of Warcraft' developer, Alex Afrasiabi, along with Activision Blizzard's president, J Allen Brack were named in the lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing on July 20. Reportedly the lawsuit is the result of a two-year investigation into the company by the Department.
A 'Cosby Suite' was mentioned in the lawsuit that was apparently a code name for Afrasiabi’s BlizzCon 2013 hotel room with an evident reference to the name of previously convicted rapist Bill Cosby. The complaint read, "During a company event (an annual convention called Blizz Con [sic]) Afrasiabi would hit on female employees, telling him [sic] he wanted to marry them, attempting to kiss them, and putting his arms around them. This was in plain view of other male employees, including supervisors, who had to intervene and pull him off female employees. Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the ‘Cosby Suite’ after alleged rapist Bill Cosby."
What is the 'Cosby Suite'?
According to images, posts and comments on Afrasiabi Facebook, obtained by Kotaku, the 'Cosby Suite' was more than just a nickname. It was reportedly a booze-filled meeting place where many, including Afrasiabi, posed with a portrait of Bill Cosby. It was also a junction for informal networking at BlizzCon, where people would meet and hang out with some of the top designers of the company. Although Afrasiabi deleted most of his social media presence, the captions and comments on some of the pictures suggested they were taken during gatherings held for BlizzCon in 2013, in a hotel room that was repeatedly referred to as the 'Cosby Suite' in comments. The captions and comments both were written by and referred by name to other Blizzard employees and many of them were sexual in nature. "It was such a boys club that creating something like the ‘Cosby Suite’ was seen as funny, " one source told Kotaku.
One of the said pictures showed a screenshot of a 2013 group chat called the 'BlizzCon Cosby Crew'. In it, former Blizzard designer David Kosak wrote, “I am gathering the hot chixx for the Coz.” To which, Afrasiabi replied, "Bring em." "You can’t marry ALL of them Alex (Afrasiabi),” Kosak wrote. “I can, I’m middle eastern,” responded Afrasiabi. A lead game designer at Blizzard, Jesse McCree then wrote, “You misspelled f**k.”
An image from the room showed a woman sitting on a bed in the room whilst holding a portrait of Cosby with another woman holding someone else's breast. Male colleagues were seen cheering on the action, calling it "Coz Approved," which sources say is indicative of Afrasiabi's alleged "predatory behavior."
A source told the site that when the suite began, its connotation was in relation to Cosby's "ugly sweaters" and not the rape allegations against him in 2013, but that later it transformed into a focus on more sexualized context. Another said that aesthetically speaking, it was also a jab at an "ugly boardroom back at Blizzard's main office" with outdated designs; like Cosby's sweater. Kotaku notes that this explanation doesn't quite line up with the images presented, where the walls were bare and without design.
Afrasiabi left the company sometime last year, without an official announcement. When asked about the 'Cosby Suite' images and allegations against Afrasiabi, a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard told Kotaku, "An employee brought these 2013 events to our attention in June 2020. We immediately conducted our own investigation and took corrective action. At the time of the report, we had already conducted a separate investigation of Alex Afrasiabi and terminated him for his misconduct in his treatment of other employees."