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Silent in Public, Riot, Sony and Activision among Games Companies Reacting to Roe v. Wade Reversal

More than 18 games companies have reacted to the SCOTUS decision, many offering new employee assistance.

Since Friday’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, gaming companies are responding, largely in support of their employees and abortion rights.

Thirteen states hold trigger laws that will ban or significantly restrict access to abortion with Roe gone. Several have already taken those steps, including Kentucky, Louisiana and Missouri, which banned the procedure entirely, regardless of the number of weeks of gestation or whether a patient had been raped or a victim of incest. It’s expected that 26 states total, more than half the country, will implement laws outlawing or restricting abortion.

Since Texas—a state where many game developers, including Activision Blizzard, Microsoft and Devolver Digital, hold offices—enacted its Heartbeat Act (SB 8) in September, game developers have been gearing for what many felt would be the inevitable overturning of Roe

Now, with that suspicion confirmed, more than 17 major game developers and publishers and games streaming platform Twitch issued statements of solidarity internally or externally, with some enacting new policies to allow for travel for abortion care.

Among them are Activision Blizzard, Microsoft, Riot Games, Sony, Electronic Arts, Bungie, Devolver Digital, Ubisoft, Niantic and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, who collectively publish some of the most successful game titles in any given year.

Bungie previously issued a lengthy essay supporting abortion rights, in lieu of the draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, which leaked to Politico in May. On Friday, Niantic signed the “Don’t Ban Equality” letter, which made public commitments, including a pro-choice position, alongside the likes of Lululemon, Vox Media and Match Group. Many of the others have issued public statements of support.

Yet Sony, Activision Blizzard and Riot Games have remained silent across their social media channels, enraging some employees. 

Riot producer Jenny Huls tweeted snippets of a statement issued internally on Friday by Riot’s top human resources executive, Emily Winkle, that included the company offering travel reimbursement for employees seeking an abortion out of state. 

“At the highest level, we want you to know that we're committed to providing women's reproductive healthcare coverage and resources to any Rioter who needs it,” Winkle’s email, obtained in full by The Jacob Wolf Report, reads. “We want all Rioters to have access to the medical care they need, and if a Rioter lives in a state impacted by this ruling and feels unsafe, we want to help. We'll provide additional support, which could include out-of-state travel costs and potential relocation services.”

But many Riot employees became frustrated that the company did not issue a public statement on the positions shared in Winkle’s email.

Separately, Sony confirmed to Puck’s Matt Belloni that it would also provide travel support for employees, but did not make a public statement. Many of its development studios—including “The Last of Us” creator Naughty Dog, “Spider-Man” developer Insomniac, “Ghost of Tsushima” creator Sucker Punch and “God of War” developer Santa Monica Studio—each issued what read like similar predrafted statements in solidarity with those seeking abortions. Like their parent company, many of these studios are apparently offering travel support for employees seeking abortion elsewhere.

PlayStation’s top exec Jim Ryan issued a statement to employees on May 12 calling for internal political neutrality in wake of the leaked draft of SCOTUS’s then-pending decision. 

“We owe it to each other and to PlayStation’s millions of users to respect differences of opinion among everyone in our internal and external communities,” Ryan wrote in the email, according to Bloomberg, which reviewed a copy. “Respect does not equal agreement. But it is fundamental to who we are as a company and as a valued global brand.” 

Activision Blizzard also issued a statement via the media, telling GameSpot that in early June it instituted new policies for employees covered by its healthcare plans to allow for travel accommodations for those seeking abortion services in another state. It issued a similar memo internally, employees told The Jacob Wolf Report, on Friday, but did not make a statement on any of its platforms. That has made many employees uneasy.

“I’ll assume this tweet holds some answers for both our companies,” Kali Goss, a senior FX artist at Blizzard, tweeted, linking a Friday story from The Jacob Wolf Report about Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s donations to Senator Todd Young (R-IN). Young is notably anti-abortion.

“Over the past five years, Mr. Kotick has contributed roughly the same amount to Democrats and Republicans, including pro-choice elected officials such as Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer,” Kotick’s public relations representative Mark Herr wrote in a statement to The Jacob Wolf Report on Tuesday. 

One More Thing: California Awards Scholastic Esports License to NASEF, Another Blow to PlayVS’s Crumbling Power

The California Interscholastic Federation signed a three-year deal with non-profit North America Scholastic Esports Federation, making the latter effectively the preferred provider of scholastic esports competitions in the Golden State. 

It’s yet another massive hit to PlayVS, the $400-million startup accused by former employees of misleading partners and allegedly threatening local non-profits running scholastic esports competitions. And it comes just a few weeks after Riot Games, an investor in PlayVS, effectively ended the company’s exclusive license to “League of Legends” by further allowing PlayVS competitors to apply for similar access. A PlayVS spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

For those new to this story, The Jacob Wolf Report reported in April that seven former employees allege that PlayVS knowingly provided false player count data to Epic Games, from whom it once held an exclusive license for “Fortnite” scholastic esports. The company denies those allegations.

PlayVS is also the subject of ongoing litigation by a former employee, quality assurance analyst Rachel Waynick, who is suing the company for alleged wrongful termination related to her pregnancy. Proceedings for that case are expected to continue next month in Los Angeles.

In April, The Washington Post published a story outlining PlayVS’s relationships with its competitors, including small non-profits that run scholastic esports in various parts of the U.S. In the piece, PlayVS CEO Delane Parnell claimed he was unaware of cease-and-desist emails sent by his company to these competitors. Shortly after the story ran in the Post with Parnell’s comments, Washington State Scholastic Esports Association executive director Jason Dilley shared a screenshot of a cease-and-desist email personally authored by Parnell. 

Elsewhere in Gaming and Esports

🎮 “Envy Gaming retires its esports brand, becomes OpTic Gaming” (Sean Collins / The Dallas Morning News)

One of esports’ oldest brands is no more, as Envy completes the final step in its merger with OpTic. The two longtime rivals first merged last fall, amid OpTic’s CEO Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez and the team’s exit from NRG Esports and subsequent sale of the Chicago Call of Duty League slot. Now, the Greenwall has taken over.

I’m a sucker for true crime stories and this latest feature from Vanity Fair is no different. Follow along as Heckert documents the story of Trade-N-Games, a Missouri-based video game shop subject to a 2019 break-in that resulted in the loss of potentially millions of dollars worth of games.