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Ex-Community Manager Nevalistis Talks About Her Experience at Blizzard

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Former Blizzard Community Manager Brandy Camel, who also goes by the nickname Nevalistis, talked on her blog about her time at Blizzard and the memorable BlizzCon when Diablo Immortal was revealed.

Highlights

  • Nevalistis said she was only promoted twice in her 6.5-year tenure in the community, and both times by her managers as they were leaving the team.
  • The Diablo Immortal pushback was something that took a personal toll on her.
  • Activision didn't want to "give up the surprise" that Diablo IV was being worked on. Eventually, they released a video, which "wasn't sufficient", and spokespeople like herself and the Immortal team were "hung out to dry" at BlizzCon.
  • Nevalistis wanted to become a member of the Diablo team, but her application was refused. Ultimately, she decided to leave Blizzard for Dungeons & Dragons - Wizards.
  • After leaving Blizzard, Brandy “realized how underpaid she was”.

Here are a few excerpts from her personal blog. You can read the full post about her experience at Blizzard here.

Diablo Immortal Announcement

The Diablo Immortal pushback was something that took a very deep, very personal toll on me. 

Some of you may remember the Future of Diablo video we released just prior to the Immortal announcement. I pitched and championed this video as well as wrote the original script, because I was extremely in tune with the community and confident as to what the reception would be. Every step of the way, this approach was questioned. Every step of the way, the script was changed until it was unrecognizable, because leadership (particularly Activision and their obsession with investors) did not want to "give up the surprise" that Diablo IV was being worked on. Nevermind the fact there were plenty of clues this was already the case, like "unannounced Diablo title" job listings on our website. Eventually, we landed on the video that went out, which just wasn't sufficient, and spokespeople like myself and the Immortal team were hung out to dry at BlizzCon. 

I can't speak for the experience of others, but in regards to myself - I went to therapy specifically from that BlizzCon experience. I handled the Q&A line that year. I was crowded and ganged up on by angry and upset fans. Security was not there to help me; I was on my own. Developers were able to exit safely via backstage; I was vulnerable on the show floor, amidst the crowd of attendees. I knew this reaction was coming and I deeply empathized with them, but still I hoped for the best and tried to be available to a very hurt and frustrated community. Instead, I was still harassed until I called in friends to escort me from the show floor. 

I retreated to our community HQ behind the scenes (a room where we work on all our social media for the show and can take breaks from the show floor) and cried for at least an hour. Then, I put myself back together, and walked out on the show floor to keep dealing with the same vitriol the rest of the weekend because that was my job. I needed to put on a smile and be there for the fans. 

There was no support for this entire situation. Nothing from HR. No benefits to call on. Nothing from leadership except "don't listen to the haters." I asked; there was no ownership of the fact we were made targets and then left to be harassed constantly. Immortal is legitimately a good game, and something the team working on it is extremely passionate about. They want to change the landscape of mobile gaming and show you can have an amazing, engaging experience in that space, and I still feel they're succeeding. It was agonizing for that game, myself, and its team to be the punching bag of not just the community, but much of the rest of the company. Immortal became the scapegoat for a year we just shouldn't have had a BlizzCon, because there honestly just wasn't enough that was ready to announce. All of us that suffered for that, men and women alike, were just expected to keep on as though nothing had happened.

Pay at Blizzard

After leaving Blizzard, I realized how wildly underpaid I was. I had always suspected it to be the case, watching male peers in similar roles be able to purchase houses in Southern California on what should be the same salary while I actively accumulated further debt in a 3-person rental in order to survive my day to day. For many, surviving at Blizzard required either an extremely long commute (think roughly 2 hours in traffic one-way) for affordable housing or sharing a rental with multiple roommates. Most are wildly underpaid at Blizzard, but women in particular cannot survive on their salary or even begin to think about having children in that environment. It was a major component in the discussion with my now-husband as to why we never wanted kids (though ultimately we also decided it wasn't for us). My profession simply didn't pay enough to take care of myself, let alone another human being.  

Management & Progression Issues

After spending a lot of time in therapy reconciling the feelings of dismissal in my profession and as a person, I came to the determination that while I still wanted to work on Diablo, it was clear community (or at least, Blizzard's evolution of community) was not the right place for me to do so, especially as I had exhausted my personal path for progression without becoming a people manager. 

Let's talk about management as progression for a moment. Despite the fact I had been doing it in all the stints our team didn't have a manager, I had convinced myself I didn't want to become a manager. I was a creative. I was meant to be doing the meaningful work on the ground floor. In retrospect, I realize I had watched too many managers (sometimes, but not always, my own) be totally useless yes-men, and it's not that I didn't want to help my team succeed; it's that I thought I was already doing that by not being management in the first place. 

I began trying to explore other avenues to get onto Team 3; I had, for many years, expressed interest in eventually writing for Diablo. It's part of why I wrote a lot of community blogs aimed at lore; it let me network with designers, immerse myself in the canon, and remain a knowledgeable and credible source with the community. Several members of Team 3 whom I had grown close to over the years reinforced this was a good opportunity for me. "You'd be perfect for that!" "We could really use someone with your comprehensive knowledge!" "It'd be so great to have someone who really knows our audience!"

So I began trying. I applied for every opportunity that came up. I laid the groundwork with my management to pursue training and learning opportunities that would improve my chances. I asked for references and referrals. My first application, I received an immediate rejection. Not a "we've reviewed your application and we're not moving forward." Like, minutes after hitting submit, I received a rejection email. That was weird, especially given that in this instance I was asked to apply, so I pushed the issue, and eventually, got a single interview. 

When you're internally interviewed for a interdepartmental position, part of Blizzard's "Learn & Grow" philosophy is that you're supposed to receive action items on where you need to improve to try again. I never received this either; I had to, once again, push to ask why I didn't make the cut and how I could improve my chances. I was told I needed to provide an example that I could "use development tools to meaningfully implement narrative elements" and show that I could "learn any tool provided." 

Blizzard mostly uses internally built software for developing their games, so asking me for knowledge in a specific style of coding or with a particular software would have been pointless. So, I took that action - I built a roughly 15 minute experience in RPG Maker that was fully playable. I implemented narrative elements like voice over, music, sound effects, portaits, dialogue and storytelling through quest progress from scratch. This was entirely self-taught. I also heavily documented all the changes I made throughout my process, including bug logs, to show that I could document my work properly.

I also got approval from my management to participate in one of Team 3's game jams (usually a 24-48 hour sprint to make something; this could be anything from a minor piece of code to an entire game mode or proof of concept, and you could work in a team if you wanted). I self-taught myself use of their very not user-friendly proprietary tool to implement a small piece of code that the game otherwise didn't have, working in a small team of 3-4 people. My role was programming and implementation. The peers I reached out to and my teammates were happy to help me learn and guide me along the way. I had never done anything like this, and it worked really well! I was very proud of the work we did in just a couple short days. We showed it off to the whole team to pretty tepid reception. Sure, it wasn't fancy or flashy; but it did exactly what we were trying to do.

The next application I put in, I included all of this—and received another immediate rejection and no further follow-up. That was the day I gave up; they didn't want me, or what I could do. That was now very clear. No amount of work I was going to put in would change that, so why keep trying? 

When the opportunity I ultimately took to leave came up, I was very transparent about the offer, my frustrations, and what it would take for me to stay. The pay disparity at the new offer was 18% higher than my pay at the time, and I knew it was what I was worth. I told Blizzard that if they could match the offer, I would stay. The response was, "You should leave." That was, ultimately, a kindness (and honestly, the right advice). But it's a complicated feeling to be told what you aren't worth by a place where you've invested nearly a decade of your career.

There are many, many more stories I know I have repressed in order to simply try to move on and enjoy my work at my new place of employment. Anything I've put above is memorable enough to me that I'm confident to speak on it. 
 
Ultimately, I left Blizzard because I hit a point in my career where I knew I could no longer progress. 
  • I "wasn't ready for management" despite having been forced to manage my team previously due to frequent restructures and a constant revolving door of managers. 
  • When I had finally given up trying to explore other paths and "bite the bullet" to become a manager, I wasn't even considered. Blizzard instead hired another man externally to take over the team, someone I was also responsible for interviewing. This happened at least twice, that I can recall.
  • I regret putting myself in the position of "I don't want to be a manager" because I was told, so often by so many, that it was something I couldn't or shouldn't do. 
  • It should not have taken six years for me to drop "associate" from my title. 
  • I should not have felt like I needed to flee to another department to be happy, the efforts of which were also shut down with zero feedback on my applications. 
  • There was no way to make me happy in my role, because toxicity, particularly amongst the development teams, made my role often feel pointless. 
The designers and programmers and artists whom I were (and still am) friends with all felt similarly fearful or frustrated that they couldn't do anything about it. I know, so very well, that we were not alone; just powerless. 
 
There's a separate, yet related underlying issue to the misogyny at play here, and this is the best name I have for it: Developer Ego. Community Managers are supposed to be the lifeline to how your fans are feeling. We already get discredited for being "too emotional" about the game as community managers; it just gets amplified when you're a woman. I was tired of being unheard and disrespected, or having to willfully ignore the community I was dedicated to helping in order to toe around sensitive dev egos. 
 
That lack of humility plays a huge part in these issues. No one above you can ever be wrong. There was no room for ever making an apology even when a mistake had clearly been made, no matter how egregious. That is a toxic and unrealistic environment for everyone. 
 
I also want to reiterate: This isn't just a Blizzard problem. This is an industry problem. These issues aren't unique to Blizzard, and my peers across the industry all commiserate on the same experiences. This is especially true when it comes to dismissiveness around community, influencer, and social media management. Let's be clear - these are three different disciplines that require different skillsets, but often are expected to be done by the same person. It'd be like expecting your localization writer, copy editor, and narrative designer to be one person. Sure, they all work with words, but they don't do the same job.
 
I have very complex feelings about Blizzard. I'm the experienced, successful community manager I am today because of the work I did there. Seeing nearly a decade of work at Blizzard is something I'm certain still draws eyes to my resume. You get a piece of that Blizzard success by having worked there, and in exchange, they can treat you however they want. I have some particularly weird feelings about being the poster child for reinforcing the phrase "You will bleed Blizzard Blue for the rest of your life," because it's true—it really does become an inseparable part of you. It's indoctrination and pride, but now, it's tainted by a reflection and shame that I let myself be taken advantage of. 

Source: Nevalistis' Blog

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Going from a company whose feedback route is completely opaque to Wizards of the Coast at Hasbro that sends out surveys for every piece of content to test the reception. I hope she is happy there but as community lead she is clearly doing her job (I don't think D&D has had as wide acceptance among the very aggressive community at a truly wide age range as it has the last few years).

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So damn recognizable...

A "promotion" to a management role needs to be burned out of the Career Bible. The notion that someone who is a manager should earn more than the people they manage is such an outdated concept and deserves a proper dousing of kerosene. Most of the times the management position can be made redundant by splitting the job up into three parts:

- A senior role to train new team members.
- A facilitator who's trained and specialized in organizing people (read: provides supplies and scheduling) and who works for the team.
- An intermediary between multiple teams' facilitators and upper management who has actually trained to deal with corporate bullshit bureaucracy and needs to know next to nothing about the inner workings of any team.

Ever heard of an excellent surgeon being promoted to manager? A sportsman who won a championship and was promoted to coach? Don't waste talent by fitting them into outdated concepts of 'growth', it's such a bloody waste... Instead - novel concept alert! - make people do what they're good at and pay them properly for it!

Edited by Dicebar
grammar
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1 hour ago, Dicebar said:

So damn recognizable...

A "promotion" to a management role needs to be burned out of the Career Bible. The notion that someone who is a manager should earn more than the people they manage is such an outdated concept and deserves a proper dousing of kerosene. Most of the times the management position can be made redundant by splitting the job up into three parts:

- A senior role to train new team members.
- A facilitator who's trained and specialized in organizing people (read: provides supplies and scheduling) and who works for the team.
- An intermediary between multiple teams' facilitators and upper management who has actually trained to deal with corporate bullshit bureaucracy and needs to know next to nothing about the inner workings of any team.

Ever heard of an excellent surgeon being promoted to manager? A sportsman who won a championship and was promoted to coach? Don't waste talent by fitting them into outdated concepts of 'growth', it's such a bloody waste... Instead - novel concept alert! - make people do what they're good at and pay them properly for it!

You almost sound intelligent until one realizes you are trying to force puzzle pieces together that don't belong.

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8 hours ago, Lunestro said:

You almost sound intelligent until one realizes you are trying to force puzzle pieces together that don't belong.

An inability to see how puzzle pieces belong together and insulting someone else's intelligence? Charming.

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The one issue I have is:

  • Nevalistis said she was only promoted twice in her 6.5-year tenure in the community, and both times by her managers as they were leaving the team.

Being promoted twice in 6.5 years, or once every three years...isn't bad?    At least in the companies I've worked at which included a major video distributor, that frequency of promotion is actually very good.     I've seen people who've stayed at the same position for 10+ years despite being very competent.

But hearing how Activision was so scummy and dumb about the Diablo 4/Immortal announcement just reinforces the impression I've had on how their slow cultural takeover of Blizzard had done damage.

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1 hour ago, Migol said:

The one issue I have is:

  • Nevalistis said she was only promoted twice in her 6.5-year tenure in the community, and both times by her managers as they were leaving the team.

Being promoted twice in 6.5 years, or once every three years...isn't bad?    At least in the companies I've worked at which included a major video distributor, that frequency of promotion is actually very good.     I've seen people who've stayed at the same position for 10+ years despite being very competent.

But hearing how Activision was so scummy and dumb about the Diablo 4/Immortal announcement just reinforces the impression I've had on how their slow cultural takeover of Blizzard had done damage.

I think it really depends with how vertical the hierarchy of the organization is. In flat structures, promotion twice in seven years is probably better than normal. The thing is, Blizzard does not appear to have a flat structure; there are managers upon managers.

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On 8/7/2021 at 7:16 PM, Dicebar said:

So damn recognizable...

A "promotion" to a management role needs to be burned out of the Career Bible. The notion that someone who is a manager should earn more than the people they manage is such an outdated concept and deserves a proper dousing of kerosene. Most of the times the management position can be made redundant by splitting the job up into three parts:

- A senior role to train new team members.
- A facilitator who's trained and specialized in organizing people (read: provides supplies and scheduling) and who works for the team.
- An intermediary between multiple teams' facilitators and upper management who has actually trained to deal with corporate bullshit bureaucracy and needs to know next to nothing about the inner workings of any team.

Ever heard of an excellent surgeon being promoted to manager? A sportsman who won a championship and was promoted to coach? Don't waste talent by fitting them into outdated concepts of 'growth', it's such a bloody waste... Instead - novel concept alert! - make people do what they're good at and pay them properly for it!

2 promotions in 6 years. How many does she think she should have gotten. lol

Some people do the same job their whole lives and that's OK.

Stop acting like you have to be promoted to something else or you're being abused.

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Just from reviewing the letter it sounds as if Blizzard was following a similar method like Walmart.  Base on performance and merit during yearly evaluations can gain a slight payraise to that of a dime in hourly pay with permotions being very limited and most of the time out of reach for employees.  Walmart tends to stay within the min. wage if possible per state of operation.  Blizzard most likely tries to keep to the basic/min. salary if possible.  But expect the employee to work 80 hrs a week, no overtime pay, and harsh scrutinzation from their peers when the triple workload is not being met by company standards.  Basically setting the employee up for failure.  And I can imagine the frustration/stress that these employees went through and to top it off those that also were the target of sexual harassment.  

 

 

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On 8/8/2021 at 1:16 AM, Dicebar said:

Ever heard of an excellent surgeon being promoted to manager? A sportsman who won a championship and was promoted to coach? Don't waste talent by fitting them into outdated concepts of 'growth', it's such a bloody waste... Instead - novel concept alert! - make people do what they're good at and pay them properly for it!

Yes, excellent surgents get management positions in hospitals and sportsmen get to coach after their active careers. 

Your post reads like hate and your examples lack real world knowledge. 

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16 hours ago, CTEKK said:

Yes, excellent surgents get management positions in hospitals and sportsmen get to coach after their active careers. 

Your post reads like hate and your examples lack real world knowledge. 

My grandfather was a dean of medicine, and from my conversations with him I'm going to have to disagree with you on the surgeons. Good surgeons stay surgeons, while good managers have a business degree. There are three reasons for surgeons becoming managers; disability, greed (~4 years of education should not pay more than 8-10 years...), or their own managers were *filtered* and they want to do a better job.

Similarly, I do have to point out that athletes become coaches after their careers when they can no longer compete in their sport - as opposed to when they're good athletes. You don't make people who are good at what they do change their roles simply for the sake of allowing them to 'climb the career ladder'. And I doubt that you mean to imply that famous athletes earn more off the field than they do on it.

You're right in reading frustration in my post, though. I wouldn't call it hate, but still... I have spent the last 10 years in various roles optimizing organizations' workflows, and this topic is part of an all-too-common problem: managers overvaluing the contributions of managers. Reducing their input typically makes teams far more effective.

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