Friday, June 21, 2024
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Pride at Blizzard, we speak to LGBT Network Chair & Co-Chair

Blizzard recently launched their Blizzard Pride 2024 Collection featuring a bold rainbow heart emblazoned with the Blizzard logo. Led through the Blizzard LGBT+ Employee Network, the Blizzard Pride Collection features Pride-themed apparel benefitting The Trevor Project from now through June 30, 2024.

Blizzard will donate 100% of the amount they receive from the e-commerce store operator from the sale of each of the products from the 2024 Blizzard Pride Collection to The Trevor Project. This represents approximately 25% of the purchase price which will make such an awesome difference to the Trevor Project, the leading suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people.

The makers of Diablo, World of Warcraft and Overwatch, among many other titles, have always been fierce supporters of the LGBTQ community. Check our recent run down of everything Pride-related coming to Overwatch 2 this month here.

I got to speak exclusively with the LGBT+ Employee Network Chair and Co-Chair, Brandy Stiles and Lauren Soanes, about the work in bringing this year’s collection to life and their role in supporting LGBT+ staff all year round.

Robin: Brandy and Lauren, thanks so much for joining me, why don’t we kick off by introducing who you are and what you do at Blizzard?

Lauren: I’m a cosmetic producer on Overwatch as my day job and I’m also the co-chair of the LGBT Network. I’ve been with the group for about two years and actually started as the events chair, then I moved over to being the co-chair under Brandy.

Brandy: I have been at Blizzard for 17 years now and recently joined the Overwatch 2 team as a senior producer focusing on character models, also on the cosmetics team. I have been a part of the Employee Network at Blizzard since its founding about eight years ago, and I have been a co-chair and now chair of the Blizzard chapter of the LGBT Employee Network.

Congratulations on the launch of this year’s Pride collection, why don’t you tell me about the designs?

Brandy: Yes, so for the designs we’re extremely fortunate to have a talented, dedicated, passionate and self-motivated designer Zach Pfaff. He is our branding lead for the LGBT Employee Network because nothing helps congeal identity better than cohesive design and imagery! Our imagery helps us rally and identify, and Zach has such an incredible talent for providing that imagery for us. This includes hand selecting our own, what we like to call, candy rainbow colors. The rainbow array is something that we use consistently on all of our branding for our network.

Zach has, I believe, created the logo and design work for the Blizzard Pride collection for every year. He’s almost always the first to stand up and say “hey, it’s about time we start talking about this again, let’s rally the troops and let’s get everyone involved!”. Then it usually starts with, ‘what do you think of this art?’ and everyone sees that and goes what do we have to do to make this happen? He’s just so inspirational in that way. So yes, Zack Pfaff created the art again this year with the Blizzard logo and the heart in the background.

It’s so great that the Employee Network is involved in the creative process, why is it important to you to have the network be part of the design process?

Brandy: It all started with the Network, the idea of having a Pride collection came from our employees and the leadership team of our Employee Network. We see it as a way to give back and to use our global platform to really elevate voices that would otherwise not be heard and add some visibility to folks who can’t be seen. We had folks working with our Consumer Products group that were part of the Employee Network and it just started to make sense.

We see it as a way to give back and to use our global platform to really elevate voices that would otherwise not be heard and add some visibility to folks who can’t be seen.

Lauren: I think for me what makes the Pride collection so interesting is that it comes from the Employee Network. A lot of the Pride content that Blizzard puts out as a whole is driven from the Employee Network. Whether that’s the Pride event in Overwatch or the Pride collection, it starts with somebody who’s super passionate about the project. It starts with someone, as Brandy said, that wants to leverage the privilege in the platform that we’re afforded by Blizzard. Then the Employee Network can take that passion and get it through all of the bureaucratic steps that it would need to officially come out from the Blizzard side.

I think we’re really lucky in that there is so much passion and excitement, and there are so many people who are very happy to volunteer their time. Our role then as the Employee Network, is making sure that that passion actually does make it to an end result by securing the partnerships that we want and ensuring we can have some marketing behind it.

In the conversation of rainbow capitalism and where the work that we do falls into that… it starts with a spark of excitement from one of the employees and then we as the Employee Network make sure that we’re able to carry it over the finish line with Blizzard.

You mentioned rainbow capitalism, it’s actually ethical rainbow capitalism as part of the proceeds are of course going to the Trevor Project. Why the Trevor Project specifically?

Brandy: For me personally, the Trevor Project and their purpose is near and dear to me. Suicide awareness and prevention is important to me on a personal level, and so I really value their purpose and anything we can do to bring some visibility to them is important to me.

This is actually a return to working with them, one of our first Pride collections went to support them as well. We got to have them on campus and we handed them a giant check and it was so fun. 

We’ve also had the opportunity to work with other organizations including the National Center for Transgender Equality last year. That was another very intentional and exciting choice for us because it was, and always will be, an important conversation to again use our privilege and platform to escalate and bring visibility to that important topic. 

We’ve also worked locally and we got to support the LGBTQ Center OC, who are our neighbors. Being able to support a really small organization that works with our direct community was amazing too.

Lauren, can you tell me some of the other things the Network is doing for Pride this year?

Lauren: It’s worth talking quickly about how the LGBT Employee Network situates itself within Blizzard, within our local community and with our fans. These are the pylons that we use to think about the activations and events that we’re doing this year.

At Blizzard, we have Pride on campus, including a flag raising, which we do every year, to make sure we bring visibility and let employees on campus know that it’s a safe space for them. We’re also doing an on-campus Pride event this year which we’re super excited about because we’re having some local drag queens and we are supporting the local queer Community.

Then later this year, it’s Orange County Pride. We always go to Orange County Pride and this year they’ve moved from June to October, so we’ll be marching in their parade and having a booth but it will be in October which is great because last year we had so many people that got sunburnt!

Then with the fans, we have our Pride collection on the Gear Store and we have a whole load of activations coming back into Overwatch for Overwatch Pride. We have a very high saturation of people in the Employee Network that work on Overwatch, probably not surprisingly… I wonder how that happened?!

There’s also going to be a little bit of a social media presence for Pride this year, which we also always do and that is us situating ourselves in the larger community. It helps people to see that all this Pride work is LGBTQ employee developed and driven. It’s us asking Blizzard for the spotlight and the resources to not only create a safe space for employees on campus, but also a safe space for queer players in the communities.

It helps people to see that all this Pride work is LGBTQ employee developed and driven. It’s us asking Blizzard for the spotlight and the resources to not only create a safe space for employees on campus, but also a safe space for queer players in the communities.

Outside of Pride Month, how does the employee network support LGBT staff all year round?

Brandy: We are indeed year-round and we aim to give the employee base a voice and leverage our leadership group to amplify those voices. We have various ways to do this but one of the bigger ones is through Slack, that’s a great platform for us to exist in the same space. We have a Slack space that employees and allies can join and participate in. The space is used for so much, including as a way to support our game development. All year round, if there are needs for reviewers, sensitivity readers, play testers or more, we can reach out to that employee base and quickly identify a broad spectrum of people that want to help create better games and create more authentic moments.

In addition to top down requests, we also provide feedback from the bottom up. The Employee Network amplifies those voices and ensure leadership hears that feedback.

Lauren: It’s like the same way that I mentioned about the Pride collection being employee driven and then we help get it across the finish line. There’s a lot of initiatives that happen on the Overwatch team, which is the one I can speak to the most. The Overwatch team have the right energy and they want to do the right thing, but sometimes they don’t exactly know how. They come to me with requests like they have some Venture voice lines that we want to make sure are authentic, Venture identifies as trans non-binary, so they want to make sure that they’re authentically representing that experience.

There’s a few things we could do with that. We could get a group together from the Blizzard side, we could have a committee review from the LGBT Network, we could reach out to our Transgender Working Group or the thing that I’ve been doing most recently is leveraging our partnership with GLAAD to make sure that it’s a collaborative effort

Just as Brandy said, no one wants to be a monolith. I’m super happy to consult on queer experiences, but I’m a lesbian, so I don’t always want to be a talking about stuff but I like to be a resource for people to say “Hey, we have this thing, we want it to be reviewed, we want to make sure that we’re representing it enthusiastically and authentically” and while I might not be the person to be able to speak to that experience, I’ll put together a team that can do that for them.

We’ve made sure that we had queer players play testing Lifeweaver, we made sure that we had people that were of Ventures’ identity reviewing their voice lines before they went out, we’ve reviewed cosmetics for a hero skin and voice line interactions between two queer heroes, and so much more.

I just try to make sure that enthusiasm and good intent is something that we’re able to take action on and luckily the Overwatch team in particular has that in spades.

Venture (source: Blizzard Entertainment)

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