The Lego Group has decided not to release a new Overwatch 2-themed Lego set as planned on February 1, halting the product at least temporarily as the company reviews its wider relationship with the embattled game publisher.
In a statement reported by fan sites like BrickSet and TheBrickFan, Lego Group says that it is “currently reviewing our partnership with Activision Blizzard, given concerns about the progress being made to address continuing allegations regarding workplace culture, especially the treatment of female colleagues and creating a diverse and inclusive environment.” As that review continues, the company says it will “pause” the planned release of set 76980, themed after the Overwatch 2 Titan, which was first leaked last month. It’s currently unclear how long that “pause” will last or if the set will see an eventual release given Lego’s internal partnership review.
The partnership between Overwatch and Lego dates back to 2018 and encompasses nearly a dozen building sets and kits themed after characters and scenes from the game. Activision Blizzard separately signed a deal with Hasbro in 2018 for exclusive rights to license Overwatch toys, among many other branded licensing deals for the popular game.
Words vs. actions
Lego isn’t the first organization to change its relationship with Activision over the widespread allegations of abuse and sexual harassment that have surrounded the company for months now. In November, nonprofit organization Girls Who Code announced it was ending its partnership with the company, writing that “the news about Activision proves that our priorities are fundamentally misaligned.” The Game Awards also said last month that Activision Blizzard would “not be part” of the 2021 awards show, though it’s unclear how much involvement the publisher had prior to that statement (and Activision Blizzard President Rob Kostich still sits on the Game Awards’ advisory board).
Still, Lego’s decision is significant, as it highlights the first Activision licensing deal to show signs of strain amid the company’s very public struggles. Those kinds of moves could have a small but direct impact on Activision’s bottom line, which could in turn impact the board of directors’ thus-far solid support for embattled CEO Bobby Kotick. More than that, the move shows how some other major parts of the corporate world are beginning to consider whether or not Activision’s current public image is too toxic to be associated with.
While all three major console makers have issued vague statements mentioning “action” and “concern” regarding their relationships with Activision, there have been no public details of how those relationships might have changed.
In an interview with The New York Times this week, Microsoft Xbox chief Phil Spencer said that Microsoft has “changed how we do certain things with [Activision], and they’re aware of that.” Later, he hinted that “the things that we choose to do with our brand and our platform, in coordination or not with other companies, is the avenue that we have to have an impact,” suggesting that the companies’ cross-marketing relationships may have changed.
At the same time, Spencer said he “would rather help other companies than try to get into punishing” and that “it’s not obviously our position to judge who the CEOs are” at other companies.
“Any of the partners that are out there, if I can learn from them or I can help with the journey that we’ve been on on Xbox by sharing what we’ve done and what we’ve built, I’d much rather do that than get into any kind of finger-wagging at other companies that are out there,” he added.
Today’s news comes over a month after a group of Activision Blizzard employees announced an open-ended strike to protest the dismissal of 12 quality assurance contractors at subsidiary Raven Software. That strike has continued into 2022 as organizers have complained about a lack of engagement from company management.