World of Warcraft Classic Tech Lead Leaves Blizzard, Protesting “Stack Ranking” Employee Evaluation System

The system reportedly requires that approximately 5% of employees get a low ranking.

QuintLyn Bowers
By QuintLyn Bowers, News Editor Posted:

World of Warcraft Classic Team Lead Leaves

Once again, Blizzard has lost another high-ranking employee. This time the tech lead for World of Warcraft Classic has left the company, but not because he’s simply decided to move on to do his own thing or because another company made him a better offer. Instead, Brian Birmingham left in protest of a company policy regarding employee evaluations.

Since 2021, Blizzard has been using what’s known as a “stack ranking” system for evaluating employees. According to Bloomberg, this system ranks employees on a bell curve and requires managers to meet a quota of low-rank evaluations. In Blizzard’s case, the low ranking is called ‘developing” and is expected to apply to around 5% of the employees being reviewed by team leaders. This means that if everyone on a team is performing well, team leaders are forced to just pick people to take a hit. What makes it even worse is that the employees that receive these ratings will be overlooked for bonuses, potentially receiving raises, and even promotions.

Birmingham took issue with the system, sending an email to staff discussing how he and other managers on the development team had been able to avoid the quota system over the last two years. In fact, they’d gotten away with it long enough that they thought the policy wasn’t really being enforced. That is until he was forced to lower an employee from the “successful” rating – which means average to “developing”, meaning poor.

In the letter he wrote that “when team leads asked why [they] had to do this, World of Warcraft directors explained that while they did not agree, the reasons given by executive leadership were that it was important to squeeze the bottom-most performers as a way to make sure everybody continues to grow.” The letter went on to say that [in Birmingham’s opinion], that type of policy “encourages competition between employees, sabotage of one another’s work, a desire for people to find low-performing teams that they can be the best-performing worker on, and ultimately erodes trust and destroys creativity.” Sounds like just another day at Kotick’s ABK.

All of this goes against what Birmingham believes he should be doing as one of the World of Warcraft Classic leads – and as part of the greater World of Warcraft team. According to a thread he posted last year, sharing details about his role, he’s a “people manager”. He discusses how it’s not his goal to use evaluations to bully those under him, although it is his responsibility to hold people responsible for their work and recognize those who do their jobs well – with things like promotions.

According to Bloomberg, before Birmingham sent the email out, he told several people that he was resigning. However, he noted that in a follow-up discussion with an HR representative, who called to confirm that he was, in fact, resigning, he told them he was “still considering it”. He also told them that he wouldn’t be doing any work until the policy was removed. The end result was that blizzard fired him. Of course, the sad thing now, other than losing a job, is that his team no longer has him there to stand up for him. We’d say that the upside is that firing someone who is just trying to take care of his staff isn’t exactly a good look for Blizzard, but it doesn’t seem much like Blizzard cares much about public impressions these days.

Note: Activision Blizzard is still under investigation by the state of California for serious harassment charges. CEO Bobby Kotick is alleged to have known about such actions within his company – and performed some himself – and shielded the perpetrators from consequences.

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About the Author

QuintLyn Bowers
QuintLyn Bowers, News Editor

QuintLyn is a long-time lover of all things video game related will happily talk about them to anyone that will listen. She began writing about games for various gaming sites a little over ten years ago and has taken on various roles in the games community.

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