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Amid harassment lawsuit, advertisers pull back from Blizzard’s Overwatch League

(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Update: Kellogg will no longer advertise Cheez-It or Pringles in Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, according to a statement from the company. T-Mobile also confirmed the company paused its sponsorship of the Overwatch League until further notice. The article has been updated to reflect this.

Coca-Cola, Kellogg, State Farm and T-Mobile are reassessing partnerships with Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, according to statements provided by all four companies. The news comes two weeks after the state of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the video game giant over allegations of widespread harassment and discrimination against female employees at the company.

Activision Blizzard runs the Overwatch League and the Call of Duty League, two esports ventures that organize competitions around those respective first-person shooter titles. Coca-Cola is one of four sponsors currently listed on the Overwatch League website. State Farm and Kellogg’s Cheez-It and Pringles brands were removed from the list Friday.

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Brand deals with big companies bleed into all aspects of the league’s match-day production. There are sponsored player rankings powered by IBM, prominently placed red Coca-Cola cups next to commentators and quick-rolling advertisements that run between the action in a match. The partnerships are key ways for the league — and Activision Blizzard — to bring in revenue alongside broadcasting rights and franchise fees.

In two statements provided to The Post Thursday, a spokesperson for State Farm said the insurance provider is “reevaluating our limited marketing relationship with the Overwatch League,” and the company has requested that “no advertisements run during the matches this weekend.” State Farm first became a sponsor of the Overwatch League in 2019.

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A spokesperson for Coca-Cola said Wednesday that the company is “aware of the allegations surrounding Activision Blizzard” and has been closely monitoring the situation.

“We are working with our partners at Blizzard as we take a step back for a moment to revisit future plans and programs,” the statement reads.

The spokesperson for Coca-Cola declined to comment on whether Coca-Cola would continue to sponsor the Overwatch League. The next Overwatch League match is scheduled for Friday at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Coca-Cola, Kellogg and State Farm ran advertisements in Overwatch League matches earlier this week.

The Overwatch League and Activision Blizzard did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, one of the world’s biggest video game companies, alleges multiple instances of gender-based discrimination, inequality and harassment. Last week, Activision Blizzard employees staged a walkout outside of the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment, known for its massively popular titles like “World of Warcraft” and “Overwatch.”

On Tuesday, J. Allen Brack, stepped down from his post as president of Blizzard Entertainment. That same day, Jesse Meschuk, a human resources executive at the company, resigned. The company, which is a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, will now be co-led by Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, both of whom joined the company in the past two years.

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Branding for T-Mobile, another company that once partnered with both the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League, also vanished from official broadcasts in the wake of the lawsuit. A company spokesperson confirmed in a statement that T-Mobile has “paused our sponsorship activities” with Activision Blizzard.

Last weekend, the New York Subliners — one of 12 Call of Duty League teams — covered the T-Mobile logo on their jerseys with duct tape.

On “Plat Chat,” a talk show that covers the Overwatch League, pink coffee mugs sporting the words “presented by T-Mobile” also disappeared. The podcast has a rotating cast of commentators, some of whom work full time for the Overwatch League, though one host told The Post the podcast is completely separate from Activision Blizzard. The host declined to answer questions earlier this week because they said the show is still in active talks with T-Mobile.

The Post has reached out to other Overwatch League sponsors — Xfinity, IBM, TeamSpeak and Toyota — and the sponsors of the Call of Duty League, who have not responded to requests for comments.