Blizzard’s new president is former Call of Duty GM, but can she save the studio?

Blizzard announced today that Johanna Faries will become the new president of Blizzard starting on February 5. She has been the Geneal Manager of Call of Duty for almost three years.

Faries will step into her role at a crucial and perilous time for Blizzard. The studio was severely impacted by layoffs last week, and reports have stated that a survival game that Blizzard was working on is now cancelled.

Johanna Faries, Annie Bellfield and Dean Takahashi speak at GamesBeat at The Game Awards.
Johanna Faries, Annie Bellfield and Dean Takahashi speak at GamesBeat at The Game Awards.

Blizzard has created some of the biggest hits in the industry, including the online game World of Warcraft and the team-based shooter Overwatch. While Blizzard did have a strong launch last year with Diablo IV, some of its other games are slowing down. Hearthstone is past its prime, and Overwatch has struggled to maintain its momentum after transitioning to the free-to-play Overwatch 2.

The studio has also had challenges holding onto a leader since co-founder and former CEO Mike Morhaime left in 2019. J. Allen Brack took over, but he would leave August 2021 following a tenure filled with controversy, notably allegations of a toxic workplace culture and sexual harassment at Blizzard.

Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra then came onboard as co-leads, but Oneal would leave by the end of the year. Ybarra announced his departure last week right around when the news of the layoffs broke.

Faries is the first Blizzard president appointed since Xbox acquired Activision. Still, Faries is coming from within the Activision Blizzard King sphere. As GM of Call of Duty, she one of the biggest moneymakers in all of gaming. Before she became GM, she worked on the esports side of the franchise. That also makes her a good fit at Blizzard, since many of its games have competitive scenes (although the once prominent Overwatch League is no more).

She will have many challenges to address at a studio that has suffered from multiple setbacks in recent years. Diablo IV had a big launch, but players soon complained about progression and content. World of Warcraft has announced an ambitious roadmap for multiple expansions, but now the studio needs to deliver on those promises. And Overwatch 2 needs to find a way to win back players after cancelling its ambitious and promised cooperative mode.

The recent layoffs will make addressing these challenges even harder than they needed to be.

“I am committed to doing everything I can to help Blizzard thrive, with care and consideration for you and for our games, each unique and special in their own right,” Faries noted in her introduction letter to Blizzard. “I’m optimistic about our ability to serve our current and future player communities, and to further amplify the shared passion for greatness, polish and creative mastery that is a hallmark of Blizzard’s approach to game-making.”

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