Game designer Orion D. Black has left their job at Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons department, calling out the company for paying lip service towards diversity and change while exploiting BIPOC, especially Black freelancers, and silencing and ignoring criticism of systemic problems. This comes within a month of members of the RPG community asking for more accountability at the company, highlighting interactions with WotC online, and in gaming and professional environments.
In a substantial critique published on TwitLonger, the plot ARMOR and Mutants in the Night creator wrote that they wouldn’t recommend anyone work for the D&D department at WotC.
“Kindness doesn’t replace respect. Working within your comfort zone doesn’t support change,” they wrote in their statement. “Most people in that group were not ready for me to be there, a nonbinary Black person who would actually critique their problems. Idk what they expected.”
In the statement, Black wrote that they “firmly believe” they were a “diversity hire,” whose presence “was accepted because it would look like a radical positive change” that would “help quiet vocal outrage.” While there, they wrote, there was “no expectation for me to do much of anything” from leadership, who at one point gave them “2 assignments over about 5 months” and refused to give them an extension and FTE. They also wrote that someone in leadership stole their work, “which destroyed me,” the only response being an apology indirectly passed on from another employee. And despite “a lot of smiles and vocal support” from coworkers, they wrote, Black continued to be ignored by leadership, who talked about treating staff better and investing in diversity even as they hired two cisgender white men in major positions, “one of whom claimed that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“Then, as social unrest continued global due to BLM, the D&D team comes out with their statement. It was like a slap in the face,” Black continued, in reference to a statement published mid-June by Wizards of the Coast. “How much they care about people of color, how much changing things (that I and others had been pushing for months, if not longer) was just going to happen now. It took weeks of protesting across the globe to get D&D to do what people they hired have been already telling them to fix. You cannot, CANNOT say Black lives matter when you cannot respect the Black people who you exploit at 1/3rd your pay, for progressive ideas you pick apart until it’s comfortable, for your millions of profit year over year. People of color can make art and freelance, but are never hired. D&D takes what they want from marginalized people, give them scraps, and claim progress.”
Roughly a month before Black’s statement, podcast host and gamer Lawrence Harmon wrote a statement to Wizards of the Coast, following a series of tweets made by their Magic Esports Twitter account meant to highlight Black Magic The Gathering players:
By and large, Wizards of the Coast has ignored the existence of its black player base, and we are keenly aware. The aforementioned gesture was a gross act of tokenism that were not only lambasted by black magic players, but were also noticed by the community at large.
Harmon went on to detail interactions that POC and Black MTG players have had online when they attempted to call out racism within the game, and the lack of response by WotC when they receive dismissal or backlash from white players. He also pointed out the exclusion of pro-player Greg Orange in the MTG Arena Mythic Invitational tournament, a player who was nonetheless tweeted about in the aforementioned Magic Esports thread. Harmon ended with some suggestions for how WotC might improve upon these errors, in order to encourage a diverse base of players in an environment where everyone felt welcome.
Following Harmon’s statement, there was a second letter from Zaiem Beg titled “The Wizards I Know.” Beg, a former Editor-in-Chief for an MTG retailer who has played in Pro Tours and worked for Channelfireball.com, wanted to share his perspective on the company after years of being surrounded by its employees and culture. He offered a list of examples detailing discriminatory practices, including “the time a black writer messaged Wizards asking about writing openings for eighteen months and was told they were not accepting new writers, then continued to keep hiring white writers over that time” and “all the times a person of color got fired (contractors, natch) for their first offense but saw their white coworkers get second- and third- chances for the same thing.”
Beg then proceeded to discuss the company’s fear-based culture, preventing people from speaking out for fear of retaliation:
Anyone in a position to hold them accountable is invested in being around the game in some capacity, and that would be career suicide. If you ever even plan on potentially working at Wizards someday you need to keep in line at all times. And even worse, even if you don’t have aspirations of working for Wizards, a Magic website, or creating content independently, they can just shut off your ability to play the game.
The contract that MTG players have to sign in order to play at a pro level is cited by Beg, who explained that the ability to play the game is contingent upon never making a statement “oral or written” that could show the brand in a bad light. He then went into the banning of Jason Chan—known as Amaz on Twitch—and how his ban for aggressive behavior in live games was handled differently than other bannings done by WotC, in order for the company to continue profiting off of his work.
As of July 6, 2020, Wizards of the Coast has not released any statement in response to these three accounts.
You can read Black’s full statement here. You can also read their Twitter thread connected to the statement, and learn about their current and future projects here. Lawrence Harmon’s statement can be found here. Zaiem Beg’s statement can be found in its entirety here.