Blizzard Entertainment has announced that Jeff Kaplan, vice president of the company and game director on Overwatch and its forthcoming sequel, has left the company after 19 years. Aaron Keller, who’s a founding member of the Overwatch team and has worked alongside Kaplan, is stepping in as director of Overwatch 2.
Blizzard’s post reads, “We want to let you know that Jeff Kaplan has decided to leave the company after a long and storied career here, and that Aaron Keller, a Blizzard veteran and founding member of the Overwatch team, will be stepping in as game director.”
Keller himself shared a note in the same post, beginning, “Jeff’s been a great leader, mentor, and friend, and he knows how much we’re going to miss him. I’ve been lucky to work alongside him and the rest of the Overwatch team for many years in building something that continues to inspire people all around the world, and I’m honored to carry the torch forward.”
Kaplan’s departure from the company is an abrupt one, especially considering Kaplan just led the longest look we’ve gotten of what’s to come in Overwatch 2 a few months ago at Blizzcon. It’s also just the latest of many senior departures from Blizzard since being absorbed into Activision. While a number of those developers have started their own studios and projects since, it’s unclear at the moment if Kaplan will follow in their footsteps, join some other team or outright retire.
Kaplan had some words of his own to share, saying that, “It was truly the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to create worlds and heroes for such a passionate audience. I want to express my deep appreciation to everyone at Blizzard who supported our games, our game teams and our players. But I want to say a special thanks to the wonderful game developers that shared in the journey of creation with me.”
Kaplan’s long career at Blizzard began with QA on Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, before moving to World of Warcraft as a quest designer and eventual game director alongside the game’s creative director, Chris Metzen, who also left the company some years ago. Eventually Kaplan left the WoW team in order to build another MMO called Titan, which was cancelled and retooled in order to provide the foundation for what would become Overwatch.
Instead of simply settling for game director and remaining behind the scenes, Kaplan really took on the role of being the face of Overwatch, at least on the development side of things. He routinely appeared in update videos, letting audiences know what changes were coming to the game and regularly explaining why the team decided to make the tweaks they did. These videos were also memed to hell and back. Kaplan led many conversations about the game both on and off forums, regularly championed the Overwatch League, and seemed to always make himself available for feedback for his team and their game, while bearing the brunt of the flak it would catch often.
Despite stepping away from the Overwatch team in the midst of development on Overwatch 2, Keller assures that the game is coming along well. “Speaking of Overwatch 2, development is continuing at a good pace. We have an exceptional vision we’re executing on, the reaction from many of you to the updates we shared at BlizzConline thrilled us, and we have exciting reveals planned for this year and beyond as we ramp up to launch,” Keller shared in Blizzard’s post today.
“While I have no pretenses about filling Jeff’s shoes, I’m excited to step into the game director role and continue to be part of a team that’s putting all of its heart, talent, and focus into the next iteration of Overwatch, and I’m honored to continue serving this incredible community,” Keller said to end his statement.
Kaplan signed off saying, “Never accept the world as it appears to be. Always dare to see it for what it could be. I hope you do the same. GG, Jeffrey Kaplan.”