Blizzard brings out the big guns, cleans out toxic Overwatch

Toxicity has been a long standing issue for Blizzard’s popular online first-person shooter, Overwatch, where abusive chat, malicious reporting, and player in-fighting have made for an extremely toxic environment. Blizzard has now announced aggressive systems and features that it hopes will drastically reduce these issues. Many of these have been added based on player feedback, and are aimed at making the game environment friendlier, and the game itself, a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

But does this come down to ‘Big Brother’ watching players?

That’s what some players are afraid of. This new approach by Blizzard has caused controversy, and raised concerns amongst players. Blizzard says that it will even use out-of-game toxic behaviour on social media to find abusive accounts, and take unilateral action. Their official statement says that they will do this even if the account has not been reported. This means that they will be going beyond the in-game reporting system. They will also monitor social media sites like YouTube, Twitch, Reddit, and so on.

This approach has been criticized by users, who feel that Blizzard is invading their privacy. They also fear that the company is trying to control their behaviour in general. Players are concerned that they will be banned for little to no reason, or because of their personal or political views. However, Blizzard confirms that only abusive gameplay published online by a user will be used as a basis for bans. This means that all topics not related to Overwatch will be ignored. Players’ concerns are largely unfounded, we feel. It doesn’t make sense for Blizzard to waste resources or time on topics unrelated to Overwatch.

Blizzard, unfortunately, has a track record of being heavy-handed

Players are concerned that this new policy of Blizzard banning players off its own bat will be rather like when they banned ‘one tricking’ players. These were professional players who refused to use more than one hero, even under pressure from their teammates. It shows that Blizzard is willing to be rather heavy-handed. While no one likes a toxic game environment, no one wants to be pushed around by a dominating company bureaucracy either.

Blizzard defends its new measures, says toxic environment demands them

Jeff Kaplan, Vice President of Blizzard, and Game Director of Overwatch, has been one of the most vocal proponents of Blizzard’s aggressive approach towards anti-toxicity. He says the company has seen some very positive results after adding a new feature in December that allowed console players to report abusive players.

Jeff Kaplan - The Vice President of Blizzard and Game Director

Image Credit: Blizzard

Another feature implemented was in-game warnings, wherein the system warns players about possible punitive measures. These could be a temporary silencing of abusive players, suspensions, or bans. Abusive chat reported by console players in competitive play has decreased by 17%. There is also a 20% increase in reporting of abuse by players in general. That last shows that players now believe their reporting of aggressive or abusive players to be worthwhile.

It’s all about walking the middle line

Blizzard’s measures are actually crucially needed. As of now, players who come online to have fun with others often encounter abuse or out-and-out vulgarity and profanity. While muting or reporting works, it does not change the fact that such toxicity can take away from a player’s enjoyment of the game.

Using social media to confirm a person’s abusive behaviour could not only help clean up Overwatch, but cut the other way as well. It could help to clear an innocent player who has been wrongly reported. It’s an aggressive move by Blizzard. However, only something like this is likely to help, though it is still too soon to say if it will work.

The bottom line? Be nice, and play fair

After all, that’s not too much to ask, is it? Blizzard’s new system will help remove toxic players. However, it’s also a reminder to players to make an effort to just be nice to their teammates. Players are in no danger of being suspended or banned if they are respectful and nice, and focus on having fun with their teammates and friends. Overwatch is a great game, but no one need get abusive and ruin anyone’s day over it.


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