Overwatch Development Team Director Jeff Kaplan recently announced in a Developer Update video that the game would be getting an “Avoid as Teammate” feature, that would allow for players to be further distanced from more toxic players.
Players can have two other players listed as avoided at any one time, and they would remain that way for 7 days, unless the player wished to continue that duration.
The feature comes welcome – it’s well known that online games have a problem with toxicity and player disagreements.
By now, the Overwatch team has a track record with dealing with toxicity – the team believes it to be of paramount importance, and puts it ahead of rolling out other updates.
In September 2017, the Overwatch team released a Developer Update video titled “Play Nice, Play Fair”, that addressed ‘the rising tide of toxicity or bad behaviour in the game, versus what are we Blizzard going to about it, and what are we together as a community going to do about it’. This came shortly after the release of an overhauled reporting mechanism, that had been on PC for a while and recently rolled out onto Consoles.
‘To date, in Overwatch, we have taken disciplinary action against over 480,000 accounts and 340,000 were a direct result of players using the reporting system’.
It makes sense for the developers of a well received and widely popular game to be homing in on toxicity – if you thought about it from a business stand point, having a toxic community and environment wouldn’t sell well, and it would look good to potential investors or customers to be directly addressing the issue.
However, in this September Developer Update video, Kaplan acknowledged that toxicity isn’t an issue that can be defeated overnight.
‘There’s not going to be a moment where we have a magic patch in Overwatch that makes bad behaviour go away, but it is a continual process that we are very dedicated to fixing and improving’.
This shines well for the development team too – in my time of playing online games, I have never seen a developer target the issue as head on as the Overwatch team has.
But the development team’s devotion to fighting toxicity has also been criticised for its scope and range within gameplay mechanics – in October last year it made headlines that players could be banned for spamming character voice lines, which Scott Mercer refers to as ‘abusive chat’.
Regardless, we can’t deny that they’re taking the issue head on.
We can see another instance of Overwatch thwarting toxicity through the dismissing of xQc earlier this year. xQc had let out a slur against openly LGBT+ Overwatch League player Muma live on stream. This, along with other actions relating to xQc’s loud and abrasive behaviour, had lead to xQc’s retirement from Dallas Fuel.
At an eSports level, this is a shining example of Overwatch’s attempt to fight toxicity, and that on a world stage, that such actions wouldn’t go unpunished.
As someone that has invested a lot of time into team-based hero shooters, addressing toxicity is a good thing in every respect, even if it’s to the level of griefing in-game mechanics.