The launch date of Overwatch 2 slowly approaches, bringing with it a new battle pass, a new hero, and, announced today in a blog post, a new anti-cheat, community protection, and moderation tool called the Defense Matrix. Named after the D.Va ability that allows her to absorb and negate incoming attacks, the Defense Matrix is a suite of features that Blizzard says are “designed to help protect the integrity of gameplay and promote positive behavior in Overwatch 2.”
With Defense Matrix, Blizzard is implementing several new account security and moderation tools, the biggest two of which are SMS Protect and voice chat transcriptions. Starting on October 4th, all Overwatch 2 players will be required to add a valid phone number to their battle.net account in order to play. Multiple accounts cannot use the same number at the same time, nor can players use the same number to create multiple accounts. Additionally, certain types of phone numbers, such as VOIP numbers, will not be permitted.
In an interview with The Verge, Bill Warnecke, Overwatch 2 lead software engineer, said that the idea behind SMS Protect is to essentially make it that much harder to cheat. In the days of Overwatch prime, the consequence of cheating was simply a banned account and, therefore, the threshold to return to cheating was essentially the cost of buying the game again.
“SMS protect focuses a bit on the bad actors and the players who are willing to use cheats and potentially are willing to cycle through many, many accounts,” he said. “Losing an account in Overwatch 2 is a much more significant penalty than it was in Overwatch 1.”
The team is also aware that SMS Protect might unfairly punish players who simply have multiple accounts. Warnecke explained that, in their discussions, the need to combat motivated cheaters outweighed the somewhat edge cases of multiple account players. RIP the tried-and-true tradition of “smurfing”.
Reminiscent of technology Riot currently uses in Valorant, Blizzard is also implementing a system that will record and transcribe voice chat audio.
“Audio transcriptions allow us to collect a temporary voice chat recording of a reported player and automatically transcribe it through text to speech programs,” Blizzard said in its Defense Matrix blog post. This system is only engaged if a player is reported, and since audio logs aren’t kept for long, players are encouraged to report abusive behavior as soon as possible.
In addition to audio transcription, Blizzard is also eliminating the general chat feature. Unlike team chat or group chat, general chat was an open forum for every player connected to the Overwatch servers — and, if you’re familiar with the old Barrens chat meme — it was a bit of a cesspit. Blizzard agreed.
“The General Chat in the game menus is being removed from the game because we found it to be an area where frequent disruptive behavior occurred,” the blog post said. “General chat doesn’t serve a productive purpose, and it could be removed without compromising the core mechanics of the game.”
But general chat wasn’t the only avenue of text abuse in Overwatch. I asked if, in addition to getting rid of the Overwatch flavor of Barrens chat, the team had implemented any improved chat filters to prevent teammates from being dickheads, but the answer was a little less encouraging.
“It’s technology we’re working on,” replied Overwatch 2 principle designer Scott Mercer. “It’s something where, as the culture changes, as the words we use change, it’s something we have to be aggressive about. So we’re definitely looking to do more in that area.”
As marginalized Twitch streamers dealing with hate raids and creative assholes finding new and inventive ways to use slurs can attest, progressive and proactive chat filters can go a long way toward curtailing abuse.
Finally, Overwatch 2 is adding a new onboarding experience for brand-new players, designed to get them up to speed before they’re allowed to join the nearest Deathmatch. Dubbed FTUE, or First Time User Experience, new players with new battle.net accounts made on or after October 4th will be shunted into a system whereby they unlock heroes and gameplay modes.
“The first phase of our new FTUE rapidly unlocks all the game modes and the ability to chat in-game, and the second phase unlocks all the original Overwatch heroes over the course of approximately 100 matches,” the blog said.
If you’re an experienced first-person shooter player experiencing Overwatch 2 for the first time, unfortunately you cannot opt out. (Or, if you’re a lapsed Overwatch prime player, i.e., me, you similarly cannot opt in. Bummer.) However, these restrictions are removed when in a group with other players.
Designing the new user experience was twofold, according to Mercer. “One of the basic things, from a game design standpoint, is that we simply didn’t want to overwhelm a new player with 30-plus heroes all at once,” he said.
He also explained that FTUE combined with SMS Protect adds an additional barrier to malicious actors trying to get back into the game. “We want to make sure that if players do something horrible, there’s a bit more of a cost for them,” Mercer said.
Overwatch 2 cometh, finally, on October 4th, and there are just five more days before Overwatch prime goes offline.