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Blizzard’s Policing of Overwatch Has Gone Too Far

By Kenneth Williams in Sports
| April 15, 2019 12:00 am PDT
Blizzard's Policing of Overwatch

Overwatch immediately garnered a huge following on release thanks to its distinct characters, charming visuals, and satisfying gameplay loop.

The community immediately began to make content for the game, whether it was fanart of Soldier 76 gunning down baddies or MS Paint doodles of D.Va chugging Mountain Dew. This kind of content is something most studios can only dream of.

And yet, Blizzard’s reaction to the community has been anything but welcoming.

Since the beginning of the Overwatch League, Blizzard has always assumed the worst of its fans and players.

Anything that can be taken as offensive or disruptive has been removed with no questions asked. They most recently banned showing the OK hand sign on stream, which is just the latest in their string of over-policing.

If you’re an Overwatch fan, you’re likely disappointed by how few online betting sites feature the game. Most will pony up odds for the Overwatch League, but some sites don’t even bother with that. Why?

Because it’s difficult to get invested (emotionally or financially) in a game when the developers are constantly looking for a reason to shut things down.

I wouldn’t put it past Blizzard to try to get involved with the betting side of the game’s community. Their policing of the Overwatch League could be an omen of the game’s very future. Why have they gone to such lengths, and what can fans do about it?

Blizzard’s Sheer Ambition

Overwatch was Blizzard’s attempt at making a direct-to-esports title, and they got a lot of things right. The game is engaging with a low skill floor but high skill ceiling. The MOBA-esque cast of characters ensures that the game is different every time you play, and Blizzard made it clear that they were in it for the long haul with Overwatch.

As proof of their commitment, Blizzard announced plans for a first-party competitive Overwatch circuit not long after release.

The plans were ambitious; location-based team names and regulated weekly play are not normal in esports.

Blizzard certainly had the money to finance such an endeavor, but money can’t solve every problem.

As part of their traditional circuit, Blizzard wrote one hell of a rulebook. Only a summary of it is available to the public, but almost all of the bylaws are vaguely worded and non-specific.

Usually, this is meant to allow exceptions or loopholes in certain circumstances, but Blizzard has been using it for the exact opposite: to bend the rules in their favor whenever something unexpected happens.

The xQc Scandal

If you’re a regular Overwatch League fan, you’ve likely already heard of this scandal. This took place in a time before Overwatch was featured on most betting sites and was still learning to walk as an esport.

Blizzard wanted to make its ambitions clear about a structured and regulated esport. All they needed was an example.

The first controversy that erupted out of the Overwatch League came when the League announced their policy on players who misbehave. Subjective buzzwords like “toxic” and “bad manners” were brought up with no real definitions to back them up. Blizzard-savvy fans already knew what was about to happen.

xQc, a tank player for the Dallas Fuel, took his first involuntary leave in the very first stage of the Overwatch League.

The reason? For trash-talking Muma, whose team had just beaten xQc’s. The players had beef that was expressed in the past, but xQc was the only one punished for the banter.

xQc received a 4-match suspension and a $2,000 fine for something that would have been forgotten in other esports.

The troubles continued when Blizzard issued xQc another suspension less than a few months later. The reason this time?

For using a Twitch emote. Trihard 7 has a bit of baggage to it, but his use of the emote was not in a “racially disparaging manner” like Blizzard claimed it was. He even spoke with the on-screen talent afterward about it to clarify, and none of them found it to be offensive.

Blizzard didn’t care. Shortly after his ban began, he decided to part ways with the Overwatch League and focus on streaming. The departure was said to be mutual, but xQc saw two paths before him: either stick with the Overwatch League until they find something else to pin on him or make money. Which one would you pick?

This kind of micromanagement is something wholly unique to Blizzard.

Riot doesn’t treat its players like this.

Valve doesn’t treat its players like this.

Blizzard set out to do something new and unique with the Overwatch League. No one thought its unique flair would be draconic and targeted punishments.

Twitch Emotes

Blizzard knew what they were getting into with esports. Games would be streamed live on Twitch, as most other esports are.

With that comes Twitch chat, which is either the roar of the crowd or a gaggle of idiots depending on whether or not you’re participating. Emotes are a core part of Twitch’s identity and best represent the enthusiasm an audience has for a game.

Blizzard did the right thing with Twitch streaming, though. You likely wouldn’t place bets on an esport if you couldn’t watch it. But Blizzard wanted to have its cake and eat it too.

Several emotes, including the aforementioned Trihard 7, are completely banned from Overwatch League Twitch chat. Along with it are any emotes that include Pepe, a common internet meme used to express various emotions.

Blizzard’s justification for banning these emotes is that they include figures that are sometimes used by political extremists. However, that ruling could apply to literally anything and everything that appears in Twitch emotes.

Blanket bans like these only further serve to stifle fans and how they can interact with the Overwatch League.

I’m not the only writer to touch on these topics.

Duncan “Thorin” Shields, a renowned and respected esports journalist, has previously spoken on Blizzard’s draconic policies. He states that “If you think twitch chat emotes are racist or sexist you desperately need help from a mental health professional.” It’s an extreme approach to the issue, but it reflects Blizzard’s heavy-handedness.

“Okay” Is Not Okay

The most recent example of Blizzard’s disconnect from reality is their banning of the okay hand symbol after a fan flashed it on stream. Their reasoning?

It was an expression of white supremacy. I’m starting to suspect that the people making these decisions were born in test tubes and have never gone outside. The fan later apologized for their “misdeed” on Twitter.

Not everyone was okay with Blizzard’s decision, and an immediate storm of nerds rained down on Blizzard’s social media.

One of those critics was Rod “Slasher” Breslau, a popular esports entrepreneur. He pointed out that Zenyatta, a character in Overwatch, makes that very same hand sign in almost all of his promotional material.

This kind of rulemaking is unfair to almost everyone involved.

Anything that players, fans, and talent do can be later penalized under a rule that didn’t previously exist. It’s hard to be optimistic about Overwatch’s future when decisions like these are made.

Unequal Treatment

Making Blizzard’s policy even more dubious is the extent to which they enforce them. TaiRong, the coach for the Houston Outlaws, tweeted out jokes about the atomic bombing of Japan at roughly the same time as the xQc scandal.

Blizzard only issued a warning after community pressure, but TaiRong himself donated $1,000 to charity and apologized on his own.

Before his own apology, Blizzard didn’t say a word.

Another Dallas Fuel player, Taimou, came under community criticism after using homophobic slurs on his personal stream.

Keep in mind, that was one of the factors that led to xQc’s eventual excommunication from the League. Again, no enforcement from Blizzard until community pressure. They eventually issued a $1,000 fine to the player only after a heavy outcry.

These are just two examples of Blizzard applying the rules only when they feel like it. They don’t treat players equally and let certain acts fly under the radar while heavily penalizing others.

With such inconsistent treatment, it’s hard to guess what’s going on behind the scenes.

What Can You Do?

If you’re a seasoned Overwatch bettor, the League staying healthy is in your best interests. It’s difficult to make an impact on such a large company, but there are some things you can do to keep the League alive and welcome on betting sites.

The two examples mentioned above have silver linings; Blizzard is willing to listen to fans only if enough of them speak out. They are a company, after all, and if people threaten to no longer give them money, they’ll likely change their ways.

However, the Overwatch League has another source of “revenue,” and that is viewer count. The Overwatch League is a spectacle, and if it doesn’t have spectators, it’s no longer fulfilling Blizzard’s goals.

Another thing you can do is contact Blizzard directly and let them know that what they’re doing is wrong. They have direct contact lines available on their website and tend to respond to messages.

It might be painful missing out on some betting opportunities, but the Overwatch League can’t last long if Blizzard keeps assuming the worst of everything. If you want to keep the Overwatch League alive, you might have to help kill it for a while.



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