How Blizzard Is Trying To Fix Overwatch's Toxicity Problem

When Overwatch first launched, people were remarkably non-shitty to each other as they joined hands/mecha gorilla paws and entered a world of bright colour and positivity. Now that the game's been out for a bit, however, things have taken a turn. In my experience, Overwatch is still significantly less infected by The Toxic Plague than many other popular multiplayer games. However, with time and understanding come expectations. And with expectations comes a marked decrease in patience and tolerance. People tire of players who don't know it all, or who won't cooperate, or who think Reaper is at his best as a frontline-rushing ult ballerina.

"It's a big concern for us," Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan told me in a recent interview. "I think, for the most part, the Overwatch community has been fantastic. But [toxicity] is not just in Competitive Play. I think as the game ages a little bit, people's dark sides tend to come out a little bit more and definitely when you put the competitive stakes in there, it raises a little bit."

Competitive mode, with its higher stakes and the very real possibility of getting your number dinged because some other player fucked up, compounds the issue. I honestly haven't played that much competitive in the past week because I just got fed up with teams fighting each other. Slurs were lobbed, feelings were hurt and the word "cuck" was thrown around like confetti at an arsehole parade. I've encountered my fair share of good matches too, but even with some pretty high highs, the lows were so very, very low. I've seen others express similar sentiments.

Blizzard has stated on multiple occasions that they're tweaking competitive mode to make it a more fair, less frustrating experience. There's still a long way to go on that front, however, and some changes won't be implemented until season two and onward. In the meantime, Blizzard has been working to isolate the problem of toxicity specifically, even if it doesn't always show.

"There are some systems that under the hood we've been tweaking as well," said Kaplan. "A lot of this is very black box — and for a reason. We don't talk about it because if we talk about it too much, players can exploit behaviour."

"For example, there's the report function, the way that works," he explained. "Since Competitive has been live, we've been doing some under the hood tuning and tweaking on that feature to be more aggressive about handling toxic behaviour. I wish there was more that was visible to players in a way that wouldn't allow for other negative players to exploit it."

Kaplan conceded that, if nothing else, the system could stand to give the players who do the reporting a little more feedback. Rather than tossing a report into the void, they should get a clear notification that Blizzard took action. "We don't notify you back right now, and I think that's a bummer," he said.

On the other side of the coin, Kaplan and co have been designing systems that would keep solo queue players who had positive experiences together for longer periods of time — not as groups or friends necessarily, but still between matches and moments when the game boots you back to the main screen.

"We're brainstorming systems right now where you're sitting at the end of the match and you're like, 'Hey, that Steven guy and that Nathan guy, they were actually pretty cool. Fuck, I wish I could just play with them more, so I'm just going to click this button then if they do the same thing, then we can all just keep playing matches for the night.' It's not some permanent friend thing. We're not sharing real ID's or anything like that. We're just saying, 'Hey, I like that group who I happened to be put with. How can I play more with those guys because they seem nice or confident or whatever,'" Kaplan explained.

Of course, those are only a couple of approaches, and the fight against toxicity is a long, oftentimes ugly one. I think it's important to show early on that people can't walk in and spew septic tank toilet garbage everywhere. Blizzard has a chance to set a standard, lay a strong foundation. Kaplan described the Overwatch team's anti-toxicity stance as "aggressive", something they have prioritised since day one. With toxicity levels rising, though, can they keep pace and stem the tide?


    Games that you play with other people that contain arbitrary "progression" numbers always result in expectations. "this guys level 90 he must be good" No, hes just played alot might be terrible but really enjoys the game.

    the only way to get rid of the toxic nature around elitism in a game based on play time or level is to overhaul the system. Look at what the underlying issues are that spur people towards this anti social interaction and find a way to make them be constructive not destructive.

    Ive heard a tirade of abuse come from people "top o' the leaderboard" because they got the most kills, but their team still lost. Yet they have none/lowest objective points because they are off being their solo amazing ninja selves.

    Move the focus to supporting teammates and helping other players and you will see a change in the overall attitude.

      Definitely this. Like you said, when progression is team based as opposed to singularly focused a lot of that toxicity disappears.

        Yeah but Overwatch progression IS team based. The key is highlighting plays that help the team rather than kills, but that's hard for an algorithm to do.
        Weight Objective Time high on the post match commendations and damage done less would be a good start imo.

          Indeed, it is hard but not impossible so it will be interesting to see what they do over time. My 12 year old loves the game though and he's having a ball with it. I supervise him a lot (well secretly, its kind of a very fun game to watch tbh lol) and I really haven't seen *personally* a lot of toxicity but that's not to say it doesn't exist.

          But I come from Rust/Ark/DayZ/Counterstrike where it's a cast of swimming in pools of toxic sludge to find the sky above lol.

          Last edited 16/07/16 10:21 am

            Yeah Overwatch has been better than many games in my experience.
            Competitive games are always gonna have their share of rage and salt, it's just the nature of the beast.

          I would like to see the opportunity to be able to commend anyone. They should give you the option of voting for who you think should appear on the end page during PotG. There are times I want to vote for people, and they're not commended

            Even just a "Great teammate" or "Would play with again" kinda kudos button. Not for awesome slick moves per se, but for being a helpful and polite player.
            Perhaps make it a number that is displayed on your profile or something and you can't vote for people in your own party. Make being nice and helpful to strangers a status symbol.

              I think it should be you can vote for people in your own party, but not your friends

                So premades can't vote at all? That doesn't sound workable.

                  No, everyone can vote. The idea is that there is a good teammate counter. Groups (of friends) wouldn't be able to vote for each other, but can vote for people they don't know. There's always the option of not voting at all.

                  @scree What I mean is if you go in as a group of 6 friends, your rule will mean they can't vote at all. Premade groups like that are fairly common.

                  They can vote for the opposing team. The thing is, the reason for this is to prevent people from abusing the system. If someone is a terrible person, their friends (who are probably also terrible people) can all vote for each other, negating the bad karma rating they would have gotten. Unfortunately, as shown with the avoid this player problem, people will abuse systems if given the oppotunity

          Generally speaking in-game progression relies upon your teammates working towards an objective yes. But ive seen teamwork breakdown before the game even starts because of people uttering sentences like "omg they have a full team of Level Xs and we got 3 level Ys, how is that fair?"

          In my experience its the arbitrary "level" progression that seems to be doing more damage then any of the commendations. But Call of duty has always had issues of people favouring their K/D ratio over an objective score, and that is also part of the issue when you track stats like that.

          Ideally if you remove this information from people to judge you or others on you can curb this kind of discrimination. Sure keep the levels, keep the commendations and the play of the game. But don't tie any numbers to it while you are in the game playing against other players.

          What do I mean by this? You see that your lobby is full of players, but you don't know their levels. Reaper got the most kills? awesome, but who cares about the exact amount. Mercy was on the objective the most, that's cool that she was supporting and also playing aggressively.

          Let players look that information up after the game has finished in a completely separate area away from being able to instantly abuse and degrade either their teammates or their opposition.

          Last edited 16/07/16 11:56 am

            I'd agree with the not showing the enemy team's level, that's a good idea.
            The in match stats I'm not so sure on. I personally use them as a way to track my own usefulness, as an indicator of whether or not my pick is working or I should switch characters.
            Maybe have the numbers in match, but not the medals. That way you can track your own progress but aren't mentally competing against your own team. Then post game, show number and medals.
            I like having numbers post game, gives context to the medals.
            The enemy Roadhog that was messing with me all game? 80% hook accuracy? Damn, I'll upvote that!
            Gold medal for healing? Yeah but it was only like 2k, I'll vote for the Mcree I never saw, but apparently got 30 kills. I was wondering why they never managed to group up. Ect.

      Well keep in mind there is specific characters designed to do just that. Tracers/Genjis/Reapers are all designed to harass the flanks, thus not on the point and do get a lot of solo kills. Doesn't excuse toxic behaviour about them topping boards if that's the case. But those characters are their to slow reinforcements and weaken their attack/defence so the main group has an easier time.

        This. I've been playing alot of Tracer, and (although I can't prove it) I'm pretty sure I've helped win a bunch of games by harassing the enemy flanks, and causing 2 or more of their team to ignore the objective and try to hunt me down. Even if you aren't getting kills, you're disrupting the enemy team and causing mayhem while your team sets up defensive positions around objectives.

      On you can see that one of the highest level players is one of the lowest rank.

      Ive heard a tirade of abuse come from people "top o' the leaderboard" because they got the most kills, but their team still lost. Yet they have none/lowest objective points because they are off being their solo amazing ninja selves.

      Which is I think why OW doesnt show these stats across the players.

      Move the focus to supporting teammates and helping other players and you will see a change in the overall attitude.

      And they have done this in competitive with the rank there. Team wins and you go up. Team loses and you go down. A lack of teamwork will reflect in this rank.

      The problem I have right now is quitters. They quit any game immediately it looks like the team might lose on competitive. I think they need to ninja matchmake all the quitters only with each other. That would be perfect.

      Last edited 16/07/16 12:50 pm

        The problem I have right now is quitters. They quit any game immediately it looks like the team might lose on competitive. I think they need to ninja matchmake all the quitters only with each other. That would be perfect.

        Actually it's just occurred to me the mechanism here. People are gaming the Competitive Point system. Doesn't it always give you a CP when you go up a level? A player who wants the golden gun can hover around the low levels, wearing the losses and picking easy battles to dominate and go up levels (over and over again) more often. So a natural 50 player might be rolling around the 30s, 40s just picking up CPs as quick as they can.

        -2 CP for every quit would solve that maybe.

          Nah, what you do in those 10 placement matches is play like you have no brain. Never achieve a kill, never go near the objective, constantly die or commit suicide. Then you're placed at like, rank 10. Now you have easy wins until you get to rank 40.

      When I get four gold medals and we still lose. I have a right to bitch about my team

        those medals are as meaningless as the levels

        Yes because anyone can bitch and rage over the internet, especially a person with skewed priorities. :^) When you decide to do so in person, I will applaud you. Or laugh. I do so love a good laugh, especially when the object I choose to laugh it is the type of person to get angry over a game. A game. I want you to actually say this out loud: 'I am the type of person, to get angry over a game and use any kind of excuse, no matter how weak, to verbally abuse someone I don't know. Over a game. A bunch of numbers and letters that have nothing to do with real life.' I want you to say it when your ego isn't bruised and so you can listen to how ridiculous you sound.

    I deleted it last night, I think competitive mode has killed it for me a bit, but I don't really feel a hook to just play Quick Match. A combination of the rank ups/downs not feeling particularly fair, the unsatisfying sudden deaths, the leavers in every 2 or 3 games and the bad vibes in almost all games is pretty frustrating.

      Remember Season 1 was always going to be a test season pretty much. Big changes are already listed to be happening for Season 2, so don't write it off just yet.

      Why would you delete it? are you that strapped for hard drive space? Not really disagreeing with you but I never understand this kind of passive aggressive action.

        I work from home and its really easy to get distracted by games. When the rage factor starts to outweigh the enjoyment it doesn't necessarily negate the procrastination pull factor. Even though I can just download it again, I find its that little bit of extra effort that helps keep me away from it til I really want to play it again. I get this with most competitive games, I need to reset the old rage clock periodically.

        Oh yeh, and I am technically strapped for HDD space too, playing on a small Bootcamp partition :P

        Last edited 16/07/16 12:39 pm

        Wait since when is deleting a game passive aggressive? I delete games when I'm done with them because I'm done with them it's not passive aggressive even if you're deleting it because it's shit now.

        I have no horse in this race, but I AM that strapped for hard drive space that if I'm not getting value out of games, I tend to delete them.

        Partly this is because the Steam connections are SO FAST that I can re-download whatever, whenever, 40+ GB is an overnight thing at worst, but usually just a matter of a few hours.

        And I have many, many games installed at once; at some point something's gotta give.

    Competitiveness is purely and simply about insecurity. It's a human survival mechanism - fear prompts are delivered to spur action in the face of competition.

    The greater the level of competitiveness, the greater the level of insecurity. A good litmus test is watching how competitive people react when you confront them with this ;)

    You can't stop the insecurity driving competition - all you can do is be very smart in channeling it.

    GL Blizz.

      Not really. I know people that are supremely confident and also highly competitive. I also know people that are so insecure that they don't compete for fear of failing.

      Sure, there are people that compete to compensate for their own insecurity, but I think you're drawing a pretty long bow here.

        No, you do not know confident people who are highly competitive.

        If you're confident, you don't need to be competitive because, you know, you're confident.

        You just do it.

        Competitiveness requires fear - that's what the emotion is. If these people aren't fearful then that's not what you're seeing.

          No, you do not know confident people who are highly competitive.

          Of course, because human psychology is absolutely black and white, with not a single exception.

          All sarcasm aside, people who are confident in their abilities can still be competitive. The will to succeed isn't necessarily the product of fear. If you are 100% sure it is, I would love to see your sources.

            Right? What a ridiculously naive assertion from burnside. Some of the most competitive people I know are also highly confident, they just enjoy the thrill of testing their mettle against others and pushing to constantly improve.

    My main gripe isn't that people don't "know what how to play" it's that this game is designed as a team game and yet people don't understand the concept of how a team works. For instance, last nights games consisted of the following:

    Game 1 (Capture point)
    Me: Mercy (first to choose)
    p2: Tracer
    p3: Mcree
    p4: Rineheart
    p5: Junkrat
    p6: Reaper

    1/4 into match I ask for one of the other guys to switch to a mid-long range offense, as we were getting hammered by a Pharah, Widow and Soldier. Nothing. we promptly get stomped on and the obligatory "ez pz, you guys suck" roll along

    Game 2 (defend)
    Me: Soldier (1st to choose)
    p2: Roadhog
    p3: Hanzo
    p4: Hanzo (as below)
    p5: Mei (chose while running to prepare def)
    p6: Genji

    Asked someone to go healer, preferably one of the Hanzo's... No response... halfway through game, I'm sitting on 4 gold medals (I'm not very good, so I think that the team has issues, if I'm "dominating") Once again, ask for someone to go healer (i didn't, because once again, I seem to be doing some heavy lifting). Instead people promptly swapping to Mcree, D.Va, Genji, Reaper, Widow, etc.

    Stopped playing because of my utter frustration, was this close to throwing my mouse.

    I can't count how many times I have had to swap to healer or tank because people just utterly refuse to play a team role. Then people leave the game, and then the person who comes in for them promptly decides to play Widowmaker on flippin Night Market...

    This is what bothers me, and the salty winners

    Last edited 16/07/16 11:07 am

      Console or PC and what rank? Is this competitive (you don't say)? It looks like it's not if people leave then others come in. Myself and others i know are using quick play simply to practice classes we're not that great in we don't care about winning or loosing, we just want to get better\familar with x class - so you could be screaming from a mountain top and we'd still ignore you. You want better quality matches play competitive :D

      Yeah, it seems like many people are allergic to the support/tank heroes, that or they pick their character based on preference and not team comp/enemy hero counter. It's why I'm usually the last to choose so I can round out our team.

      I play ranked pretty much all of the time now (Lv105). And yes I find that some teams are good with comps and others not so much. I've had a few games where no one has gone healer and I was the only tank so couldn't really change. I've had others where someone has requested a specific role and I change to fit or someone else does, it's a mixed bag.

      But yes, it's true that a lot of people don't understand it's a team game, and run off to the enemy spawn as tracer or reaper to hide and ambush solo players running out, while the rest of our team has to try and hold a point. I've even seen people saying they're switching class because they don't want to ruin the stats on that class...

      I think the worst people I've seen are those who lock in only a single class, usually Widowmaker even when the map isn't good for that class or it's getting countered and won't change or talk or be useful, just sitting far back somewhere camping, but constantly getting killed by a Genji.

    Am I the only one that doesn't give a flying fuck what people say/type in a game? Its very easy to mute someone but I mean do people really get upset about what random people say on a game?

    When ever something is team based and competitive people will always get salty/bitchy. This is made 1000x worse due to the anonymous nature of being on the internet. I really don't see what blizz or any other game can do other then remove game chat all together.

    Toxic players? No way.

    I havent been told on more than one occassion to kill myself for winning a game.... definitely not. One in particular i got 4 messages from 4 different gts saying it when i was being damage buffed as bastion by a mercy. I reported them straight to xbox support and they were ban hammered. How disgraceful to message someone to kill themselves. Lowest of scum troll or not

    Overwatch is heavily a team game that relies on good team compositions, counter picks and skill playing each particular character. With so little time in matches, it is vital for the attacking, or defending team, swaps characters if they are losing to better counter balance the other team.

    This is where I have noticed a lot of the toxicity coming from, a player that decides to play a class that is less effective and refuses to swap (i.e., torb attacking on a payload map who cant get a turret up). This inevitably leads to the rest of the team coming down on this one player.

    What can be done about this, effectively nothing as bliz or the team cannot force the player to swap characters. It will be interesting to see how this plays out!

    Atleast there is no chat option on consoles. The most toxic stuff you'll see are the passive aggressive "Thanks!" spams.

    Or maybe that's just me.

      and people respond with a passive aggressive "Hello!" spams.

    *gets a 15 win streak after working your ass off*
    "Ok, we'll increase your rank by one"

    *loses a single game because you were teamed up with brain dead morons*
    "Give me back that rank number you asshole!"

    I've honestly only played 2 games with toxic players on PS4. One on the first day with a guy who swore he was returning it and preordering COD and one in my first competitive match who betated me for choosing Reinhardt on attack. I went on to escort the payload with a Lucio while he died over and over as McRee. Oh and in a really happy coincidence I also got an incredibly rare POTG to really show him he didn't have a clue. Even when I played with an obnoxious 8 year old who wanted us to friend him everyone was friendly.

      Ive got it on both PS4 and PC, its much better on PS4.

      Reinhardt and Lucio are great on attack together

    A lot of toxicity is just people with boring lives that don't fulfill them spiritually or emotionally. So they take their self anger out on someone who can't possibly retaliate in person and cause physical or emotional harm.

    Real gutsy. And the sad thing is these people are becoming more and more common. I weep for the future of this world.

    As for me I don't care what random fuckwits think about me. I have a family that loves me a job that I love and am emotionally and spiritually fulfilled. I pity those that have to be toxic to feel some sort of levity. I really do. That is in no way I life worth living.

      When I get four gold medals in one game and we loss, I believe I have a right to bitch about my team.

        Medals mean nothing. I've gotten no medals while playing Mei but strategic ice walls and freezing the tanks and placements of ultimate a have stopped advancements of the opposing team to win us the game. Does that mean I am a bad player?

        On the flip side when someone earns golds but is always hunting eleminations and doesn't know the first thing on how to defend the point or payload and puts extra pressure on the defending team. Does that mean the team is bad because it is constantly a 5v6 scenario?

        Medals award solo play more than anything. Which is counter intuitive in a team based game.

        Don't get me wrong when I play soldier or reaper and I out heal a Mercy or Lucio. I question the ability of the player but does being an ass to them accomplish anything?

        I mean what does being toxic accomplish in the long run? Is it going to make a bad player better? Is it going to make a team that is really pushing hard stop stomping you? Is it going to make anyone but yourself feel better.

        The answer is no and if being an ass to your team mates is something you do on a regular basis maybe you should be teaming up with people you know and going in as a group so you know you have equal skilled players on your team and have less reason to be salty or maybe you need a standard death match game and not have to rely on team mates.

        Being toxic is just about your own ego and self loathing when things don't go your way. Being toxic is about you not being able function as an adult and deciding to degenerate to a 3 year old who is throwing a tantrum.

        In life there are 2 types of people. Those who succeed who overcome their weeknesses. Who drive a team to succeed. Who work hard with others and overcome the odds. And then there are those who command who experience marginal success. Who berate and belittle those who they are working with and ultimately accomplish far less than what they set out to do.

        Which one would you rather be?

    Bring back preferred players.

    Had a Genji swearing up a storm last night in quick play... Number of people said they reported him at match end, I know I did just on principle.

    Bitching and moaning about how he "had the whole point cleared" at one point and that nobody was pushing... Meanwhile the reason the whole point was clear was because their team was about 20 feet in front of it, still very much alive.

    the nice thing about playing on console is there no chat, which means the toxicity can only be taken out with what happens on the screen.

    that said what they really need to do is get rid of the rapid deleveling process. Sure keep in the leveling up process but gosh that whole rapid delveling thing is just appalling. thats one of the reason why people get toxic: if you lose you lose a lot more than if you win. Nothing says "we value your time and continually support" by losing a few levels in a night just because some idiots leave because you are losing. I have lost seven levels since I started, sure some of them I deserved because I was outclassed them a few of them because of leavers and because I play support and characters like Tracer, which is not about kill counts or adjective time so get 'xp'

    Last edited 18/07/16 9:34 am

    On the other side of the coin, Kaplan and co have been designing systems that would keep solo queue players who had positive experiences together for longer periods of time — not as groups or friends necessarily, but still between matches and moments when the game boots you back to the main screen.
    “We’re brainstorming systems right now where you’re sitting at the end of the match and you’re like, ‘Hey, that Steven guy and that Nathan guy, they were actually pretty cool. Fuck, I wish I could just play with them more, so I’m just going to click this button then if they do the same thing, then we can all just keep playing matches for the night.’ It’s not some permanent friend thing. We’re not sharing real ID’s or anything like that. We’re just saying, ‘Hey, I like that group who I happened to be put with. How can I play more with those guys because they seem nice or confident or whatever,'” Kaplan explained.

    Fucking revolutionary. More devs should think like this.

    Bitching about your team because they lost and you think you did amazingly (ooo look at those medals, four for you Glen Coco, you go Glen Coco) is very poor sportsmanship.

    Keep it constructive or don't say anything. Especially in competitive. The best you can do is ask them to change and if they don't then just deal with it.

    I've sworn off playing competitive with less than a 4 man group for this reason.

    Also screaming insults for being bad isn't likely to elicit change. It's like yelling at a fish for not being able to climb a tree...

    Last edited 18/07/16 12:22 pm

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now