Say you're trying your hardest in Overwatch, and there's a player or two on your team blatantly not giving a shit. Maybe it's Symmetra dropping a teleporter to a completely useless part of the map, or Roadhog just sitting down on the ground miles away from the action.
If you're playing on PC, no problem: just report the player and move on. But if you're on consoles, the process is either too aggressive or doesn't exist at all, leaving a system that's ripe for abuse.
For the majority of Overwatch's life, Blizzard has done a reasonably good job of retaining feature parity between PC and consoles. Balance is handled separately across the platforms, as is appropriate for a competitive game, but for the most part you're getting the same game irrespective of what system you play on.
Except for one major thing: the ability to report dickheads.
Over the last few months, Overwatch has gradually overtaken Destiny as my evening game of choice. It's been a fun transition, going from only playing co-op games, to trying competitive PvP titles, to exclusively playing Overwatch's competitive mode. And on the PS4, the experience has been mostly good: matchmaking times are usually no more than a couple of minutes and people don't abandon matches too often.
Nobody likes a leaver when in competitive mode. But if someone abandons, there's always the possibility of getting a drop-in replacement. The problem is when people choose to deliberately lose, presumably because they want to tank their competitive rating (maybe so they can group up with lesser-skilled friends, or because they want the lowest rating possible).
It's possible to hit rank zero in Overwatch's competitive mode. Dale "Bacontotem" Brown knows. He's done it. There's a caveat, though. it takes a hell of a lot of work.
Earlier this year, game director Jeff Kaplan promised on the forums that consoles would be getting the same reporting feature available on PC. "I don't have an exact ETA because there are many moving parts to make this happen," he wrote in January. "My hope is that everything locks into place before summer ... or sooner. But we're at the mercy of things beyond our control on this one and we've been working super hard to make it happen."
But we're almost at the end of autumn, and the feature is nowhere to be seen. Overwatch fans haven't forgotten:
Blizzard has made announcements at E3 before, although they don't typically make a huge splash. If anything, they're more likely to announce things through the Overwatch forums or site directly. And for what it's worth, the official support account on Twitter confirmed this week that a reporting feature was being developed for consoles, but didn't provide an ETA:
@casual_pete In-game reporting is not available on PS4 or XBL at the moment but is under development ^KAL
— BlizzardCS (@BlizzardCS) May 6, 2017
It's understandable why Blizzard hasn't or can't port over the reporting feature yet. On PC, accounts are tied into an ecosystem that Blizzard controls entirely. That's not the case on consoles, where your account is inextricably linked to the rest of the platform.
And depending on what console you play on, it's created two separate problems. For those playing on PS4, like myself, it means you literally have no recourse against players who decide to be deliberately useless. Annoyed that Mei keeps throwing ice walls in front of you at spawn, or that Winston just spends half the match leaping and camping out half a world away? Too bad.
If you want to report a player, you have to go to their PS4 profile, click options and then go report. From there, you can report "In-game Behaviour or Things Created or Shared Within Game". But the report goes to Sony, not to Blizzard, and Sony's support staff wouldn't have easy access to chat logs or records of gameplay from Overwatch.
Xbox users have the same problem, albeit to a vastly different degree. Reporting gamertags on Xbox is a far simpler process, but where the Xbox platform differs is the reputation system:
As players submit reports through the Xbox reputation system, those reports are tallied against their profile. If their status starts to drop, Xbox begins issuing penalties: their ability to communicate through Xbox Live is reduced and limits are placed on what players they can matchmake with online.
In theory it sounds like a decent alternative, but it's ripe for abuse of a different nature. The Overwatch community likes to poke fun at those who play snipers exclusively, like Hanzo or Widowmaker. But far too often people who main the latter are subject to endless amounts of abuse, from other gamers insistent on the belief that literally any other hero would be better.
Snipers have a bad reputation. The class is infamous for standing back and picking off kills, all without contributing to the match objective. In Overwatch, that sniper stigma means that players consider heroes like Widowmaker and Hanzo to be nonviable competitively. For some players, straying from that norm often turns ugly.
If you're playing on PC, getting reported for maining Hanzo won't have much impact on your Heroes of the Storm or Diablo 3 account. But get enough reports on Xbox Live from players who think they're doing the right thing, and your ability to enjoy other games is compromised as well.
Earlier this year, a Kotaku reader got in touch about this very problem. "Once enough [Unsporting Conduct] reports are made, the reported players' reputation drops down to "Avoid Me" which is effectively a matchmaking ban in Overwatch as it will only match you with players of similar reputation and there's typically not 11 other people with that rep in the game in the same region to make up a full match."
"The only option is to go play other games like Battlefield 1 and World of Tanks which are not beholden to the reputation system in order to get your rep back to "Needs Work" at which point you can matchmake as normal ... all because I prefer to play characters like Torbjorn, Junkrat, Hanzo and now even Orisa. Doesn't matter that I tend to get multiple golds in a match, am always contesting points/payloads, and always trying to support my team. You dare to play a character someone doesn't like and apparently that's 'Unsporting Conduct'."
The problem facing Overwatch isn't new. It's been an issue amongst the World of Tanks community for years, with artillery users copping the same level of treatment as Hanzo and Widowmaker mains. Wargaming eventually decoupled their free-to-play tank brawler from Microsoft's model, allowing gamers with crappy reputations to matchmake as per normal. And the decision has had an odd benefit: it's meant that World of Tanks is one of the few games on Xbox One that players can go to if they need to improve their reputation, as they won't be beset by empty lobbies or exceptionally long queue times because of something that happened in another game.
I've reached out to Blizzard for comment, but hadn't heard back at the time of writing. Either way, Overwatch's griefing problem needs a solution. It's something that Blizzard understandably couldn't have solved for Overwatch's release: the game was their first major simultaneous release on console, and dealing with two separates platform you have no control over is a completely different kettle of fish from an ecosystem you built from scratch.
But competitive games on console, right now, can be completely hijacked by anyone who suddenly decides they want to lose. PS4 players have no decent recourse at all, and those on Xbox are being unfairly hit to the point where it can ruin their experience entirely. Overwatch has needed a solution of its own, and it can't come soon enough.