"Report him," an Overwatch player said over team chat last week, referencing a Twitch streamer who goes by Stevooo. It was right after Stevooo hastily locked down the hero Symmetra.
In text, the player then politely asked all 12 of the match's players to report Stevooo "for poor teamwork." Another player responded: "I did 5 times already."
"Trash like that shouldn't be in this rank," one said.
"If he gets enough reports he's actually gonna get banned. Let's do it," said another.
Stevooo is considered a "one-trick," a term for Overwatch players who are very, very good at one hero and don't like playing others. Stevooo's "one trick" is Symmetra, and with his high-level Symmetra play, Stevooo has amassed an audience for his Twitch channel, which is entirely Symmetra-themed.
While he's streaming, Stevooo spits out Symmetra facts and playstyle advice for his audience, which he says is made up of other avid Symmetra fans. His Twitch chat is populated by trollish Symmetra faces. Gameplay clipped by his fans contains Symmetra highlights alongside quips about Overwatch culture.
As of the last few months, though, Stevooo's single-minded devotion to Symmetra in the game's competitive mode has earned him tireless hate and scorn.
A highly situational light-bender, Symmetra's turrets make for some nasty munition when protecting territory. In other scenarios — for example, when she's moving onto a control point — Symmetra is a controversial pick. Her turrets aren't easy to weaponize when she's entering enemy zones. Her teleporter and shield generator are at a greater risk if placed on enemy turf.
That's why, in a lot of contexts, Symmetra is seen as a "troll pick." Regardless, Stevooo almost always picks her.
Although he's rated among the top ten Symmetra players in the game, and has an impressive 57% win rate with Symmetra, Stevooo's teammates are consistently unsure that his Symmetra is a winning choice — or, more broadly, angry that he's not playing the game the way they think it's meant to be played.
In spite of teammates' feedback, Stevooo keeps insta-picking Symmetra most matches.
Blizzard has come out to say that one-tricks are fine; but with changes to Overwatch's reporting system that have anecdotally helped curb harassment, the game is taking swifter action against players deemed disruptive or toxic. After that night last week, Stevooo's account was suspended for "disruptive gameplay," the sixth time he'd faced a ban.
"Once people found out they could report me and get me suspended," Stevooo told me, "almost every game I've been in recently someone has told everyone in the game to report me to get me banned."
Of course, this isn't just happening to Stevooo, whose multiple accounts and shady competitive challenges may also have landed him in Overwatch jail.
Earlier this year, Kotaku reported on a sniper player whom teammates endlessly harassed and reported. Last month, a top-ranked player who one-tricks Torbjorn, another highly situational defence hero, was suspended multiple times after several player reports. Two days ago, a big discussion on Reddit from a one-trick Symmetra player who'd been repeatedly banned garnered over 1,600 comments.
Stevooo's situation has inspired mixed reactions from the Overwatch community. When he's posted threads about his suspensions on Overwatch forums, his character and playstyle are hotly debated.
Lots of fans agree that it's unfair for him to be instantly reported by teammates. Others point out his propensity for trolling and smurfing, adding that one-tricking is selfish. A few suggest that he just wants to draw attention to a system he considers unfair - or to his Twitch channel.
Fans of other first-person shooters or MOBA games might be a little surprised that putting all your time in one hero is a highly problematic way to play Overwatch. A team-based shooter, Overwatch offers 26 playable heroes across the offence, defence, tank and support categories. Optimal teams are diverse. And, the wisdom goes, optimal players are flexible.
In Overwatch's competitive mode, team composition is an ever-flowing discussion throughout a match. If it's determined that a player isn't pulling their weight or actively countering a known problem, that player will almost certainly be asked to switch heroes. It's an expectation that high-level players will know how to play several heroes, although everyone has their favourite.
Stevooo is a Symmetra main, and as a result, players have reported him, threatened him and asked him to kill himself. "People report me because they have a very specific idea of what the game should be," Stevooo said.
He takes issue with the idea that an Overwatch game is won primarily through teammates' flexibility. Building a well-rounded team, he says, is only a factor in what can win a game. The culture should be more open to the idea that, sometimes, a player is just really good at one hero. And that player can pave the team's way to victory.
In one play Stevooo posted to YouTube, his Symmetra weaves in and out of a map's small, labyrinthine rooms, microwaving four opponents with her laser with ease and confidence. His Symmetra is aggressive, confronting opponents head-on and taking big risks. In the YouTube play, a healer is attached to Stevooo almost the entire time, protecting him from death. Stevooo earns himself "Play of the Game."
"Why on earth should players who aren't doing anything against the rules be punished by other players? Blizzard is the one who designed the system, and made the rules, yet players are being punished for doing something they stated wasn't at all an offence," Stevooo said.
Sticking with one hero isn't always the issue when it comes to one-tricking. Often, it's which hero. Although players who main healers are often looked down on, every Overwatch game can do with a healer. Heroes who are tougher to play right in certain circumstances or aren't known to perform super well in higher tears garner more hate. "Symmetra becomes increasingly harder to play in the higher ranks due to her range, low mobility, and clunky kit," Stevooo explained. "Because a lot of people don't play Symmetra, the community still doesn't understand how to work with her, and considers her a liability."
The counter-point here — and it's a strong one — is that when one player locks down a hero every game, other players must build a team composition around that player. Because balanced teams are generally considered better, Stevooo's teammates often feel forced to compensate for his one-tricking. And in a team-based game like Overwatch, it's looked at as poor teamwork.
Recently, Overwatch community manager Josh Engen wrote on the Battle.net forum that "We take both sides of the issue very seriously. We believe that players should be able to choose their favourite heroes, but playing as a team (which includes building an effective team composition) is a core part of the Overwatch experience. It's a delicate balance, and we're still working on getting it right (and probably always will be). . . Sometimes that means switching off at your teammates' request, and sometimes that means working around your teammate's specialisation."
Though in Overwatch's "Report Player" window, the game is a little less ambiguous: "Poor teamwork is not playing a hero that is not considered optimal by the community."
Players who don't want to end up with one-trick teammates don't have too much recourse aside from reporting them. In the past, Overwatch offered an "Avoid Player" function. Predictably, it was abused. It would take players like Stevooo eons to match up with others for games. When the function was live, one-tricking players pointed out that they too paid $US60 ($79) for the online game. Didn't they have a right to play it?
Stevooo has asked Blizzard to overturn his suspensions. Usually, they don't.
Right now, players have the reins on who they're letting into their community and it looks like most of Overwatch's reporting system is run automatically. When it comes to toxicity, that means it's easier to pull out Overwatch's weeds. But when it comes to one-tricking, Stevooo said, the players who report him "delight in knowing Blizzard have handed them the power to abuse the reporting system and purge players they don't want in the game, even if that player wasn't doing anything bannable."
Later in last week's game, after ignoring his teammates' repeated requests for a healer, Stevooo received $US500 ($660) from a fan. "Don't feel bad dude :)," it read. "Mute voice/chat."