In the near future, Blizzard is adding built-in voice chat to Heroes of the Storm. Announced at BlizzCon last year, it's been a long time coming to a game that's been out since 2015. Some players, however, are worried that voice chat will cause more problems than it will solve.
For months, HOTS streamer FerociouslySteph has been leading the charge against voice chat in Blizzard's universe-colliding MOBA. "Being able to voice-chat with your teammates is an indisputable game edge," she tweeted in November, shortly after the voice chat announcement at BlizzCon.
"Convenient voice chat in pick-up team games is anti-inclusivity; it forces minorities to reveal themselves to potential harassers, or be handicapped at game play."
So far, however, it doesn't seem like Blizzard has any intention of reversing course, given that voice chat is currently live on the game's public test realm.
Research backs up FerociouslySteph's assertions. In a 2012 multiplayer game study conducted by Lindsey Rose and Jeffrey Kuznekoff involving 1,660 "unique gamers," the researchers found that, on average, a female voice received three times as many negative comments as a male voice or no voice.
Critics of FerociouslySteph and her supporters have suggested that if harassment really becomes that much of an issue, they can always just mute the worst offenders. That, however, puts the person with their finger hovering over the mute button at a pretty serious disadvantage.
"Every time you are forced to mute a harasser, you are restricting the flow of information they may still be feeding the rest of the team," FerociouslySteph wrote on Polygon. "And even if the harasser hurts their own winrate in the process, minorities are by definition fewer in number -- the average game won't have one, but all of mine will."
She added that there are other consequences of having a voice that doesn't fit what HOTS players are expecting, whether that means one that causes players to ostracize you along the lines of age, gender, ethnicity, or communication disability.
"Social biases can easily cause subtle, harder-to-quantify disadvantage[s]," she wrote. "The only way to escape having those biases attached to you is to not speak at all."
Others have optimistically suggested that in the short term, voice chat will make communication clearer, preventing people from flying off the handle, and perhaps with time, the HOTS community will police itself to a point of squeaky clean kindness. FerociouslySteph finds both of those viewpoints to be naive at best.
"The most painful thing is telling the dreamers who believe this community can self-moderate that it won't," FerciouslySteph told Kotaku via DM, adding that she currently finds the game's reporting tools to be too automated and barebones to be truly effective in dissuading harassers.
She suggested that limiting voice chat to in-game friends or parties might help, but even that's not ideal, given the game's current state.
In general, players seem to have a low opinion of HOTS' automated report systems, which, in the case of abusive chat, temporarily silence the text chat of players who receive a sufficient number of reports.
Taken together with the fact that muting can punish the person being harassed more than the harasser, it paints a pretty bleak picture of HOTS' ability to cope with the harassment load voice chat stands to add.
Some players have suggested that the HOTS team should take a cue from Overwatch's still-far-from-perfect reporting system and add capital-C consequences like suspensions and bans for repeat offenders, as well as notifications that will let people know when Blizzard has taken action against people they have reported. Others have suggested that perhaps players who abuse voice chat should be blocked from certain modes like ranked play.
As of now, though, these things are just ideas, and FerociouslySteph's not sold on HOTS' ability to weather the coming storm. "Easy access voice chat comes with a diversity cost. Period," FerociouslySteph said. "This discussion should be centred around if that cost is worth it to the game as a whole, and how that cost can be mitigated."