With Voice Chat Coming, Heroes Of The Storm Players Brace For Harassment

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."

Since then, she's discussed the topic on multiple occasions across her stream, tweets, and an article on Polygon. Her perspective has sparked debate after debate in the HOTS community.

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."


Comments

    This is silly. You don't solve problems with discrimination by silencing everyone.
    Attitudinal changes are what will solve that and we'll only get there by not allowing jerks to come to the fore. Then they can be disciplined accordingly.

      Yeah but neither of us have walked in her shoes. It sounds like she's put up with a lot of shit as a gamer.

      Not everyone wants to fight all the time to make the world a better place. All of sometimes just want to chill with our favourite game without people targeting us for personal traits that we can do nothing about, like our age, gender or race.

        I grant you that, but taking it away from everyone is just silly.
        Make it opt in and everyone is happy.

          Discord, Ventrillo, Skype and so on are opt in. Built-in voice chat is kind-of opt out. I've left many a toxic game because of the way female gamers are treated. I play a fair bit of HOTS, but I fear what the environment will become like. If you have never experienced the torrent of dic-pics, then endless pickup attempts, taunts, the people who think they are better than you because you are a girl (even when your kda is clearly superior) then I'm happy you have a great life... but my experience is not the same as yours.

          Built in voice chat gives an edge to players who use it, but I have to turn off my mic if I don't want to be harassed. Because I can guarantee you that any female you know who uses voice chat in-game can tell you of the endless harassment we receive, both in and out of game (and yes, most females who talk in game can tell you of the stalkers who follow up with out of game date requests, dic-pics and worse).

            Skype, Vent and Discord are not practical in matchmaking. Built is voice chat is the only way you will be able to get random squads to speak to each other.

            I'm not discounting the fact that online games are filled with jerks, but I disagree that the solution is silencing everyone - including those with good intentions. That's why I propose the voice setting to be opt in.

              Yes but if you opt-out you're at a competitive disadvantage. That's not fair either. No matter how you slice it people who don't want to deal with voice chat, for whatever reason, are at a disadvantage when it becomes part of the game.

              If you don't have compulsory voice chat then the game is a fairer playing field, which is very important with games such as this.

                Totally get where you're coming from, and I do in fact agree with you.

                I do however think you are unquestionably stymieing the true potential of team cohesion because some people are jerks. I don't think that makes for a very good surface-level solution to a very complex and pervasive problem.

                  I get where you're coming from too. It sucks. The biggest problems with gaming are toxic morons. If it wasn't for them... it'd be great.

      Spoken like someone who isn't the target of this kind of thing.

      'Hey ladies, you NEED to have four dozen rape threats screamed at you so we can tell those naughty boys off!'

        Sure dude. That was definitely what I meant. Thanks for stating it for me so succinctly.

        Of course, you're right. Censorship is always the answer. Let's go with that.

        Unless you propose another solution. Are you able to provide an alternative to blanket silencing everyone to combat harrassment? I'd love to hear it.

          Sure! Guys can stop being misogynist, abusive, aggressive assholes, that's the solution.

          You get right on that, and when you're done, we can go ahead without anyone having to be abused just because you have some ideological notions you hold dear.

          It's telling that the people who most ardently defend 'free speech' are always the ones least affected by it negatively.

          Don't ask other people to suffer for something YOU want. That's worse than censorship.

            Did I not say that we need a fundamental shift in attitudes in my initial comment? Also, I don't appreciate your assumption that I am part of the problem simply because I criticise the solution. I never asked for people to suffer for something I want, so thanks for putting words in my mouth. I lament the nature of anonymous internet toxicity, but disagree with protesting open communication.

            Since you're going to bring up freedom of speech, I may as well run with it even though this seems to have come out of nowhere.
            Freedom of speech is a weapon. It is used to attack but crucially, also to defend. I never once defended speech in this thread, but I do defend freedom of speech because I am sensible enough to respect the positives and negatives of this duality and recognise the necessity of it. I was unaware freedom of speech was just 'some ideological notion'. Be thankful you can call anyone a' misogynist, abusive, aggressive asshole, at all.

            Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like educate myself and ask the people of Venezuela, North Korea and PRC about the apparent virtues of censorship. I've heard it's negated a lot of suffering in those nations and they're thankful for it.

              I have no idea why you are talking about 'censorship'. 'Censoring' is to selectively remove parts of speech according to ideological principles. That is not what is happening here. This is *only* a 'freedom of speech' issue, as there is no freedom, at all, being allowed.

              And the problem is you are just displaying a high level of privilege by talking about freedom of speech as a singular notion. It is not. The freedom of speech for domestically abused women or Rohingya refugees is not the same freedom of speech that middle class Neo-Nazis have, despite their claims to the contrary. It's only a magical ideal for people who aren't affected negatively by it. For disempowered people, the power of speech is very real and they know it is not all equal.

              Speech is a discourse of power. By trying to make it look like all forms are equal under one notion, you simply reinforce the powerful and disempower the disempowered.

              I gave you the only, actual solution.

              Women don't need to hear abuse for 'bad men to stop being bad'. Other men don't need to hear 'bad men being bad'. The only people in this picture who need to change are misogynist assholes, and no one else should suffer in the process to protect their 'freedom'.

              So this is why we can't have nice things. There's a bunch of people on this site who are part of that problem, so rather than wasting time with me, go engage them. See if you can get them to change their behaviours.

              Good luck, you'll need it.

                I hoenstly and sincerely appreciate the thought that is so evidently put into your responses in this discussion, and I can tell you're obviously a good person, but you're trying to argue with the wrong guy.

                I agree with you, in principle..Disrespect toward women from men needs to change. Some men can be absolute pigs. Simple as that. Where we disagree is on the idea (to bring things back on topic) that we should shut everyone out of an unquestionably useful feature because some people have a bad time (yes, severly in some cases). I am not the person that harrasses women when they just want to play a game. I in fact defend them when I can in the games of Overwatch I so frequently play. I detest the behaviour of some boys (they are not men) that wear a woman down on a game simply becasue she is a woman.

                But

                I will not endorse the omittance of a key feature in a video game that I want because girls get upset, and boys are jerks. I will not willingly lose out on a feature that I will enjoy, even if its soley becasue of my freedom from abuse due to my supposed 'privilege'. If that makes me privileged, then so be it. Id' rather that over the alternative.
                I will gladly do whatever I can to help change this culture, but only to an extent. I will not carry the misfortune and mistreatment of others, which I have had no part in, on my shoulders - ever - and this extends far beyond voice chat in video games.

                  'It doesn't affect me so I don't care, and I demand it goes the way I want it to'.

                  'I will not carry the misfortune and mistreatment of others'

                  No, given you are someone who enables it to happen, I imagine you don't want to feel the sting of responsibility. You're hardly alone in that, it's the majority attitude - and why bad things happen.

                  I don't think you're a bad person at all, just a selfish person - and by that selfishness, are happy to cause others to suffer as long as you get what you want and you can justify your own lack of complicity.

                  The fact you equate 'a feature you enjoy' as having the same value as a young woman being repeatedly told she should be violently raped, is pretty much the defining essence of your position and illustrative of why you don't understand the principles of power in speech.

    i haven't played Overwatch in ages but isn't the voice chat in that opt in?

    like you're in a public match you fly blind unless you decide to join whatever the voice channel is. off course it doesn't stop you from being text spammed but that can happen today anyway

    Ewwww. Don't like the sound of this. I'm one of those shy gamers who for some silly reason find online team games hard with voice chat. Was one of the big draws for HOTS over dota and such.

    I'll still give it a try, but from the text chat abuse I've seen against new players (or even good players against other good players with a different play style) I have zero hope that it won't turn toxic :(

    I didn't know about the Overwatch letting people know they're banned though. That would be a nice addition if enough votes or repeat offences had them kicked and let players know it had happened as both a warning to others and a little feeling of justice to those being abused.

    Lets stop something because one streamer doesn't like it.... makes sense...

    just remember this has always been the case for every game so far....NOT!

    have you seen it done once in any blizzard games? i havent.

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