Overwatch's Trolls Are Losing

Overwatch players needed something to incentivise good sportsmanship and, yesterday, they got it. Blizzard's latest Overwatch patch is toning down the hierarchy of skill and introducing a hierarchy of decency.

It's a masterstroke of features, all interacting to reward civility and cleanse the game of antisocial behaviour.

At its heart is a new "endorsement" system that gives players points for communicating effectively, playing respectfully and calling shots. A badge that appears next to a player's name levels up as teammates endorse them. The higher the number, the more sociable other players can assume that Overwatch player is.

Overwatch also received a system for looking for groups, a highly customisable scheme that lets players find others who fit into certain hero roles, communicate with microphones or, crucially, clear a minimum endorsement level.

Players can now opt into specific hero roles, making it less likely they will get stuck playing something they hate or suck at in attempt to balance out a team. Flex, or play-anything, roles are also an option.

In another change, players can't automatically check out each other's play and win records unless they're friends. That means it's a little harder to rage against a Hanzo player with, say, 50 hours on the hero when you have 55.

On top of Overwatch's improved reporting system that was rolled out late last year, all of this comes together as a potent troll-killer.

Queueing up for dozens of games today, and speaking with players in them, I marvelled at how well the new role-queueing, grouping system and endorsements entwined to form a firewall against objectionable teammates.

Choosing which role to play prior to a game - and getting locked into that role - ensures players won't go rogue or rage over imbalanced teams. It's much likelier that horrifically antisocial teammates won't queue into these groups if the minimum endorsement level is set at, say, level two.

Overwatch is confidently shutting out the jerks and boosting well-mannered teammates.

Blizzard essentially added a good behaviour rating on top of Overwatch's preexistent competitive skill rating. And if we know anything about people who play competitive games, it's that levelling up is a reliable impetus to adopt a ruleset.

All day, players in my matches were brimming with optimism over how few jackarse teammates they have been forced to play with. As an added bonus, my games were significantly more competitive, since team compositions were always balanced.

After matches, my screen rang with endorsements for "Good teammate" and so on, which gave me a mild endorphin rush, like earning experience points.

It isn't a foolproof system. In a group I created today with a minimum endorsement level of one, a DPS player casually mentioned he'd named his cat "Kitler", after Hitler, while we waited for a match. A few minutes later, he noted that he was stoned off his arse. I booted him. Somebody else backfilled and we won the game. Nobody looked back.

Players on Overwatch's subreddit have noticed the opposite phenomenon: Players being "fake nice" to earn endorsements. It's essentially farming endorsements by being over-the-top complimentary, even if it's insincere.

Joke's on them. Even imitating a decent person is better than being an all-out arsehole.

With that said, in one game I played, a group of three opposing players trollishly offered oral sex in exchange for endorsements, with a fourth adding, "Kappa." I don't know whether they received them. (Thankfully, Overwatch friends can't endorse each other.)

Losing the ability to check teammates' creds wasn't something I was looking forward to. If a teammate was struggling over which hero to play, it helped me help them look at who they have won with the most.

I've also been known to peek at a sniper's scoped accuracy in Overwatch's competitive mode to check whether they're good, and I'm not proud of that.

I didn't realise until today that it influenced the way I treated teammates, even if I didn't refer to teammates' stats in-game. There are a lot of reasons why players' stats can be funky.

Also, in retrospect, min-maxing a team you're already stuck with just seems futile. It might be tempting to assert some sort of control over teammates based on their stats, but, at the end of the day, people are going to play what they want to play.

Overwatch's new decency ladder is at least spiritually connected to its competitive ladder. It's easier to climb in-game when you're not distracted by someone scream-shouting the entirety of "All Star" by Smash Mouth.

The new endorsement system, however, is not something to celebrate just because it might help boost people's skill ratings: Being a good person in an online game is a virtue of its own. It's about making everybody feel welcome in the community around a shared passion.

Perhaps it shouldn't take a virtual badge to get someone to say something nice to a stranger or to stigmatised harassment. But indifference is complicity when it comes to shitty behaviour in online games. If a cookie is what it takes, then fine, I'll dish them out along with everyone else.


Comments

    Jeez Cecilia, you booted someone for calling their cat Kitler and being stoned? Judgmental much?

    Also, Kotaku, you don't have to anglify everything from the US site. I mean, 'jackarse'? Really?

      You're getting a bug in your arse about the spelling of the word jackarse? Really??

    Its become like Rocket League now. You miss a shot on goal? 'Great Shot! - What a save!'.

    Last edited 28/06/18 2:47 pm

      That's not how it works. Are you confusing it with voice lines?

        Lol, you came close to proving how well the positive trolling can work. It's the idea that people use positive comments sarcastically instead of being genuinely positive. In Rocket League, this is used a lot as a way of trolling someone when they fail. All I'm seeing now in Overwatch are over-the-top, mostly sarcastic compliments when people fail which only a handful of genuine positive comments at the end game. It has improved, its just that the trolls are adapting.

          Yeah but you can just spam Thanks! back at them and jobs done. Disingenuously take it as a compliment, thank them for being so nice and move on - troll fail.

            Suprised my comment got down-voted for pointing out how trolls try and use it against people - Completely agree @derrick, but in the end you know that its disingenuous. This to me feels like a band-aid fix thats effect will disappear after a while, just like in Dota 2.

    Isn't the purpose to combat toxicity, not trolling? I get the impression Cecilia missed that memo judging from the Kitler / favours for endorsements attitudes.
    Or maybe it's that in Australia we are a bit more OK with weird humour.

      Yeah, we still had a dancing Torbjorn on the moving platforms while defending Volskaya last night. Despite being effectively down one player, the other team still won with a really good Zarya/Genji ult combo that got a team wipe. It was quick play so no one really cared much.

      Yeah I feel like booting someone for their cat's name or the substances they choose to consume is heaps toxic. Checking out teammates' stats is toxic af too, but in-game no less? maybe ptfo instead?

      BTW not defending the cat's actual name - that's pretty stupid - but still.

    I think kicking for "Kitler" is retarded, but "A few minutes later, he noted that he was stoned off his arse. I booted him."
    I am okay with this. There is nothing more annoying than "lol guys I am so stoned rn" or "hold on a second, just gonna smoke this bowl". Fuck off, goddamn stoners.

      Especially on competitive? I don't play comp, but if i was trying to win a game where points actually mattered, I wouldn't want intoxicated people on my team.

        Just putting it out there but I am magical at shooters after a couple of bongs, I am pretty sure it is how I got to plat in Siege.

          is there really any other way to play?
          I play my best with a few under my belt

        Yeah that's fair, but I don't think competitiveness is a good justification for ostracising anyone. They paid the entry cost same as everyone else, why should they be booted because you don't like the way they like to play the game?

      I think it's pretty toxic to exclude someone, comp or non-comp, for something they're doing outside the game. Especially when it might not be illegal where the player is (cecilia's teammate was almost certainly in the US) and for all we know they could be smoking for medicinal reasons.

      Also the logic behind it seems to assume that everyone is worse playing games when they're stoned, and so it's more about excluding people who you think may give you a lower chance of winning. Might well be the case for some people, but some people definitely play better high.

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