Death Blossoms & Andromeda Guest Panel: Sexism and Harassment in Overwatch

Due to the substantial amount of content covered by the panel, the DB blog will be reviewing it in a short multi-part series. In this edition, we’ll be focusing on dealing with sexual harassment and sexism in-game as any player of Overwatch would.

Over the weekend of October 20, Death Blossoms joined forces with our partner community Andromeda to hold a 24-hour charity stream event in support of breast cancer research. So many awesome people stepped up for this event, whether to stream a game for everyone to enjoy, play in the Death Blossoms vs. Andromeda tournament, or donate to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It was amazing and we are grateful for everyone’s support and participation.

One of the events that we held was a panel discussion on sexism and sexual harassment in the Overwatch community, where five well-known and talented Overwatch streamers joined us for a two-hour talk. This is a subject that we have touched on before on the Death Blossoms blog when we discussed the then-new social features, Looking for Group and Endorsements, where several of our members shared their experiences dealing with harassment in Overwatch. The women who joined us for this talk, who come from many different backgrounds, had important insight both personal and professional into this subject.

The panel was facilitated by Sabriality and our panelists, all of whom are high-ranked players and streamers with peaks ranging from high Master to Top 500, were Deophest, EeveeA, Fareeha, Kolorblind, and Rammy.

Like most, if not all, of our members, everyone on the panel has had experience being flamed and harassed in ranked. One of the overarching themes throughout the discussion was that every solution that has been brought to the game, whether by Blizzard through the social features and trying to improve the reporting system, or by the community in holding special events, is merely a Band-Aid. Blizzard has stated, repeatedly, that toxic people are not welcome in Overwatch. While they have made some efforts, it simply has not been enough, and until they do something more meaningful than the social features, the game will continue to be a playground for toxic people while forcing everyone else out to make their own events, if they even want to continue to play Overwatch at all.

The panelists touched on the fact that being treated poorly by other players, teammates or not, discourages them from playing longer sessions. None of them have ever quit a match due to harassment, but Deo shared that she has ended stream early before simply because that harassment made her not want to continue playing. Eevee and Fareeha noted that when you’re being harassed and try to call out the people doing it to you, you’re often told, essentially, that it’s your fault you’re offended.

“You can be a high endorsement level and not be a good person.” -Deophest

When we at Death Blossoms looked at social features in a previous post, they were new and novel, and we were generally quite positive on them as a community at the time, though it was noted that it was only one step in fixing Overwatch’s issues with toxicity and that some people would never be swayed by a system like Endorsements. Nearly six months have passed since then, and our panelists were very firm on feeling that they simply are not enough. Deo pointed out that some people play simply to farm endorsements, and shared that one of her own alt accounts, where she never talks, has more shotcaller endorsements than anything. Fareeha said that the number isn’t an indicator of the quality of the person: she, Rammy, and Deo mentioned one particular person who has been toxic in every way possible and was even banned for it, then bought an entirely new computer to evade the ban and now has a level 4 endorsement on their new account. Plain and simple, the endorsement system has not done enough to curb toxicity, if it’s done anything at all.

Although Blizzard has to play a role in curbing toxicity in the Overwatch community, the panelists believe that the community itself can make positive changes without intervention. Deo said that men frequently tell her they hate to hear stories of people being harassed and abused, and ask how they can help. The answer is simply to speak up and use your voice to say that this behavior isn’t okay. Doing this not only lets the target know that they have an ally, but tells the toxic person that they’re the odd one out in this situation. Eevee told a story about a time when she’d been working on her voice and was getting flamed for it by a teammate, only to have her other teammates speak up and tell her to keep talking and they loved hearing her. That she’s never forgotten it shows how powerful that small effort from a stranger can be.

“You don’t have to be the white knight, just show acceptance and support, it can completely change how a match feels for a person.” -EeveeA

Communication is an important aspect of Overwatch, and the panel answered a few questions on getting comfortable on voice chat and how to deal with people who don’t listen or will talk over you.

We frequently find ourselves in situations where we must be in voice chat with people who make us uncomfortable. Fareeha asked that you consider how valuable communication is for you: if you do find it useful, whether to hear it from others or to say it yourself, then unfortunately, you simply must learn to push through it. Deo stressed that it is okay to use the mute button, adding that she herself has muted entire teams but stayed in voice chat in order to keep calling, and noted from her own experience coaching that communication, however simple, can completely change the tide of a game in skill brackets like gold and platinum. Both Eevee and Deo reminded us that someone who is targeting you and blaming you because you are making calls is simply insecure about their own level of play and is taking it out on you, and Eevee summed it up by commenting that you should only focus on yourself and making yourself better, and not letting others take that away from you.

Ignoring a woman’s voice is an extremely common phenomenon, and that includes in Overwatch. Our callouts are often ignored until a man makes the same callout, and we get talked over all the time. This makes us feel unappreciated and may discourage us from trying to make calls in the future. Deo reminds us that it is best to assume ignorance before malice: perhaps on repetition the person actually heard the call, perhaps they had time to do something about it the second time. She personally just keeps repeating herself until the situation is resolved.

“You have to accept there’s going to be people who say dumb shit regardless of who you are or what you do.” -Fareeha

A typical day in ranked
Image courtesy of DB member Goon

Women are also frequently pigeonholed into certain roles in video games, namely support, and Overwatch is no different. It is possible that at some point, everyone who plays this game and has identified themselves as a woman to their team has been asked – or more likely, told – to play support, namely Mercy, whether they’re capable on the role or not. Eevee noted that in her case, people ask her to play Mercy because she’s Eevee, the well-known Mercy main, but pointed out that it’s interesting how people reflexively ask the woman on the team to switch. Deo said she will remind people that they too have an H key on their keyboard and can switch to whatever hero they like, if they want a Mercy so much. Both Rammy and Fareeha agreed they will switch to what they need to play if they are underperforming, but their performance tends to be irrelevant to whether they are asked to make that switch.

Ultimately, the panel’s advice on how to handle sexism in-game as an everyday player is to hold your ground, remind yourself that what random people think doesn’t matter, and to avail yourself of the tools available to you, whether it’s muting, blocking, or reporting people who harass you. Our allies should be sticking up for us, for every type of harassment, and helping us shut it down and let it know it isn’t welcome in our community. It is unfortunate that when you identify as a woman, being treated like this in Overwatch is an extremely common occurrence, but there are matters we can take into our own hands.

In our next update, we’ll be reviewing what Blizzard’s role is and should be in handling toxic behavior in the community, what impact being not only a woman but a well-known streamer has on playing the game, and the nature of team-based play, including esports, the benefits of playing organized Overwatch, and how to handle toxicity in that situation specifically.

Please be sure to follow @DeathBlossomsGG on Twitter to be notified of future cool events like this! Don’t forget to also follow @DeoMakeThing, @EeveeA_, @FareehaAndersen, @KolorblindOW, @RammyOW, and @Sabriality, and thank them for their time and input! You can also watch Deo, Eevee, Fareeha, Kolorblind, and Rammy on Twitch.

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