Death Blossoms & Andromeda Guest Panel: Blizzard’s Role in Improving Toxicity in Overwatch, and Women’s Experiences in Streaming & eSports

Due to the substantial amount of content covered by the panel, the DB blog chose to review the material in two installments. In this second edition, we’ll be focusing on how Blizzard should respond to toxicity in the community, how being a streamer affects the gaming experience, and dealing with toxicity in organized play on teams and in pick-up games.

Previously on the Death Blossoms blog, we started to talk about the successful and insightful panel organized by Death Blossoms and Andromeda in our joint community event. There were so many questions from the communities, and so many thoughtful responses from our panelists, that we just couldn’t pack it all into one post and do it justice. That post focused entirely on dealing with sexism and sexual harassment in the player community. This time, we’re going to expand outside the everyday Overwatch community, that of quick play and competitive, and talk about how it feels to be a well-known streamer, the toxicity of organized Overwatch play, and what Blizzard’s role is and should be in turning the tide.

Once again, 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.

One of the things the panelists agreed on was that toxicity in Overwatch is a problem we alone can’t solve, and that some, if not most, of the burden lies with Blizzard. League of Legends has a low-priority queue for people who have been actioned for poor behavior, and Deo noted that League is a game known for having a very toxic playerbase and that they’ve made effort to fix it, effort where Overwatch pales in comparison. The report system simply is not enough to deter toxic behavior. Blizzard has a community manager who handles reports made directly to him via Twitter, and although the panelists agreed he’s very good at his job, the scope of which goes well beyond that function, he’s only one person and it isn’t enough. Eevee pointed out that the community at large doesn’t even know this person exists — we’re never told about him.

“[Blizzard’s Overwatch community manager] is great at his job, but he needs a friend.” -Rammy

In discussing endorsements, we noted in our last post that the panelists find endorsements meaningless, bringing up endorsement farming and the number of known toxic players in high ranks who are sitting on endorsement level 3 or 4. How can Blizzard address this? Deo recalled that Jeff Kaplan has stated in the past that he wishes the team had never introduced gold weapons to the game, or more specifically, never tied them to the competitive playlist. With this being the case, why not shift their acquisition away from playing ranked, and toward being a positive person?

“If Blizzard wants to continue down the route of rewarding people for good behavior, which I think is a good thing, […] the rewards have to really be incentivized.” -Deophest

All of our panelists are active, well-known streamers, all making at least part of their living from broadcasting their gameplay to the world. To some extent, streamers are role models and advertisements for the game. People who watch an Overwatch streamer are more likely to be Overwatch players themselves already, but as Fareeha said, people who watch streamers tend to adopt the same habits and mindsets. If a streamer doesn’t want to play anymore and has nothing good to say about a game, eventually their viewers are going to start feeling the same way, and leave the game. Simply put, streamers are, effectively, a resource for the developer and publisher, and our panelists feel Overwatch does not take care of their streaming community the way other games do. Fortnite came up in the discussion, which has a queue delay to help avoid stream sniping, and the game’s streamer mode masks the streamer’s identity from other players to keep them from being recognized.

Beyond what Blizzard can do to improve relations with streamers, and thus, with their community, the panel had a lot to say on just how it is to be a recognizable name in Overwatch. There were absolutely some positive feelings, with Kolorblind saying that when someone recognizes her for being that Bastion main and tells her to play Bastion, her response is generally, “Fuck yeah, I wanna play Bastion!” Rammy was a little more lukewarm, because she climbed out of plat flexing on a number of heroes, and that while she loves playing Lucio and being known as a Lucio player, “I also hate it, because people assume I can only play Lucio or support.” Fareeha agreed with both, glad that exposure has gained her trust from her peers on her Pharah play, but noted that people still don’t understand how Pharah fits into a team. As for Deo, she makes herself harder to recognize by changing her accounts’ names all the time, but finds that people are usually happy when they do recognize her and she has a lot of fun with it.

Often the advice we receive as a community, no matter who we are, when it comes to the desire to improve is to leave ranked behind and get into organized Overwatch play. There are teams and organizations for players of all skill levels, and many communities run pick-up games (PUGs), which are 6v6 custom games played on competitive rules, but with two teams full of players that want to win and work together. While this is all great for improvement, it doesn’t mean that it’s an escape from toxicity — and when it is, our panelists agreed that it may not be healthy.

Rammy talked at length about her time playing with GOATS, the Contenders team best known for popularizing the triple tank/triple support team composition that is currently popular at all levels of Overwatch play. At the time, she was not out as trans, and while she says they never tried to directly insult her, they said some things in her presence that were uncomfortable and offensive. She also had issues with their professionalism, as she was given time off work for Contenders on the condition that her employer could watch the match, and when half the team no-showed their match, they were disqualified, and she lost her job as a result. She learned a valuable lesson from the experience, which was not to just settle for whatever comes along, and to find the environment that works for you, with a team that will value you, because you are valuable.

“You will play better in an environment where people treat you properly.” -Rammy

Deo has experience scrimming and coaching teams from platinum to Tier 3, and has been around big-name teams quite a bit. She agreed with Rammy that there’s no need to settle, and to go find a team that’s worth your time. She said good teams keep notes on the teams they’ve scrimmed, and will blacklist toxic teams, and share that information with others, to prevent those teams from getting any footing in the community if they can’t clean up their act. Keeping those teams out should, ideally, force the players to control their behavior, and over time we will see less and less such behavior in the first place.

The panel was also asked about female-only tournaments. Deo tentatively offered that she has controversial opinions, but let Fareeha and Rammy speak first. Fareeha feels that while encouraging girls to play in a nontoxic environment is good, sheltering them from reality won’t do anything in the long term to solve the toxicity problem, and to address the issue rather than to avoid it. Rammy agreed and feels that promoting women’s-only tournaments just adds to the false notion that women can’t compete against men, nor can they play with them. Hearing this, Deo said, “My opinion is less controversial than I thought.” Her community organizes PUGs between people of all ranks and backgrounds, and she believes that the fastest way to get rid of toxicity is to give women and girls the opportunity to exist in the same space as everyone else, in order to help drive that toxicity out.

Not surprisingly, Overwatch League came up in the conversation, and what the future of women in esports is. Deo named Lilsusie (London Spitfire’s general manager), Avalla (a coach with the new Washington organization), and Geguri (offtank for Shanghai Dragons), and stated that while they’re all fantastic and having them in the game is a boon, it isn’t enough. Eevee agreed, saying that Overwatch League won’t fix the ratio of men and women in esports, and that this change is unlikely to come with Overwatch or in Overwatch’s lifespan as a competitive game, but that Overwatch League can serve as something of a bridge to that future.

All of this, the panel noted, goes back to ranked, and problems that Blizzard needs to fix. The most talented players are picked from the competitive ladder at some point in their career, as it is the only way we have to gauge a player’s skill on something resembling an objective scale. The way ranked currently is, though, with all its toxicity and issues with the community, women are still being kept out, and if they don’t have that opportunity that’s open to everyone, what opportunity do they have? Deo went back to her community and their pick-up games and how much they benefit people and are fun to organize and watch, but that these opportunities over the life of Overwatch have become more limited, as Blizzard has streamlined organized play from a pool that used to include monthly tournaments and so much more to just Open Division, then Contenders, then Overwatch League, and that the root of all this is only the competitive ladder. She feels it either needs to be opened up to more tournaments run by organizations again, or make the tools for people to run pick-up games more readily available and more open.

“Overwatch’s gender ratio might suck, but it’s better than all the other shooters.” -EeveeA

Many women come into Overwatch with it as their first FPS game, and when asked if they’d seen more women in Overwatch than in previous games, every panelist responded with a resounding yes. Fareeha, Deo, and Kolorblind had all come from Team Fortress 2, while Rammy played CounterStrike: Global Offensive and Eevee played Call of Duty: Black Ops. Most of them had no competitive experience in those games, and Overwatch was the first game where they felt intrigued and moved to participate in the competitive ladder. Rammy mentioned that Overwatch has done female characters better than many other games, making them seem like real people as opposed to just existing to meet a quota. Deo agreed, pointing out that Overwatch has male and female characters in every role, a prominent lesbian character in Tracer and possibly more LGBTQIA+ characters yet unrevealed, a character on the autism spectrum in Symmetra, and characters of different races and nationalities. This makes it relatable to a broader player base, and that’s important for attracting anyone, including women.

In discussing Overwatch outside ranked, our panelists reminded our communities and the broader playerbase that there is opportunity out there for everyone, whether to improve as a player or to help change the course of the game. They are cautiously optimistic about what Overwatch as a game can do to change the nature of gaming in general and of esports, to make it more inclusive and positive, and to drive toxicity out. They believe Blizzard needs to take significant action to help set these changes in motion, but that we as a community have the power to get those changes started no matter what priorities are set by the developers.

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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