Changes are coming to Overwatch's oft-maligned reporting and penalty system. Blizzard announced that it will be "issuing increased penalties to players in response to verified reports of bad behavior," which could result in the title's worst trolls being suspended or banned from the game.
Reporting systems are paramount to multiplayer games like Overwatch. The team-based shooter often requires players to communicate with each other, especially in the Competitive mode, where people try to prove their skill at the game. Blizzard can't monitor every Overwatch player, so if someone is deliberately throwing games or abusing other players, it's up to the community to report that behavior to the company.
The problem was that reporting other players often felt like shouting into the void. Overwatch didn't let you know what happened as a result of your report, and in our experience, many people have escaped repercussions even if their misbehavior is reported. The worst punishment Blizzard doled out was silencing a player in the in-game communications tools, but that did little to deter people from trolling or throwing.
That's changing. Blizzard announced an improved reporting and penalty system in the Overwatch forums. Here's what the company said:
We believe that our in-game reporting and player penalty system is one of our most important features, and it’s something we want to invest in significantly over the next year. To this end, effective immediately, we will be issuing increased penalties to players in response to verified reports of bad behavior. In Overwatch, that means anything from abusive chat, harassment, in-game spam, match inactivity (being intentionally AFK), and griefing. If you see someone engaging in any of these types of behaviors, report them. Players in violation will be silenced, suspended, or even banned from the game as a result.
But the company doesn't plan to stop there. It said that other changes, "including scaling competitive season bans, a notification system that will alert you when a player you’ve reported is actioned, and functionality that will allow us to more aggressively penalize players who attempt to abuse the in-game reporting tool," will debut in "the next several months." The result could be a drastically different atmosphere in Overwatch.
Blizzard also said it plans to bring a similar reporting system to Overwatch's console versions. This is something Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players have wanted for a while. Right now there's little console gamers can do to prevent abusive chat, report griefers, or let Blizzard know when someone is cheating. There's no timeline for this new reporting system on consoles, so Blizzard's claim has to be taken with a grain of salt.
These updates could prove to be more important to Overwatch's longevity than the introduction of new heroes and maps. Even the most fun games can become tedious if you constantly play with jerks, cheaters, and people who get their jollies by ruining someone else's fun. (Unless we're talking about a Zenyatta ruining a Genji's Dragonblade by popping Transcendence. That's just a good ol' fashioned counterplay.)
And make no mistake: Blizzard wants Overwatch to stick around for a while. The game recently celebrated its first anniversary, and the company just announced the first teams in the Overwatch League, which is supposed to be the game's equivalent to the MLB. An improved reporting system won't solve all of Overwatch's problems, but it will at least help the community be positive instead of being mired in toxicity.