The team at Blizzard have provided an update on the issue, beginning with an apology – “First, we want to apologize to our players. We expected the launch of Overwatch 2 to go smoothly. We hold ourselves to a higher standard and we are working hard to resolve the issues you are experiencing.”
On the subject of SMS Protect, they made the following statement:
We designed Overwatch 2 to be a live service, which enables us to be responsive to a variety of player feedback. We have made the decision to remove phone number requirements for a majority of existing Overwatch players. Any Overwatch player with a connected Battle.net account, which includes all players who have played since June 9, 2021, will not have to provide a phone number to play. We are working to make this change and expect it to go live on Friday, October 7. We will update players once it is in effect.
We remain committed to combating disruptive behavior in Overwatch 2—accounts that were not connected to Battle.net as well as new accounts will still have to meet SMS Protect requirements, which helps to ensure we’re protecting our community against cheating. If a player is caught engaging in disruptive behavior, their account may be banned whether they have a new account or not.
As a team, we will keep listening to ongoing feedback and will make further adjustments in this area if it is required.Source: https://us.forums.blizzard.com/en/overwatch/t/overwatch-2-launch-status-update/700480
Overwatch 2 just released with a less than stellar launch due to a massive influx of players itching to try it out as well as a DDoS attack, as reported by members of the Blizzard development team. Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason players are lamenting the side-step sequel.
Back in June, Blizzard revealed that Overwatch 2 would battle smurf accounts, cheaters, and bots by requiring a valid phone number capable of receiving SMS text messages. This is fairly standard fare for most modern Free-To-Play titles, including other games from Activision-Blizzard like Call of Duty: Warzone. Arguably, it is the best way to combat cheaters and other problematic players, but that simplicity comes at a cost.
According to the Battle.Net Phone Notification Support page, players are not able to use certain prepaid phone plans, as well as VOIP services. While Blizzard does offer the information that not all prepaid phone numbers may be accepted, they do not provide any list of compatible services to players, only vaguely alluding to what may or may not work.
This requirement is a bit of a tightrope. According to a 2020 analysis by Lowenstein, as of Q3 2020, approximately 74 million Americans alone use prepaid phone service with nearly 80% of those belonging to Tracfone (Verizon), MetroPCS (T-Mobile), and Cricket Wireless (AT&T), the latter of which accounts for more than 20 million users alone.
There are some that have been able to make their prepaid service work. Anecdotally, it appears that is affecting a disproportionate amount of Americans specifically, and it doesn’t take a lot of sleuthing to find the answers there. In America, most prepaid services require virtually no forms of government issued ID or proof of residency like most postpaid services do. There are a fair amount of countries, like those in Europe and South America, that require legal ID regardless of the type of plans you’re paying for. Reddit user u/Amuurii reported that their prepaid number worked, but that they’re located in Germany:
This has led some Blizzard fans to seek out ways to circumvent the strict requirements. Some are recommending their fellow users try using alternate services that seem to have slipped past Blizzard’s firewalls. Services like Talkatone is a VOIP service, but Blizzard user Zek says that they’ve been able to make them work:
Unfortunately, several forum posts look more like Blizzard user Zen’s. Zen complained that he and his two children all played Overwatch together, but because his younger kids don’t own mobile phones, they’re no longer able to play:
This even has some players, like Reddit user u/RLmclovin, feeling ashamed of their phone plans due to the financial situations many people who do use prepaid phone service find themselves in:
This requirement for their players is leaving Blizzard looking like the bad guy, regardless of how they might try to spin this. I understand and even appreciate that a studio might find this to be a simple and elegant solution to combat the plights of their dedicated players, but disallowing players who are incapable of affording a more expensive phone plan is plain classist at best. It’s not the phone service requirement, it’s the specificity of the requirement that is leaving players confused and upset.
I call this decision classist because of comments by people like u/RLmclovin. I am not unique in my own share of periods of life when the only thing I could afford to use for a mobile phone was an affordable option that didn’t require that I pay upwards of $90 a month for service, and instead only asked that I pay $35 when I could for 30 days worth of service. This also comes down to those of lower socioeconomic status who may never be able to afford to pay for something other than what they have currently.
Phone service isn’t cheap, and classing players out of your game isn’t a great way to encourage people to tell their friends to download it and play. The social pressure being put on teenagers whose parents can’t afford to get them a phone at all are now being left out because of these requirements. I would be embarrassed, needlessly, if I tried to download Overwatch 2 to play with my friends, only to have to sit out because Blizzard’s service refuses to recognize my phone number as legitimate.
Even people who are just happy with their service, who have had it for over 15 years, shouldn’t be told to find a different provider just because they want to play the cool new hotness that’s available right now. Blizzard user sleepingirl suggests alternate solutions to verifying an account that would help to mitigate this problem:
While her suggestions still lead to some problematic requirements, I see no reason that Blizzard, one of the largest self-publishing companies in gaming today, can’t find a way to allow all of their players to find a way around this, in my opinion, classist requirement.
This is made even worse by the fact that Overwatch 2 has taken the place of a game that cost $40 to purchase up until October 4th, as it has replaced its predecessor, rather than launching as a fully separate product. Fans of 2016’s Overwatch who don’t fit the predetermined metric seemingly arbitrarily decided upon by the overlords at Blizzard have now lost a game. They’re now left without something to play instead of something to be excited about.
As of the publishing of this article, IGN has received a response from Blizzard on the matter when asked for a comment stating: “We plan to address this sometime soon, potentially this afternoon.”
Surely, they’re aware of the outrage their fans are exhibiting. My hope is that, even if it’s only an incredibly small percent of the 74 million prepaid service users that are looking to play Overwatch 2, that they still find value in providing a game to those players. I like to think that Blizzard has moved on from the days of “Do you guys not have phones?”