Overwatch 2 is dropping the phone number requirement “for the majority of existing Overwatch players”

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Following an onslaught of complaints and criticism, Blizzard is dropping the requirement to have phone numbers attached to Battle.net accounts” for the majority of existing Overwatch players (opens in a new tab).”

SMS Protect, as it’s called, originally required all Overwatch 2 players, on all platforms, to have a phone number associated with their Battle.net account in order to play the game. Pretty basic 2FA system, but the idea is that it will not only help players protect their accounts, but also help Blizzard better control who can access Overwatch 2.

“SMS Protect helps verify ownership of your account in the unforeseen event of an account compromise,” Blizzard said. (opens in a new tab). “Similarly, if a disruptive player has been suspended or banned, SMS Protect makes it more difficult for them to return to play.”

The problem is that SMS Protect excludes some players for reasons unrelated to their in-game behavior. Each Battle.net account requires a separate number, which could exclude households with multiple Overwatch fans and a shared phone line, and perhaps worse, “certain number types, including prepaid and VOIP, cannot be used for SMS Protect”. This potentially locks out a lot of people even though they have a single phone number, especially younger gamers who simply can’t or won’t sign up to a multi-year phone contract. Prior to today’s decision, the requirement was valid even for those who had purchased Overwatch, which is no longer available to play now that it has been replaced by Overwatch 2.

“I’ve been playing Overwatch since almost day one and loved it. It’s the reason I love competitive games in the first place,” redditor WavePheonix (opens in a new tab) wrote. “Now, a few days before launch, I wanted to move to link my phone number to my account. Come and find out, I can’t play because I have a prepaid plan and I’m devastated. I can’t change not just my phone plan for a game and now despite paying the money and playing all the betas and being a fan for years I don’t think I’ll ever be able to play it. “

“So…what happens in a household that only has one phone number…but multiple people?” Chromeglow (opens in a new tab) asked. “Blizzard really doesn’t expect people to get another phone number just to play their game, does it?”

“I have Wireless Cricket. It’s what my family can afford. I don’t know what else to say”, RLmclovin (opens in a new tab) wrote. “I’m not going to tell my family that we should switch because of a video game. Now I can’t play Overwatch. I’m really sad about that. I’ve been playing with friends and family for years , now I can’t play with any of them because of my phone plan.”

The Nocron (opens in a new tab) posted an image of his rejected effort to add a phone number:

(Image credit: TheNocron (Reddit))

“It sucks!” they wrote. “I can’t even play a game I paid for because of my phone plan.” (They later clarified that they had paid for Overwatch 1 and had no choice (opens in a new tab) but to upgrade to Overwatch 2.)

Confusing the situation even more, some prepaid plans seem to work, despite Blizzard’s policy. Our Overwatch 2 review (opens in a new tab) and Tyler Colp, a good all-rounder, told me that he used Mint Mobile prepaid and SMS Protect worked well with him, and he also knew other people who had success with him. Editor Sophie_bear (opens in a new tab) said they were also able to use SMS Protect with Tello Mobile, another prepaid system.

Prepaid phones tend to be portrayed in TV shows as the tools of criminals and spies, but the reality isn’t all that sensational. A February 2022 report from Research and Markets (opens in a new tab)for example, asserts that prepaid mobile services in the United States “have become increasingly competitive in recent years as they have evolved offerings to be more on par with postpaid features and service plans”, and predicts continued growth in prepaid usage “as part of a mainstream trend toward prepaid mobile services becoming increasingly comparable to postpaid wireless.”

Even now, the numbers are huge. A November 2020 report from Fierce Wireless (opens in a new tab) says there were approximately 74 million prepaid users in the US in Q3 2020. That’s a lot of phones, and that number isn’t going to go down.

Some Overwatch 2 players have said they support the restriction because it would reduce smurfing – that is, high-level players creating new accounts so they can gank less-skilled players – and, hopefully toxicity in general, as the system does it before to bounce back from an account ban. A new phone contract is a costly penalty for getting back into a game, but the side effect has been to lock out some newcomers, as well as some longtime Overwatch fans.

Most of the latter group, at least, will be relieved: an update slated to go live on October 7 will remove the phone number requirement for any Overwatch player with a logged in Battle.net account, which includes all players who have played the original. match since June 9, 2021.

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“We remain committed to addressing disruptive behavior in Overwatch 2 – accounts that were not logged into Battle.net as well as new accounts will still need to meet SMS Protect requirements, which helps ensure that we protect our community. against cheating,” Blizzard said. said. “If a player is caught engaging in disruptive behavior, their account may be banned whether they have a new account or not.”

The new policy is a step in the right direction, but it still leaves a huge number of potential players out of the loop. As a free-to-play game, one of Overwatch 2’s big attractions is the ability to get in on the action without too much of a ruckus. But newcomers will still need to connect a phone number to their account to play, and it’s unclear how or if Blizzard intends to reach out to players with prepaid phones. Blizzard’s “defense matrix” (opens in a new tab)“Last week’s update still states that prepaid and VOIP numbers cannot be used for SMS Protect. I have contacted Blizzard for more information and will update if I receive a response.

Blizzard has also acknowledged Overwatch 2’s ongoing issues with queues. (opens in a new tab)server outages and game stability, and said it is taking steps to address these issues, including server-side updates and adding new nodes to the player database to ease the load on this one.

“We are also currently limiting queues to protect the player database as much as possible while we scale,” Blizzard said. “It hurts in the short term, but once it’s done, it will significantly improve the player experience on multiple fronts going forward.”

Account merging issues are also being resolved (and in some cases already have been), and Blizzard said no player data was lost. A separate issue resulting in incorrectly locked heroes and items is also being addressed. On the upside, Blizzard said the DDoS attacks that plagued Overwatch 2’s launch (opens in a new tab) seem to have stopped.

This article has been updated to include Blizzard’s announcement regarding existing Overwatch players.

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