On June 26th, Overwatch introduced its latest social features to combat toxicity. A female player examines how the endorsement system can bring more positivity and diversity to the community.
What is an Endorsement?
Last September, game director Jeff Kaplan focused on rising toxicity in online play in Overwatch’s “Play Nice, Play Fair” Developer Update, even hinting at the implementation of Overwatch’s long awaited endorsement system that went live on all platforms June 26th. Kaplan stressed individual accountability, stating that “we can try to build game systems to encourage [positive behavior] more, and we will, but we need the community to own up to their part in the accountability that they have for really creating a great game space.”
Endorsing is one of Blizzard’s latest social features in Overwatch. Players can reward their teammates and opponents for contributing to a positive game experience. As detailed in the latest patch notes, players can recognize others in the three categories of sportsmanship, teamwork, and shot calling. Gamers will receive occasional rewards for regularly earning endorsements, but a suspension will remove progress.
Voice Chat Changes for the Better
I decided to give the endorsement system a try, hoping for a positive game experience. As I had been called sexist slurs in voice chat only the day before, I was nervous. Grouping up with a fellow female player, I was surprised at the positivity of our teammates. After respectful suggestions and compliments of play style, I decided to speak in team chat.
Overwatch encourages players to work together, often requiring the use of microphones to create strategies. However, as Dr. Allison Harvey wrote in Gender, Age, and Digital Games in the Domestic Context in 2015, women are often “the object of attention, disbelief, and discrimination when they do appear, “exposed” by their voices in chat. The incredulity male players exhibit at these moments signal…how female participants are othered in gaming.”
Swears, slurs, and sexist behavior was a frequent reaction to my feminine voice in the past. However, my sudden feeling of security and being welcomed made me want to try to speak up once more.
A Step in the Right Direction
I experienced some of the most positive games I had ever played over the next few hours. Near the end of the night, a male teammate revealed he had never played with three women in team chat. Although some have criticized the new endorsement system, saying that the behavior has become ingenuine, and the system has only been in place for a day, I cannot deny that the lack of toxicity I encountered was unique to my time playing the game.
As Cass Marshall investigated the lack of women in the Overwatch League this January, emphasizing that when critics point out the major gender divide in the esport, “the answer is often ‘Well, name three capable female players.’ A lack of response is not a checkmate; it’s a sign that there are systemic issues preventing women from entering the scene.”
It is too early to predict how the endorsement system will impact the Overwatch community. However, I am hopeful that this step in the right direction will help make all gamers feel more secure.