‘Overwatch 2’ Devs explain why players need to link phone numbers to accounts

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Blizzard has revealed a ton more details about what it’s doing to tackle the issue of smurfs and toxic players in Overwatch 2 while giving new players a smooth onramp to the game.

In general, I think the changes are pretty solid all around. The onboarding process for new players looks like a solid way to ease them into the chaos.

The requirement to link a mobile phone number to your Battle.net account might ruffle some players’ feathers, though, especially those who have alt accounts for various reasons.

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Overwatch 2 phone number requirement: ‘Overwatch 2’ Devs Explain Why Players Need To Link Phone Numbers To Accounts

You’d need to find a way to have another phone number for each alt account. Blizzard says it won’t recognize pre-paid or VOIP numbers. Perhaps you’ve got a very kind roommate or family member who’d be glad to lend you their number (note to self: cook a very nice dinner for your partner later).

Otherwise, you might not be able to carry the cosmetics, progress, achievements and Overwatch League tokens on your secondary accounts forward.

I spoke with Overwatch developers about the Defense Matrix initiative and asked if there was a way to merge those things between accounts on the same platform (say, from one PC account to another).

“Right now, there is no account unification or account merge between separate accounts,” Overwatch 2 lead software engineer Bill Warnecke told me. That’s not a surprise given everything we’ve been hearing about account merging, but it still might come as a blow to those who are only just learning about the phone number requirement. Still, the devs offered a very reasonable explanation for the change.

“In the past, accounts were tied to a box price, so there was some sort of investment from a player into an account in order to obtain it,” Warnecke said. “With free-to-play coming with the Overwatch 2 launch, that initial box price is removed. The key idea behind SMS Protect is to have an investment on behalf of the owner of that account and add some limitations or restrictions behind how you might have an account. There’s no exclusions or kind of loopholes around the system.

“Totally reasonable for players to have had multiple accounts. But by opening that up as a loophole, it would reduce the integrity and the value of adding SMS Protect across the board.”

The Overwatch team weighed up the pros and cons of the impact of SMS Protect on players with multiple accounts who play completely fairly. However, they determined that it was more important to have a more formidable defense against trolls and cheaters.

“There’s some cases where a totally good player, someone who has no bad intentions, no cheating intentions, may be negatively impacted by SMS Protect if you have multiple accounts,” Warnecke said. “This is a barrier for a legitimate player. It’s one that we took really seriously and deliberated a lot on as we discussed adding this feature.

“SMS Protect focuses a bit on the bad actors and the players who are willing to use cheats and potentially are willing to cycle through many, many accounts. We pretty actively are trying to detect and find users who have anomalous gameplay, with standout gameplay behavior, or are detected by the cheat fingerprints that we might make. But if that player gets that account banned and is able to immediately just rejoin with a new account, then all of the detection in the world won’t stop us from keeping bad actors out of the game. We need to make the cost for being willing to cheat a little bit higher for those players. Losing an account in Overwatch 2 is a much more significant penalty than it was in Overwatch 1.”

As Overwatch principal designer Scott Mercer put it, the Defense Matrix protections are largely about “trying to make it inconvenient for people who use cheats, but also to making it more expensive and uneconomical to develop these cheats.” I think most of the Overwatch community can get behind that. It’s just a pity that many legitimate players with multiple accounts will be penalized as a result.

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