Are women safe on Overwatch?

Overwatch burst onto the gaming scene back in 2016 and has been a constant fixture in our collections ever since. Considering that it's 2021 now, that's a pretty impressive lifespan, and whether you want to pick up a few casual matches, rank up, or even earn a bit of cash in a competitive tournament, you can!

 

That all sounds great on paper, right? There's a place for everyone, regardless of skill level, and Overwatch is the sort of game that promotes communication and teamwork, too. But things don't always run so smoothly in real time. You've probably experienced your fair share of salty players and bitter losers, and you might've even encountered some particularly nasty customers who went out of their way to insult your gameplay, your character choice, your tactics – whatever they can immediately pick up on.

Is Overwatch a totally unwelcoming and hostile place for girl gamers? That's what I'll take a look at in this post. I've also put together a little list of things you can do to get the most from your game – it's further down, and hopefully it'll help you secure up your account and get back to rising through the ranks!

First things first

If you've clicked on this post, then you're probably going to be familiar with Overwatch – even if you've never played it before! If not (and if you're here for some light reading), here's a quick rundown of the game.

Overwatch is a multiplayer title, a matchmaking team-based FPS developed by Blizzard Entertainment. If that name sounds familiar to you, it's because they're the makers of World of Warcraft and Starcraft, too!

You get a bunch of maps to play on and you'll be assigned an objective per match. Sometimes you're defending or attacking a point, sometimes you're escorting a payload or trying to waylay the other team. The point is to join up and play a tactical game with your five other teammates in a 6v6 showdown. The matches go by pretty quickly and at first, to new players, it can all seem a bit... chaotic! But there's method in the madness. At the end of the match, you collect your rewards, commend other players, and roll into the next one!

I have to admit; I was first drawn to Overwatch because of its characters. There's a whole ensemble cast now, and most even have animated backstories that flesh out their motivations, their backgrounds and relationships. Unfortunately, the amount of lore in the actual game itself is... eh, thin, but it's still nice to see an FPS develop its cast, and pull from so many genres and cultures, too. It gives the game an added layer, in my opinion, because sure, you could pick Widowmaker because you usually play snipers and like perching somewhere, taking potshots, but you might also have a point to prove against the Tracer on the other team...

Is Overwatch an unsafe place for women?

Overwatch is an online space, and like any online space it can be a massively unpleasant place and a hotbed of hate. There's just something about the added anonymity of quick matches combined with voice chat that emboldens some people to say and do horrible things. Also, seeing girls excel or even just enjoy games like Overwatch gets under the skin of certain individuals.

Overwatch shouldn't be an unsafe place for women, and I don't believe it was intended to be, but unpleasant situations can escalate quickly.

When I was digging into my research for this post, I remembered a video I saw ages ago before I'd even touched Overwatch. A girl gamer had recorded fifteen minutes of the most vile, bucolic comments she'd endured – and I'm not talking about playground insults here. They're threats, it's abusive, and it even pushes into sexual harassment.

The video turns my stomach. It did the first time, too.

I've linked the video below and I'd recommend giving it a watch, even just for a minute. The language gets pretty NSFW, though.

Sexist Throwers in Competitive Overwatch

Sexist Throwers in Competitive Overwatch
Sexist Throwers in Competitive Overwatch

If you're a woman, this sort of language isn't going to be massively shocking for you. You've probably either experienced it yourself, or know of someone else who has – a friend, a family member, anyone who dared to be audibly or visibly female whilst existing in a gaming space. If you're not, you've almost certainly got women in your life who have had these experiences.

Black female gamers, face an even more inordinate amount of unwarranted hatred and harassment – for not fitting into the narrow ideal of who a "gamer" should be. When these girls do speak, on Overwatch or on Twitch, they once again come up against sexist, racist diatribes for daring to take up space in a community.

The situation that goes down in the video is a pretty interesting microcosm of Overwatch's culture and fanbase as a whole, even if it occurred years ago. You'll still hear the same insults being thrown about today, in 2021: ugly, slut, bitch. It doesn't get much more creative. And that's just the thing – a lot of abuse targeted at women on Overwatch doesn't actually concern their gameplay.

Getting back to Glisa's video, you'll notice that the player called "Joel" reaches a point where he realizes a line has been crossed. He cautions his accomplice, "Acayri", and warns him that Glisa might be recording, and that the recording could end up on Reddit.

That's his concern. He doesn't care about the things he and Acayri have said because they might be hurtful to Glisa or shrouded in a coating of misogyny three inches thick. Nope, he only cares about being potentially held accountable for it. Another voice pipes up later, and this player asks if Joel and Acayri even care about winning or if they just want to troll.

Nobody stood up for Glisa, and nobody called Acayri and Joel out for their language or their threats. If you're not a woman and if you've read this far and watched a bit of Glisa's video, try to imagine being a teammate during that particular match and hearing all of this stuff being said in real-time, by strangers. Would you just keep quiet and silently do your bit to win the game in the hopes of ditching them all? Or would you have said something?

Players like Acayri and Joel make Overwatch an inhospitable place for girl gamers, sometimes. It's sort of ridiculous really, because Overwatch itself has all sorts of prominent female characters – girls can see themselves in the game, but they can't enjoy that representation authentically. There's still this notion, in 2021, that games are for white cis boys, and that white cis boys are better at games than just about everyone else. It's the kind of binary that I'd love to leave behind once and for all – but it still has a lot of power.

"I am putting this and a few other examples of the way I am treated up not just for entertainment", Glisa said in the description of the YouTube video. "I want to give people a look into how women are treated online. This is not OK, and I'm doing my best to show that".

The response Glisa's video garnered was a real eye-opener for me. I found the Reddit post sharing the link and scrolled through the comments – and a lot of them had been typed up by other girl gamers, expressing sympathy, sharing their own experiences.

It's a harrowing realization. It's horrible, but it seems like most female Overwatch players can relate to the video and recall a point in their lives where they experienced the same abuse. You can almost imagine it – all of us sharing the same thought:

I've been her, and I've heard those words.

How can Overwatch be made more safe?

After reading all that, you'd be forgiven for wanting to shy away from Overwatch and other PvP games – but that's definitely not the point I'm trying to make. We're allowed to play games like this, we're allowed to enjoy them, hell, women even work on and create games like Overwatch! And there's so much good stuff you wouldn't want to miss out on. The characters are fun, and there are plenty of ladies to play as, there's LGBT rep (though I reckon there could be more), the maps are bright and fun, and there's even the promise of a sequel in the works.

There's no one way to guarantee that you'll get good matches with people who aren't vitriolic to the extreme, but that doesn't mean there aren't little measures you can take to save yourself trouble in the long run.

🔨 Know your tools

There are currently three ways to deal with abusive individuals on Overwatch – so let's get familiar with them.

Squelching the player removes their messages in the chat log for the duration of your play session. Muting their voice does what you'd expect it to, and ensures that you don't hear their dulcet tones during your match. Finally, you have the option to block the player. Blocking a player prevents them from reaching out to you via whispers, sending friend or group invites, and it also adds their name to your block list on Battle.net.

To squelch, mute or block a player, you can right-click their name in the chat log or head into your social menu under groups or recent players. You'll also be able to report players from these menus. Click the option and you'll see that the process is pretty standard – sum up the interaction or the incident and send it off to Blizzard.

Previously, Blizzard did have an "Avoid as Teammate" feature, and you might remember it if you were playing Overwatch in the early days of 2016. Avoid as Teammate let you blacklist two players per week, and whether they were being an offensive you-know-what, directly harassing you, or spouting vitriol in the chat, you could join quick or competitive matches safe in the knowledge that they wouldn't be there.

Some players began "avoiding" highly skilled individuals because... well, they were good at the game. They didn't want to play against them and potentially (read: probably) lose a match, so they blacklisted them using the feature that should've been used to prevent harassment and abuse. The guy who was, at that point, the best Widowmaker in the world saw this happen in real time. His queues got way longer, his matches were stomps against low-level opponents, and all because he'd been "avoided" by so many players who didn't want to square up against his sniping!

💬 Curate your social circle

Overwatch is an awesome title to pick up with a group; the matches are brief and dynamic, and there're all sorts of party comps to consider. Whether you're climbing the ranks or blowing off steam, there's bound to be something that you and your friends can get stuck into.

And if your friends don't play Overwatch, well, you can always introduce them to it! Otherwise, there are tons of gaming communities out there that'd love to have you.

These groups allow girl gamers to properly enjoy titles like Overwatch. You'll make new friends, roll with a squad in all of your matches, and have that emotional support on hand if things in the chat get unpleasant. It makes a world of difference to be able to talk and laugh whilst you're defending a point or going on the attack – we all know what it's like to be too afraid or wary to speak on the mic, after all.

If you're interested in finding a community of like-minded gamers, check out Twitter, Discord and Reddit – and local groups even advertise meetups and tournaments on Facebook! Obviously, you'll want to practice due diligence when looking into these sorts of groups – stick to official apps, don't hand out personal info right away, and if you get a bad feeling... go with your gut!

🤫 Play safe

This nugget of advice is all over my blog – but it's for good reason! The internet just isn't a safe place, and at the risk of sounding like an informational video from the 90s, you don't want to go bearing your soul to strangers on the net. I've noticed a definite shift in attitude over the years, though. It feels like we're less wary of one another now, and a lot of the content that crops up on YouTube and Instagram celebrates this constant documentation – we want to show off what we're doing, where we're doing it, and no info is off-limits anymore.

On Overwatch, though, the people you meet in the chat might not be as squeaky clean as they seem, and could have an eye on your Battle.net account – or they might just be sore losers who want to follow you to Twitter and DM you unpleasant (and probably misspelled) insults. Either way, they shouldn't be entrusted with any of your details.

That might sound a bit counterintuitive, seeing as Overwatch relies a lot on communication between players. And yes, sure, talking about objectives and party balance is great! It's when the conversation turns to more personal topics that you should be cautious.

As a rule, it's better not to share the following info with strangers you meet over Overwatch chat:

  • Your full name
  • Your location, and definitely not your address
  • Career or education details

If you're matched up in a team with someone who is asking a lot of questions, you'll want to be careful. There's no reason for a stranger to know any of the above info. In fact, if the person is asking weirdly specific questions, they might be phishing for particular details that could be used to crack your security questions – stuff like your birthplace or mother's maiden name. Alternatively, some crooks use what they learn in these chats to find you outside of the game, on Facebook or Twitter or even, in extreme cases, in real life.

🔒 Lock it up

For a start, make sure that you keep your PC, laptop, or console updated. Don't fall behind, and remember that you can schedule updates to roll out automatically at a time where it's most convenient. If your machine isn't caught up with its updates, viruses could find and exploit vulnerabilities that would otherwise have been patched out – and you can bet your butt that bad actors are counting on your complacency.

Practicing proper computer safety is a must – and it'll do way more for you than just protecting your Overwatch account!

Next, revamp your passwords! It's easy to stick to two or three passwords and rotate through them when signing up to new stuff, but this is a massive security oversight. Using the same password for any sites and services is a disaster waiting to happen. Let's say that a hacker manages to get their hands on your password and email – that's bad enough, but if you're only using that one password for all of your accounts, that's even worse, because now the hacker can access them, too. So, use non-dictionary words in your passwords, throw in some numbers and symbols, and invest in a password manager if the thought of wrangling them makes you dizzy.

Two-factor authentication is particularly useful for Overwatch players, and Blizzard even has its very own verification tool! 2FA basically means that a hacker needs two pieces of information to access your account – your password and the code sent to you via SMS if you enable 2FA. If the hacker doesn't have this code (and why would they, unless they have your phone, too...), they don't get to snoop.

Blizzard's authenticator makes the whole process even more streamlined. There are no codes to enter, they're all auto-populated, and instead you simply approve the login attempt via the app – which is available for phones and even smartwatches! With one click, you can verify your account or dismiss unauthorized requests, and the app is entirely free to download. Oh, and you can use the Blizzard authenticator with any Blizzard game, which is good news for all you WoW players!

Would a VPN help?

That's another subjective question, but I don't think a VPN is a necessary piece of kit by any means. They can't weed out abusive or irritating players, though that'd be awesome, but they can still come in handy if you plan to stream your Overwatch games. Obviously, you come into contact with more people if you're active on Twitch – and that means more nasty folks, too. Some won't do more than foam at the mouth and bark, but others might have a few nasty tricks up their sleeve.

And that's where the VPN comes into the picture. VPNs actually cloak your IP address and assign you a new, temporary one in its place. Anyone searching for your original IP address won't find it – they'll just see the one linked to the VPN server. This is a big deal, because your IP address can reveal a worrying amount of information about you, like your general location and your ISP.

But, the VPN acts as a shield between you and all of those invasive cybercriminals. They won't be able to paw through your details or use your IP to launch a DDoS attack in the hopes of grinding your stream to a halt. If you're interested, I have a separate post about whether a VPN is a good investment for Twitch streamers that takes a closer look at these occurrences – check out my do I need a VPN for twitch guide for more information.

Of course, VPNs have a bunch of other benefits:

We've got guides covering all of these topics (and then some), as well as a rundown of our top VPN recommendations. If you're not super familiar with VPNs, you can check out our jargon-free explainer, too!

Security apps for Women

A YouGov survey revealed that one in three women taking daily safety measures in order to protect themselves from being assaulted. This is why many women are considering using security apps. If you want to know more, check out my article on the best security apps for women. Here I list the apps and the pros and cons of using one. 

Conclusion

In a way, it's disheartening that posts like this are a necessity. There shouldn't be a question of whether Overwatch is safe for its female audience – it just should be. But that's not the reality of the situation, and shockingly little is being done to address it in a meaningful way. But women have never been afraid of taking matters into their own hands and creating spaces, communities, and resources to turn the tide.

Some folks might question why women "feed the haters" or decide to "clap back", but I don't think making ourselves small and hyper-aware of the space we take up is the solution here. Women shouldn't have to be silent and invisible to enjoy a game of Overwatch without being called an "ugly bitch", or something just as eloquent. It's 2021, and we should be normalizing the idea that women play games – and that women are good at them, and that we make them, too!

There are lots of little things you can do to achieve this. Support streams hosted by women, comment, subscribe, share their Patreons and boost their socials! No gesture is too small, and no gesture goes unappreciated.

Written by: Hannah Hart

Originally hailing from Wales, Hannah Hart graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1:1 in Creative Writing, going on to work as an Editor across a number of trade magazines. As a professional writer, Hannah has worked across both digital and print media, and is familiar with collating news pieces, in depth reports and producing by lines for international publications. Otherwise, she can be found pouring over a tarot deck or spending more hours than she'll ever admit playing Final Fantasy 14.

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