Overwatch 2’s Controversial SMS Protect System Finally Supports Pre-paid Phone Numbers

Blizzard has rolled out a new Overwatch 2 patch that includes balance changes for several heroes, a Mei bug fix that allows her to return to the game and much more.

One of the most important updates, and one that isn’t mentioned in the patch notes, is to the SMS Protect system, a controversial aspect of Blizzard’s plan to keep banned cheaters and toxic players from returning to the free-to-play game. Starting today, players who didn’t buy Overwatch 1 will be able to use a pre-paid mobile phone to gain access to Overwatch 2.

“Beginning today, Blizzard is expanding global SMS Protect access to pre-paid phones, welcoming more players to Overwatch 2 and continuing their commitment to combating disruptive behavior and protecting the integrity of the player experience,” a Blizzard spokesperson said. “This update may take several hours to roll out completely.”

Blizzard provided more details in a forum post. Not all pre-paid phone services will be supported, though Blizzard expects that most will. “While we expect most prepaid service plans to be now eligible, mobile carriers sometimes define their plans differently,” community manager Andy Belford wrote. VOIP, WiFi, text-only and internet phone services are still not supported, and each phone number can only be registered on one Battle.net account.

This is the latest development in a big about face from the initial stance of requiring all players to connect a post-paid mobile number to their Battle.net account. Blizzard swiftly dropped that requirement for most folks who were coming over from Overwatch 1 — veteran players don’t need to connect a phone to their account. However, the system still prevented many new potential new players from checking out Overwatch 2.

Blizzard has other ways of detecting cheaters and toxic players, as well as measures designed to protect the game and decent players from such jerks (even if you may still encounter some asshats on occasion). There’s a new system, for instance, that allows Blizzard to review transcriptions of voice chats after a player is reported. Allowing new accounts to register a pre-paid phone won’t necessarily open the floodgates to more toxicity, though smurfing could be more of an issue. In any case, as Belford noted, “since introducing Defense Matrix, our new initiative to stop disruptive players in Overwatch 2, we’ve successfully taken action on thousands of accounts that we’ve found to violate the Blizzard In-Game Code of Conduct.”

Ultimately, a core tenet of Overwatch is inclusivity. Lowering the barrier to entry for new players, particularly those who don’t have access to a post-paid phone, is a positive move for accessibility after many folks were left behind. Hopefully it will fix the issue that Cricket Wireless and Metro by T-Mobile users were having in linking their phones too. Moreover, this could help Blizzard to bump up those already impressive player numbers.

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