Overwatch 2 will no longer require existing Overwatch players to provide a phone number as Blizzard reverses the controversial anti-cheat system.
All Overwatch 2 players were originally required to link an active phone number to their Battle.net account in order to play the hero shooter. Blizzard hoped that the SMS Protect authentication system would help users verify their accounts and prevent disruptive and abusive players from returning to the game after being banned.
“We have made the decision to remove phone number requirements for most existing Overwatch players,” Blizzard said in a statement. forum post announcing the end of the system.
“Any Overwatch player with a connected Battle.net account, which includes all players who have played since June 9, 2021, will not need to provide a phone number to play. We are working on making this change and we expect it to be released on Friday, October 7th.”
But the policy change will not benefit everyone. Blizzard says, “Accounts that were not currently connected to Battle.net, as well as new accounts, will still have to meet SMS Protect requirements.”
Overwatch’s phone number authentication system has proven controversial among the game’s community. Various types of phone numbers, including those linked to prepaid SIM cards and VOIP phones, cannot be used for authentication, preventing many potential players from following up.
Even those who purchased the original Overwatch – which has been replaced by the free-to-play sequel and is no longer accessible – originally found themselves unable to play Overwatch 2 if they didn’t have a phone number of the right sort. Likewise, many who purchased the game’s Watchpoint Pack prior to release found they couldn’t access the game to enjoy the $39.99 / £34.99 / AU$59.95 starter pack.
Blizzard’s revamped SMS protection policy will go some way to alleviating these issues. But new players won’t be so lucky yet. Those who join Overwatch for the first time will not be able to access the game if they have a prepaid SIM card or no phone number.
This is particularly hampered by low-income players. Pay-as-you-go phones are often more affordable than alternative options, leaving those who can’t afford an expensive contract unable to play.
“I’m very upset and strangely embarrassed that I don’t meet this ‘standard,'” said an Overwatch fan in reddit (opens in new tab). “I never thought I would be disqualified from playing Overwatch based on my ability to pay a phone contract, but here we are. Blizzard is the first company to make me feel too poor to play.”
Younger players as well, who may not own a phone of their own (but reach the ESRB Teen and PEGI 12 maturity rating) will continue to be locked out of the game, while families who share a single phone number will not be able to create multiple accounts.
Blizzard says the phone number authentication system will help combat disruptive behavior while discouraging smurfing – whereby veteran players create new accounts to deliberately play against inexperienced players. In the short term, however, it continues to release stability fixes for the long queues and glitches that have plagued Overwatch 2 since launch.