Blizzard is testing a new moderation system for Overwatch Contenders’ Twitch chat

Fans who want to participate in chat will need to link their Twitch and Blizzard accounts.

Photo by Robert Paul via Blizzard Entertainment

A new Twitch chat moderation system will be implemented for Overwatch Contenders’ 2018 season quarterfinals. Fans who tune into the matches from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12 will have to link their Blizzard accounts and Twitch accounts to participate in Twitch chat on the Overwatch Contenders channel.

Blizzard announced the initiative yesterday on the Overwatch Contenders blog. “We’re always testing out new ways to  improve viewer experience for the Overwatch Path to Pro ecosystem,” an Overwatch Contenders representative wrote on the blog. “The Path to Pro team … will evaluate the program’s overall effect on creating a more positive viewing experience.”

Related: Twitch chat isn’t great for the Overwatch League

Twitch users who haven’t linked their Blizzard accounts will be met with an automatic reply urging them to link their accounts when trying to chat. Neither Blizzard nor Twitch have said how this directly will impact either system. It’s not clear whether there’s the potential for Blizzard to issue in-game bans to Overwatch for bad behavior on Twitch. Dot Esports has reached out to Blizzard’s Overwatch esports team for more information.

Twitch chat—and moderation on Twitch—is often a point of contention across the board in esports; it’s not only an Overwatch or Overwatch Contenders problem. Users with relative anonymity feel emboldened to use Twitch chat to spread vitriol, whether that’s through hate speech or banned emotes. Twitch chat is a place that’s beloved by some for its quickly-spreading inside jokes—like Overwatch’s C9 meme—but is often harmful for others. It’s not an inherently bad space. It’s an important part in the legacy of esports and a major player in how esports fans interact, but companies have struggled to maintain that history while regulating the space. Though esports is growing, with more and more in-person events, Twitch chat is essentially a virtual sports stadium—one full of anonymous trolls.

“While live streaming has dramatically grown the media side of esports, far too often it is overlooked for having also created digital stadiums,” T.L. Taylor, media scholar and author of Watch Me Play: Twitch and the Rise of Game Live Streaming, told Dot Esports in early December. “The synchronous chat that accompanies so many live streams is a powerful component in producing a collective experience but organizations have yet to face that, like a physical stadium, it also needs to be managed.”

That was no better illustrated than with the debut of the Overwatch League’s Vancouver Titans. The Overwatch League expansion team broadcast its team and branding reveal on Twitch, live from the Vancouver Canucks’ Rogers Arena in Canada. Vancouver signed Overwatch Contenders Korea’s top team, Run Away, and brought them all out to Canada for their debut. But the Twitch chat was anything but celebratory. Once viewers realized the stream was entirely unmoderated, Twitch chat descended into a spiraling vortex of racist hate speech and ASCII dicks.

“A communication error led to the live stream not being moderated,” a Vancouver Titans representative told Dot Esports after the event in December. “It’s an unfortunate oversight for a new team’s launch. Future streams will definitely be moderated to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

The incident has since been considered a master class in how not to manage a big event on Twitch, a warning for anyone who doesn’t see value in a moderation team. No huge public consequence has befallen on Vancouver for the oversight, aside from media commentary on Twitter. But instances like these could lead into outside pressure from those who don’t necessarily understand the industry, Taylor said.

“These days, esports likes to proclaim itself a serious media industry player, one that is raking in huge investments and touting tremendous growth,” Taylor said. “If that’s truly the case, excusing the failings is becoming even more difficult. Live streaming holds tremendous potential to build audiences and bring in new ones. Organizations, and their brands, benefit by taking community management of their spaces seriously.”

Blizzard hasn’t said whether this new moderation system will transfer over to the Overwatch League or even into Overwatch Contenders’ 2019 season—and there are too few details to really predict its success. One of the more prevalent arguments on Reddit against the moderation measures is that it’ll decentivize potential viewers from watching Overwatch Contenders, which already has inconsistent viewership.

And while it’s true that Overwatch Contenders viewership is low, one of the big problems with toxicity on Twitch is that people are anonymous, which has been linked to bad behavior. People aren’t afraid of consequences of their behavior if no one knows who they are. Linking a Blizzard account to Twitch does a bit to reduce that anonymity and encourage viewers to behave in chat, in theory. There are ways to get around it, of course, but that requires creating another account. (Blizzard accounts are free, but the individual games cost money. Game purchases aren’t required to link accounts.)

Accountability may be a step toward a healthier Twitch chat, though it doesn’t excuse the company and its teams from expanded moderation efforts.