“It feels like being punished for being poor,” Overwatch player Richard Meunster told Kotaku over email. Along with 19 million other people, Richard and his brother both use Cricket Wireless, one of the prepaid phone services that Overwatch 2 will not accept for its newly instated, mandatory two-factor authentication system, SMS Protect.
Every single Overwatch 2 player, including those who had previously purchased Overwatch, need to provide a phone number that fits certain requirements in order to start the game. As part of those requirements, numbers can’t be attached to a prepaid phone plan, landline, or use VOIP. Though what remains of Blizzard’s heart seems to be in the right place—the developer hopes the requirement will cut down “both cheating and disruptive behavior”—players like Richard are forgotten. Not because they don’t play well or don’t care or don’t want to have fun, but because they can’t afford the right kind of phone.
Prepaid phone plans like Cricket and Mint Mobile allow people to pay the cost of their usage up front. Though unfairly maligned as Breaking Bad-type “burner phones,” prepaid phones are easier to incorporate into low-income budgets, with monthly cost usually between $15 and $50. Some companies like AT&T even advertise prepaid services directly to low-income customers.
Richard, a college student, uses Cricket’s $50 monthly plan because “if you can’t pay it that month they just shut down the phone instead of taking you to collections.”
“If I get a regular phone plan and then can’t pay, my credit score gets destroyed,” he said.
At one point in 2020, there were 74 million prepaid phone plan users in the U.S. alone. Richard is far from being the only Overwatch player being phased out.
“I am ashamed of having a prepaid phone,” one Reddit user, who posted in r/Overwatch and received one thousand upvotes in less than 24 hours, said. “Never thought I would be disqualified from playing Overwatch based on my ability to afford a phone contract, but here we are...Blizzard is the first company to make me feel too poor to play a game.”
“Cannot believe Blizzard is denying people with prepaid phone plans access to Overwatch 2,” one Twitter user wrote. “Why does it matter how I pay my phone bill?? 6 years of my life, all the time, money, and progress down the drain.”
Blizzard’s phone restrictions seem to primarily and widely impair U.S. prepaid phone plan users, and the company did not return Kotaku’s request for comment in time for publication. Prepaid phone users in other countries have reported being able to log into the game problem-free, which some players speculate could either be because their country necessitates identification in order to purchase a prepaid phone, or because Blizzard has only banned known prepaid phone plans.
“This is why the system isn’t going to stop hackers or smurfs,” one Reddit user wrote. “They’ll just use a virtual number service that Blizz don’t know about.”
While Blizzard works it out, Richard and countless other low-income prepaid phone users are hurting.
“It feels like a large injustice,” Richard said. “Cheap postpaid plans are around $90. If you are a prepaid phone owner who really wants to play Overwatch 2, you are looking at $50 more a month to get a Blizzard-approved phone. Talk about going free-to-play.”
Update 11:20 p.m. ET: In light of the complaints from Overwatch 2 players on the requirement, Blizzard has announced it is no longer asking for a phone number for a “majority” of “existing” players, prepaid or not. Here’s Blizzard, per a new blog post that addresses launch issues:
Any Overwatch player with a connected Battle.net account, which includes all players who have played since June 9, 2021, will not have to provide a phone number to play. We are working to make this change and expect it to go live on Friday, October 7. We will update players once it is in effect.
We remain committed to combating disruptive behavior in Overwatch 2—accounts that were not connected to Battle.net as well as new accounts will still have to meet SMS Protect requirements, which helps to ensure we’re protecting our community against cheating. If a player is caught engaging in disruptive behavior, their account may be banned whether they have a new account or not.
As a team, we will keep listening to ongoing feedback and will make further adjustments in this area if it is required.
We have inquired regarding the wording of this pronouncement, as we don’t yet know if, say, absolutely new players who don’t have an existing account will qualify, or who is excluded given that this specifies a majority, and not the entirety of the playerbase.