Sunday night, was the last time I would be playing Overwatch before Blizzard launched it into the abyss, never to be seen again. (Say hi to P.T. for me). We had been playing for a few hours when the conversation turned to what we could expect in Overwatch 2. First on the docket, phone numbers and the SMS Protect authentication system.
Blizzard had announced that you would have to have a real, verifiable phone number associated with your account to play Overwatch 2. It was an attempt to crack down on cheaters, but suddenly a wave of realization came over me: I only have one number but two accounts.
Look, don't judge me, I have a second account – a smurf account – so I can test out tactics and play with friends who are lower level without impacting my main account's stats. And, yes, sometimes to mop up some easy kills.
I was never known as a math wiz, but I do know that it doesn’t add up. Panic sets in. Am I going to lose my smurf account? But there is so much saved on it, I spent so much time climbing up the ranks (so, I may have lost sight of the fact that stats weren't important on my smurf account). Countless gameplay clips, character custom skins, and player history could be lost in a blink of an eye.
I do the only thing I can think of in a time of crisis and text my mum. I politely ask her if I could use her number for a game I play. She lovingly responds, asking me if I am seven years old and why on earth I would need her number for my game. I have no choice but to explain my smurf account to my mum and why I need her number to keep it. So thanks, Blizzard, that’s a conversation I never thought I’d have to have.
Sweeping up smurfs
I, an adult, had to tell her that, honestly, smurfing is a common trait in any PvP (player versus player) game. Some smurfs use a new account to intentionally abuse matchmaking systems, playing against players of a lower level than them so they can win and climb ranks faster, but, that's not me, I assured her. On the flip side, I use my smurf account as a place where I can unwind and try new tactics without worrying about my win-to-lose ratio while also playing with friends of a lower rank.
She was convinced. I think.
Regardless of your intentions, Blizzard seemed set on ending the trend. By asking for a phone number to be linked to an account, it prevented users from having more than one Battle.net account. Here lies the root of my panic and the reason why I had to bring smurfing up to my mum.
There is good cause for Blizzard to be cautious of smurfs. In Overwatch 1, you had to buy the game again to get another account. Although it wasn’t a large sum of money, it still prevented people from purchasing infinite smurf accounts. This isn’t the case for Overwatch 2. The game is now free to play, meaning that without any financial barrier, players can make any number of smurf accounts if they want to.
It’s also harder to spot smurfs in Overwatch 2. My rule of thumb originally was that if the level 12 account picked Widowmaker, a notoriously hard sniper, and proceeded to get unfathomable amounts of headshots across the map, then I could safely say that she was a smurf.
However, in Overwatch 2, you can no longer see a player's level or portrait border. These borders were a quick signifier of how long someone had been playing. Each star was worth 100 levels, while every 600 hundred levels, the color would change. Bronze to Silver to Gold and so forth. All of these gave me a quick way to gauge the enemy's skill level and if their account matched up with how they were playing. So now Overwatch 2 has removed these features, it may be harder to spot a smurf.
Back to basics
These problems apparently weren’t worth keeping the SMS Protect authentication system in the game. Less than a week later, Blizzard reported that it was removing mandatory phone numbers for some players. So not only did I embarrass myself, but I did it for no reason.
Despite my deep sense of embarrassment, there were a few elements wrong with this feature that meant that it was more hassle than it was worth for Blizzard to keep it going. For starters, it didn’t actually work. If all I had to do was ask a family member to borrow their phone number, then this system isn’t preventing people in the slightest. Especially when players can easily register a phone number, it delays smurfs rather than getting rid of them. It was also incredibly insensitive to players who couldn’t afford a prepaid phone or simply didn’t have one.
All in all, I'm glad Blizzard has begun to get rid of the MS Protect authentication system. Despite smurfs being a foreseeable problem in Overwatch 2, it felt like this system wasn’t entirely well thought out, and so it did more damage than good to the player base. No one should have to buy a phone for the sole reason of logging into Overwatch 2. No matter how much fun you think the new maps and characters are. Anyways, it was entertaining having to describe the concept of smurfing to my mum. And now she has an account just in case she ever wants to play.
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Elie is a Features Writer for TechRadar Gaming, here to write about anything new or slightly weird. Before writing for TRG, Elie studied for a Masters at Cardiff University JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs or editing the gaming section for their student publications.
Elie’s first step into gaming was through Pokémon but they've taken the natural next step in the horror genre. Any and every game that would keep you up at night is on their list to play - despite the fact that one of Elie’s biggest fears is being chased.