Opinion: Banning the Witch Hunt

Overwatch, Blizzard’s foray into the mashup of the FPS and MOBA genres, has been quite successful for them since its launch back in May.  It’s also netted them roughly about 10 million players, and as with all games you’ll have your fair amount of people wanting to cheat in order to win.  Blizzard has been known to not hold back when swinging the Banhammer on cheaters.  A couple weeks after Overwatch was released, the hammer was swung on nearly 2,000 people who were using third-party programs to help them gain the upper hand in the games PvP matches.


Looking at it, players getting banned or temporarily restricted from playing online due to cheating is probably not that rare of an occurrence.  Plus, doing so is necessary for the health and longevity of a game so I really don’t have a problem with cheaters being silently removed from the game.  So then, what is the problem you ask?  It’s the fact that when these bans happened in Overwatch, there was a post made on the Chinese version of Blizzard’s forums that alerted their player base to the recent bans and it included the user names of all of the banned cheaters.

Now there is probably more to it than just Blizzard deciding to publically “name and shame” those who they just banned for cheating.  Maybe these names were published on their forums by accident, though it’s odd that they haven’t been removed by now, or maybe there are some sort of weird policies over there.  No one outside of Blizzard will know why this was done, but for the sake of this opinion piece let’s assume that this was done on purpose for some reason considering the names haven’t been removed at this point.

As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs above, I have no problems with getting rid of cheaters.  They don’t make the game any fun at all to people who play it legitimately and can ruin the overall enjoyment of a game for many.  While I don’t care much for cheaters myself, I also do not think they should be named publically by anyone.  With today’s society it seems that people want to know when action is taken upon someone who is accused of cheating; which I guess is a fair request, but normally people want to take it a step further.

What’s that further step?  Harassment.  That is the sole reason I believe that any form of public naming of a cheater, regardless of whether they actually cheated or not, should never be allowed or endorsed.  There are several developers’ forums that I frequent that have strong stances against letting players do this on their forums, and I can easily see why.  When someone posts up a thread accusing someone of cheating they normally give their user name and then tell people to go report them for cheating in hopes of getting them punished.  As a result, people normally end up taking the suggestion of the author and reporting the person for cheating; or they decide to send them messages accusing them of cheating and downright harassing them.

As bad as it may sound, it is rather difficult for us as the average player to know exactly how someone is cheating.  Maybe your shots not registering correctly on that player you shot at was due to a lag spike rather than them cheating or hacking the game.  Often, this is probably the case and many “cheaters” are just simply lagging.  Sure, actual cheaters can be jerks in what they do just to make sure they win and I completely get the frustration behind it when it happens.  You want that person removed from the game because they ruined your fun, and it sucks and you never want to experience it again.  That still doesn’t mean that you should go and hold a witch hunt for them though, after all, they still are people just like you and I.

So where does Blizzard and Overwatch play into all of this?  I feel that with as popular as Overwatch currently is, this is going to set a new acceptable standard within the gaming community.  Even if the names weren’t actually supposed to be made public, people will catch on and think it is the “norm” when it should not be in my mind.  Not only does it open these people up for an endless amount of harassment, but it can also lead to stuff that is much, much more serious…and possibly illegal.  Nothing like having a SWAT team show up on your doorstep while you’re at home, minding your own business because some random person online thought it would be funny to do that because you supposedly cheated them in a game huh?

Since this has happened, I’ve seen an insane increase in the amount of “name and shame” threads pop up on various game forums.  I’m sure it’s been an uphill battle for the moderation teams on those sites that have policies against this kind of stuff.  When names are removed from these threads, and the community notices it, the company takes backlash for doing so.  I can understand peoples’ frustrations behind it as it makes it appear that the company would rather protect the “cheaters” rather than punish them.  This can also create a PR nightmare for developers; as I said earlier I can see it being viewed as the norm in gaming communities and it could pressure developers into changing their stance on naming and shaming cheaters just to simply “save face” in the eyes of their community.

In closing, I do not agree with Blizzard publishing the names of those whom they banned for cheating.  It will lead to eventual harassment of those who cheated, and even though many would consider it justified, it really isn’t and is just plain unnecessary.  I feel the same way about “name and shame” posts on forums and other places accusing certain people of cheating.  I really hope that this doesn’t become an acceptable trend in the gaming community, thus forcing other developers to follow suit and do the same.

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