Overwatch 2 will require players to link a phone number to their Battle.net account in order to play, a new requirement that wasn’t elaborated on in much detail in a recent Blizzard blog post announcing the change. Now, Blizzard is giving more details on why the new SMS Protect requirement is necessary, and it largely comes down to combatting cheaters.

When Overwatch 2 arrives on October 4, all players, even ones who had purchased the original Overwatch and those playing on consoles, will need to link a phone number to their Battle.net account in order to play. The same phone number can’t be used for multiple accounts, and Blizzard won’t accept pre-paid and VOIP numbers.

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In a new interview with Forbes, Blizzard explains that the change is to prevent bad actors from being able to use cheats and cycle through multiple additional accounts that all share the same phone number. Previously, the box price of Overwatch served as a cost when it came to players being banned and needing to create a new account. Now that the game is going free to play, the barrier to entry is much lower, and so Blizzard needed some other solution.

“We pretty actively are trying to detect and find users who have anomalous gameplay, with standout gameplay behavior, or are detected by the cheat fingerprints that we might make,” Overwatch 2 lead software engineer Bill Warnecke said. “But if that player gets that account banned and is able to immediately just rejoin with a new account, then all of the detection in the world won’t stop us from keeping bad actors out of the game. We need to make the cost for being willing to cheat a little bit higher for those players. Losing an account in Overwatch 2 is a much more significant penalty than it was in Overwatch 1.”

Warnecke did say that there will be cases of “good” players with no bad intentions who have multiple accounts being negatively impacted by the phone number requirement, which was something that Blizzard “took very seriously.” However, at the end of the day it was decided that being able to more effectively combat bad actors took priority over legitimate players who play on multiple accounts.

Blizzard recently detailed its “Defense Matrix Initiative”, which includes SMS Protect but also outlines how onboarding will work for new Overwatch 2 players. That onboarding process, called the First Time User Experience, will see new players gradually unlocking modes and heroes over the course of playing 100 matches. Blizzard said the First Time User Experience will also help to identify bad actors, as it will take time for new accounts made by cheaters to unlock additional heroes and the game’s competitive playlist, giving Blizzard more time to identify and ban them before they become too disruptive.

Overwatch 2 will see a number of big changes from the original multiplayer shooter. In addition to being free to play, Overwatch 2 will ditch loot boxes in favor of a battle pass system. It will also require existing players to unlock new heroes (excluding Junker Queen, Sojourn, and Kiriko) either through purchasing the game’s premium battle pass or grinding out the game’s free battle pass, a change that has upset many in the Overwatch community.

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