is once again updating its phone number policy for Battle.net accounts. The latest update is good news for new players on prepaid phone plans, who were previously unable to create accounts due to Blizzard's SMS Protect requirements.
In a blog post from developer AndyB, Blizzard said it's expanding SMS Protect to include most prepaid phone plans, though it noted that VoIP still won't be accepted for SMS Protect. The post also specified that there aren't any changes to who does or doesn't need to activate SMS Protect: "This change doesn't affect any current Overwatch 2 accounts, regardless if they have SMS Protect or are exempt because they own a previous Overwatch game license."
Basically, if you don't currently have a phone number associated with your account, this change doesn't require you to add one. It just allows prepaid phone users to access the game easier. The SMS Protect requirement has been a bit of a saga for Overwatch 2.
How we got here
The week before launch, a blog post from Blizzard detailed several systems, collectively known as Defense Matrix, that the free-to-play game was implementing, all aimed at improving security and the in-game experience. The blog post announced that Overwatch 2 was adding SMS Protect to help with issues of account verification and banning disruptive players. Free-to-play games sometimes suffer from higher rates of cheaters, so-called smurfs (experienced players who deliberately lose matches so they can play at lower skill tiers) and other disruptive players when there are no barriers to entry. Adding phone numbers is one way to block those kinds of players.
However, there were restrictions on the requirement. "The same phone number cannot be used on multiple accounts at the same time, and players can't use the same phone number to create multiple accounts," Blizzard said in the blog post. "A phone number can only be used once when making a new account, and certain types of numbers, including pre-paid and VOIP, cannot be used for SMS Protect."
The addition of SMS Protect and other changes are designed to keep bad actors out of the game, but some of them -- particularly the experience for new users -- are a fundamental shift in the game experience, similar to new heroes being locked in the battle pass.
In particular, the restriction on prepaid phone plans was a significant barrier for many players, such as the 38% of US adults aged 18 to 29 who have a prepaid plan, according to YouGov data. Community feedback led to Blizzard changing the requirement, though not lifting it entirely.
A day after the game launched, Blizzard released another blog post that stated that phone numbers would no longer be required for a majority of existing players. Specifically, anyone who played the original game with a Battle.net account won't need a verified phone number starting Oct. 7. New players will still need a verified phone number, though: "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."
The blog post also said that Blizzard would continue to listen to feedback and would make additional changes if needed.
In addition to the SMS Protect requirements, Overwatch 2 introduced several other changes aimed at minimizing disruptive behavior in the game.
First-time-user experience changes
The original Overwatch took you through a brief mechanical tutorial and then just threw you into the chaos of maps and game modes and different heroes. Overwatch 2 seems to be taking a much more deliberate approach.
"The first phase of our new [first-time-user experience] rapidly unlocks all the game modes and the ability to chat in-game, and the second phase unlocks all the original Overwatch heroes over the course of approximately 100 matches," the post says. "This focused experience eases new players into the world of Overwatch by teaching them about different modes, rules, and other high-level aspects of the game in an approachable way."
Given that Quick Play matches generally take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, that's a major time investment for new players to unlock every hero and game mode. But if you're worried about not having the right heroes or game modes unlocked by the time you group up with some of your friends who have been playing Overwatch longer, the blog post specifies that most restrictions are lifted while in a group.
The notable exception is Competitive mode, which requires a player to win 50 Quick Play matches in order to unlock it, regardless of whether you're in a group. This requirement is designed to give new players sufficient time to acclimate to the game before participating in the competitive environment, and it also gives the game more matchmaking data on the player.
It's also aimed at keeping disruptive players out of the game, according to the blog post: "Disruptive players are unable to immediately affect the larger community, with things like voice chat and match chat unlocking later in FTUE. Brand-new accounts made by cheaters or disruptive players will all have to play through this experience, giving us the chance to identify suspicious accounts before they enter other game modes."
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