Unlike most team-based shooters, in Overwatch, voice chat is essential if you want to perform well at the upper echelons of competitive play. Ignoring the every player for themselves approach of its contemporaries, Blizzard‘s shooter is refreshingly team-oriented and here working collectively as a team can go a long way. From strategizing to shot-calling, here, communication is always key to winning.
Despite this, bafflingly, lots of Overwatch players actively refrain from using voice chat. Not only do some players decide against talking in the voice channel—some even go as far as to leave it entirely, meaning that they can’t even hear those who are using the feature. Why? <Well, as with many other online games, Overwatch can be a platform that’s plagued with toxicity. While popping on for a quick bit of pew pewery, it’s sadly not uncommon to hear an angry voice yelling personal attacks or even hate speech in the voice channels of Blizzard’s shooter. Like with the rest of the internet, here players revel in the anonymity they’re afforded by voice chat, using the feature as a means of bullying others with little consequence.
So, in an effort to understand why people do and don’t use voice chat, we spoke with Josh Bishop, Aimee Hart, and Natalie Flores. All avid players of Overwatch, they each had their own unique opinions on the pros and cons of voice chat in competitive Overwatch.
I didn’t use voice chat in the past. It felt really bad whenever I got flamed in Overwatch—I don’t really know why, but in Overwatch specifically, it felt worse than other games. A while back I joined a Diamond/Masters Overwatch team and ever since then I’ve used voice chat because the part I enjoy now is the teamwork aspect. I definitely feel this is the best game out there for teamwork and that not using voice chat does kind of mess up you and your team. Now I don’t care much about what they say and if I get a particularly annoying person in one of my games I just mute them specifically instead of leaving the entire channel.
Back when I would regularly leave voice chat I liked to play Mei. Even if she wasn’t amazing, she was still playable and I definitely won games on her. No one else really agreed with me, though, and the second I would pick Mei everyone would scream at me and want me to switch. I will say that this is for sure the most toxic community I’ve ever been a part of, for reasons just like this. They’re angry all the time for no reason.
It sounds strange to say, but I feel League of Legends’ toxicity isn’t anywhere near as bad. I think it’s because they don’t flame you often for your pick or other dumb things like that—they flame you over whether or not your decisions are correct. This doesn’t bother me as much because I stand by my decisions usually. Plus, it’s all through text. League has no voice chat at all. I just mute their chat and forget they exist. When I’m trying really hard in ranked I just mute chat right when the game starts.
If I’m playing ranked and trying hard to win, that’s what I do. I have a habit of trying to type back when people get toxic. I feel like I have to be the one defending everyone from the flame. Also, in League not much that gets typed is important. I’d say maybe 5% of messages are important.
LoL has a very good system of pings so you can communicate without having to type it all out. You can press one button to bring up a menu of four pings; enemy missing, on my way, be careful, and I need assistance. On top of that, you can ping enemy abilities and items to call attention to them or to ping that they’re on cooldown or whatever else. None of these things get muted when you mute chat.
Flamed for choosing his favorite heroes but receptive of the fact that voice chat is essential for successful team play, Josh has resolved to mute toxic players with a zero-tolerance policy toward toxicity. This is a quick fix and does remove the toxic elements of the game, but it also limits Josh’s ability to communicate with some teammates. In order to block out their toxic behavior, all lines of communication must be severed, which directly impinges on team play.
It was a while back but I can remember who I was playing and everything because it was just that good, y’know?
I didn’t used to like voice chat, but I used to watch a streamer called RagTagg and he was always like “you’ll do better in competitive if you talk. You may not want to, but you’ve gotta do it if you want to do well.” So, I tried it out myself, and it was pretty hit and miss. Sometimes we’d win, sometimes we’d lose. I found that I was mostly by myself on voice chat, which I didn’t mind because I’m quite shy.
Until it got to that game. It was competitive (Gold) and I was on King’s Row. I was playing D.VA and to be honest, we didn’t have a good team. I can’t remember the full composition, but I know there was a Mercy and a Widowmaker, and I was the only tank. So, it wasn’t great, but I didn’t tell them to change and was like “okay, we’d probably do better if we had another tank and another healer, but if you don’t want to change then that’s okay. Just have fun.” Or…something along those lines.
Like, it was definitely forced positivity at that point, solely because I’d been miserable on competitive before and got real toxic so now I was like “LET’S BE POSITIVE –EVEN WITH DIRE ODDS.”
We’d pushed the payload to the very last point on King’s Row, but we couldn’t complete it.It was the enemy’s turn, and just as we were preparing, someone on our team suddenly left.I can’t remember who it was, but I know it wasn’t Mercy or Widowmaker because I remember them distinctly.
Like I said, I could tell the team was down and we were stumbling a lot. The enemy team took the first point easily and by that time I just knew if we didn’t do something then we’d lose for sure.
At that time I went off voice chat because I could feel myself getting angry and didn’t want to take it out on anyone; but, just as they went past the first corner of the payload, I was like “ah, f** it” and went back on chat and was like “alright, I know it looks bad but I think we can do this. We’re trickling in at the moment, but I’ve got my ult and if we can get rid of the tank (I think it was Rein) then I can do my ult and we can hold the payload,” or something along those lines. It was a really long time ago—I think Orisa had just been added to the game.
But anyway, we teamed up and managed to get Rein out of the picture and I flew my mech into the enemy team and BAM! Caught them completely unaware and it was a team kill.
Then I think it was Widow or Mercy who came on the voice chat and was like “YES! Go D.VA! We can do this everyone!” He was an American guy for definite, because he had a real thick accent. And honest to GOD we ended up winning. It was so great. Me and the guy were cheering when we won and just spammed thanks. Honestly, it was the best feeling in the world. I’ve not had a comp match like that for ages.
Aimee’s story is warm and uplifting, highlighting the side of Overwatch that players dream of. Aimee is the person you want on your team—the anti-toxic teammates who praises you when you do well and forgives you when you make a mistake. When Aimee told us this, we don’t think she knew that she was the star of the story, but that’s just how it is. If more people were like this, Overwatch’s toxicity problem would be solved in a heartbeat.
So basically, sometimes I’ll play overwatch with my friends and I’ll want to play a little more after they take their leave. When that happens, I have to disconnect my headphones, plug in my splitter cable with the headphone jack, and plug my headphones back into that so that I can join voice chat without my own voice getting picked up. This is how I play Overwatch, because voice chat is super important since it’s supposed to be a team-based game.
Sometimes, I’m a little Zenyatta getting focused by the enemy team, but I’d rather frustratingly keep dying and drop in rank—which I honestly take pretty seriously as someone who is really involved with this game—than to go on voice chat with my microphone
I think the last time I went on mic was when I was playing as Mercy in a competitive match on Lijiang Tower. I hadn’t been using my mic for most of the match, but when I got attacked by an asshole for not healing enough (despite healing 8k at that point and doing my best with the other healer on our team that was focusing more on attacking than healing), I got on mic to tell him how much I had healed and that I wasn’t the problem, actually.
He then proceeded to call me a dirty whore and got super aggressive and hostile, and nobody was defending me, so when he said that, I just nodded and told them “Oh, I see how it is. Well, nice game!” and I purposely left the match, which I never usually do.
If it’s not that kind of interaction, then the other interaction in voice chat that I most vividly remember is playing on Eichenwalde with a team of dudes who seemed pretty nice, which made me felt confident going in voice chat and making callouts, strategizing, etc.
Almost immediately after I joined voice chat, this one guy started to fawn over my voice, telling me it was really cute and repeating some of the things I’d say, saying that he just loved my voice. He kept doing that and it was super distracting because I just wanted to focus on the game, but instead I was thinking about how much he was Othering me from the rest of the team.
It was the exact opposite of calling me a dirty whore; it was nice, even if flirtatious, but they both served the same purpose: to other me because I’m a woman. Any reason I should use voice chat for, like strategizing or asking for help since I tend to main supports and the enemy team often focuses me as a result, has never been a risk that compensates for the possible vitriol or othering I will experience.
You can never know—sometimes, a teammate may seem nice and not toxic, but then they’ll say something is “so gay” when we’re in 2018. And, because you can never know, I’d rather not put myself at risk. So that’s how I play Overwatch now: with my splitter cable so that I can listen to people talk but never speak myself. I’m rarely afraid to voice my own opinions, and you know me as someone who definitely doesn’t shy away from doing that, but when it comes to playing online games, I shut down. It’s a bit uncomfortable, because I’d like to speak. I’m used to it—but I can’t do it in Overwatch.
The only times I will join voice chat are when I know another woman is in there. And I’ve had it happen to me, when I used to go into voice chat more often than not, that me speaking leads to another woman in the team plugging in her mic later on and feeling comfortable in speaking. I have almost 1,000 hours played in Overwatch. Maybe less than 30 of those hours have involved me participating in voice chat. And 30 is really generous, frankly.
Natalie brings a whole new issue to the table here. An avid Overwatch player, Natalie takes competitive matches very seriously and tries to use voice chat as much as possible. Tragically, her voice is what makes her teammates either toxic or distracting—purely because she’s a woman. This issue extends the whole way up to professional play, with Shanghai Dragons’ Geguri being the only woman currently playing in the Overwatch League. Alongside the general toxicity that ruins an objectively great game for so many people is a culture founded upon gendered insults and misogyny. The worst thing about Overwatch
Don’t make a stellar teammate like Josh mute you. Aim to be Aimee. Treat Natalie with the same degree of respect that you’d afford your very own friends and family. Overwatchvoice chat is a feature designed to make a team game team-oriented. It’s not for bullying people. It’s for helping them.