Since Heroes of the Storm launched, I have been silenced for “Abusive Chat” twice. The first was overturned as a result of me never speaking in matches, the second was likely deserved due to my own frustrations, and the seemingly enormous rise in those intentionally trolling or AFKing. I think at one point during my second appeal, I was reminded that it's not acceptable to call someone a “useless fucking wanker", even if they have decided to sit in the Core because they didn't like our draft.

While I'll agree to disagree on that sentiment (honestly, if you do this, you're an idiot) I find the evolution of Heroes of the Storm’s communication bizarre. There was a time where players would constantly communicate, rather than solely relying on the rudimentary ping system, so it's strange to find after my silence has ended - on the back of Blizzards last blog post detailing even harsher punishments - that players now rarely talk or use voice chat.

I don't profess to be a Grandmaster player, I comfortably reach high Diamond every Season, and perhaps this is wrong on my part, but I expect that players would want to discuss their drafts, counterpicks, tactics and even something as simple as taking a Mercenary camp at the right time.

In my last 50 Ranked matches, I've had one where more than two players used voice chat, and only four matches where the team communicated to some degree during draft. For a MOBA, this is fairly odd, and makes tactical play particularly challenging. When you've no idea who's playing what, or why someone is doing what they’re doing, it’s difficult to formulate a cohesive plan. I’m not suggesting you have to communicate to win, but any competitive game and its matches feel vastly better - even if you lose - when your team are working together.

There's a sweet irony to players abusing the abusive chat feature.

The realisation by many that reporting others for “Abusive Chat” results in direct action from Blizzard, seemingly much quicker than any other, has undoubtedly lead to “Abusive Chat” becoming a one-size fits all solution for those who feel aggrieved in any way. Don’t like the Hero someone has picked? Report them for Abusive Chat. Don’t like the fact your team has asked you not to die for the fifth time in three minutes? Report them for Abusive Chat. Don’t like that you’ve been asked to swap from a damage dealer, to a support - as a last pick - when your team has no support? Report for Abusive Chat.

It’s clearly not what Blizzard intended the report system to be used for, but choosing this path does, more often than not, result in an outcome: punishing a player you feel aggrieved by. While I’ve been unable to find a Blizzard source confirming the system is automated, use of language such as “machine learning technology”, and the sheer volume of reports they’ll receive, suggests it has to be. A recent Reddit post also confirms that intentionally dying, and non-participation are also entirely automated.

Blizzard might have made the effort to ensure those who have chat muted, or those on opposing teams can’t be reported, but that doesn’t change the fact there’s a permanent threat of a possible ban if you do choose to talk, even if everything you say is entirely civil. Such a looming spectre over play is clearly having ramifications, to the point where - as I suspect is the case - players are simply choosing not to communicate. Fundamentally, why risk an ever-increasing silence just for talking, when any review of your potential ban is ruled against vague guidelines?

Abusive Chat is officially defined as the following:

  • Insults, cruelty, or ongoing harassment directed at one or more players.
  • Hate speech
  • Real life threats

Unfortunately for this list, it’s also widely open to interpretation. If I suggest in draft for someone to not play Yrel because the enemy team has a great deal of crowd control, is this an insult because I’ve dared to question their freedom of choice, or their skill at drafting? If I ask someone not to repeatedly die, and instead group, is this harassment directed at one player for picking out their faults? If I even choose to use profanity at my own shortcomings, is this considered insulting to those who could read it? You might consider that none of these examples are such, and yet my own much of my own chat log (for my second ban) was taken out of context, had emoji’s removed (that imparted key emotion).

oh ffs :D
This is likely over if dehaka keeps dying solo :(
Absolutely no focus :(

Fucking temporal loop!
Fucks sake :D
We need 10 to fuck this hammer up :’D

Other players reported these chat lines as unacceptable. Based on this evidence, we will not overturn the penalty.

While this is only half of my chat log, and as noted above, my ban was deserved, it highlights several things:

1. Blizzard seemingly don’t take into account conversation context, or emoji’s (my use of “oh ffs :D” was laughing at my own death and reciprocated by the rest of my team)
2. Blizzard don’t take into consideration “good behaviour” as mitigating circumstances (such as complimenting a team-mate)
3. Use of profanity is clearly - despite a robust profanity filter - used as evidence of “Abusive Chat”, even if it isn’t aimed at any player.

4. Accepting Abusive Chat reports, and stating “Other players reported these chat lines as unacceptable.” demonstrates that Blizzard are willing to accept broad interpretations of their own rules.

It's never fun to login and see this screen, even more so when it's through false reporting.

None of the conversation extracts above constitute breaches of the “rules”, and yet they’ve been accepted into evidence and on appearance, tipped my account over the edge. Make no mistake, I have no bitterness towards my ban; quite the opposite. I was grateful for its arrival as it neutered much of my stress towards the game (much to my relief), but I do find the approach Blizzard are taking to be muddied.

If you’re to step up your automated system of banning others for Abusive Chat, you not only have to add far greater clarity when it comes to the “rules”, but you also need to accept that the game already allows players to mute the chat and pings of players, as well as block them. Solely taking one of these actions might not weed out the worst offenders (inevitably, that’s Blizzard’s hope with a successful Silence), but it does ensure precious ears aren’t offended.

While I doubt I’m the only one, there’s little that could be said to me in team chat that would lead to me taking offence and reaching for the report button. With the exception of racism, or encouraging someone to kill themselves, I’ve no care if someone calls me a “fucking prick” or any variant on it. Of far more importance to me is that players play, and play to the best of their ability. As it stands, there’s seemingly far too greater emphasis on obsessing over keeping Heroes of the Storm a safe space, with complete disregard for the rampant amount of players that in a ranked competitive environment, make it their duty to troll and AFK as much as possible. Considering Battlerite (a small arena game) can develop a fool-proof system that addresses the issue, it’s odd that there’s still so little action from Blizzard.

As long as players can be swept up in an automated silence if they choose not to have chat disabled, even if they have never said anything “wrong”, the whole system becomes questionable. Like my first ban demonstrates, I was unable to play Heroes of the Storm for 48 hours due to false reporting. Even though it was overturned, as far as many players who are abusing this system are concerned, that’s a scalp taken and only reinforces the fact that reporting others works. Regardless of assurances from Blizzard, as long as false reporting results in automatic silences, is there any wonder players are resistant to saying anything?

While I don’t have a solution to ensuring Heroes of the Storm is a permanently pleasant environment, and besides accepting that as adults, we could all show greater maturity at ignoring and rising above those who are continually abusive, perhaps looking to Overwatch might be worthwhile. Instead of obsessing over bad behaviour, why aren’t there systems to support the good?

What are your thoughts?

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Last Updated: Jul 11, 2018

About The Author

Lewis is currently playing The Division 2, Dota Underlords and Destiny 2, having covered a variety of genres for many years.