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The mission of the program is to build an inclusive game and competitive environment in the Overwatch ecosystem, which gets a big boost on October 4 with the Overwatch 2 early access launch.
It’s not unlike Riot Games’ attempt to make Valorant more inclusive when the shooter game launched in 2020. At that time, Riot made efforts to bring more women into esports games and events. About 40% of the Valorant players were women, far above the percentage for League of Legends.
Esports is a category of gaming that could definitely use more diversity, and Blizzard Entertainment has work to do, as evidenced by an ongoing sexual harassment lawsuit by the state of California against the company and its parent Activision Blizzard. Blizzard has said it will do better, and this program could be said to be evidence of that effort.
Blizzard said the new effort is one of a number that focus on equity, visibility and community support for underrepresented genders.
Developers, the League office, teams, casters, players, and fans all have an important role to play when it comes to making Overwatch a safe and welcoming community, Blizzard said.
The game team is implementing a new initiative called Defense Matrix — an infrastructure of systems designed to protect gameplay integrity and promote positive behavior in Overwatch 2. Defense Matrix fortifies Overwatch’s security and game experience through aspects like SMS protect, audio transcriptions and the all-new first-time user experience.
Challengers Cup and Caster Camp
The Challengers Cup will run alongside Path to Pro in the fall and winter of 2022 as an additional competitive avenue for underrepresented genders. This tournament is not a replacement for the Path to Pro; rather, Blizzard hopes it will serve as an entry point for underrepresented genders to jump into the broader Overwatch esports ecosystem. This is similar to what Riot did with women-only esports Valorant events.
Blizzard is encouraging all who are eligible to participate in both Challengers Cup and Path to Pro. In order to maintain a safe competitive environment, Challengers Cup will be supported by a thorough gender verification system that all participants must complete.
Regarding that process, Blizzard said the Calling All Heroes verification process was built with the insights and efforts of people from marginalized spaces and their experiences in gaming. The verification process is designed to limit any people acting in bad faith and thus requires verification of accounts including Battle.Net, social media accounts and self-gender identification information.
“We will trust an applicant’s self gender-identification and, if an individual completes all steps, they will be accepted into the program,” Blizzard said.
This is to ensure that all participants are of underrepresented genders, such as but not limited to: transgender, non-binary, genderfluid and women-identifying individuals.
The company is partnering with Raidiant, a production company and platform for underrepresented genders, to host the upcoming Challengers Cup. Here’s the event format, with details subject to change:
Qualifier 1 takes place from October 21 to October 23. The format is Swiss-system round play into a single-elimination bracket, with the top four teams advancing to the final. Open registration is capped at 128 teams
Qualifier 2 takes place from November 18 to November 20. The format is Swiss-system round play into a single-elimination bracket, with the top four teams advancing to the final. Open registration is capped at 128 teams.
The Final takes place in December, with exact dates coming. The top eight teams (top four from each qualifier) compete in a double-elimination bracket. Registration is open to either full teams or individual participants.
The Caster Camp aims to provide underrepresented groups the opportunity to learn from some of the best broadcast talent in the industry, build skills, and form professional relationships.
We hope that this program will help create equity in the commentating space and produce a more diverse talent pool for the Overwatch competitive ecosystem. Programming for the Caster Camp will be led by Soe Gschwind, Matt “Mr. X” Morello, and other Overwatch League talent. It will cover various topics on how to be successful in esports broadcasting.
All Camp participants will have the chance to apply what they learned during the sessions and submit a video reel of themselves trying their hand at casting an Overwatch map, to be reviewed by a panel of instructors.
Registration will be from September 30 to October 17.
“Throughout the rest of this year, we’ll be actively listening to feedback as we consider how to best support our players in the future and create a brighter world for all,” Blizzard said.
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