Overwatch 2's phone requirement means it's not free-to-play after all [Update]

Sombra
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

Update 10/7/2022 3:45 p.m. PT / 6:45 p.m. ET: Blizzard has announced its decision to remove the SMS Protect requirement for PC players that played the original Overwatch in the past and console players that had Overwatch connected to their Battle.net account before Overwatch 2's release. Players creating new accounts will still have to use a phone number in order to play Overwatch 2. Our original story follows below.

Overwatch 2 represents the dawn of a new era for Blizzard's award-winning hero shooter. Not only has it restructured the PvP into a 5v5 format designed to encourage more active and enjoyable gameplay, but it also traded Overwatch's aging RNG loot box structure for a free-to-play Battle Pass system. With the financial barrier to entry evaporated, more players can jump in and see what Overwatch is all about than ever before.

Or at least, that's what many players thought was the case when downloading and launching the game, only to find out that Overwatch 2, unlike the original version of Overwatch from 2016, requires all users to attach a non-prepaid, non-VoIP mobile phone number to their account. And if you don't have one, you can't play — even if you purchased the original game before the business model change.

Blizzard's reasoning for the addition of this demand is that by requiring players to attach a valid phone number to their account, the developer can significantly disincentivize cheaters and other bad faith actors from ruining the experience for others. Initially, I thought this made sense, as postpaid phone plans are expensive and the need to purchase one each time a hacker wants to make a new account would make getting around bans extremely difficult.

But therein lies the problem with Overwatch 2: postpaid phone plans are expensive, and because of that, not everyone has one or is able to afford them. For many people — well over 70 million, in fact — prepaid phones offer an affordable and accessible way to get a mobile device thanks to their lower monthly costs and the absence of a credit check. For a game that calls itself free-to-play, it's painfully ironic that Overwatch 2 forces you to use pricier postpaid-style plans just to get past the game's splash screen.

This meme from the Overwatch subreddit captures the feelings many prepaid phone users have about Overwatch 2. (Image credit: u/poshmn on Reddit)

"Never thought I would be disqualified from playing Overwatch based on my ability [to] afford a phone contract, but here we are," wrote one Reddit user after finding out about Overwatch 2's phone requirement. "Blizzard is the first company to make me feel too poor to play a game."

"Been a long time Overwatch player and I'm in the same boat," said a fan on Twitter in response to others faced with the same issue. "Been playing since 2017. Bought three accounts, and grinded all the way to Diamond three times. Spent over hundreds of hours in game. I cannot play Overwatch 2 because I have a prepaid phone plan."

Making matters worse is the fact that there are widespread reports of some prepaid phone numbers working with Blizzard's new system. This calls the effectiveness of the SMS Protect feature into question, and has many wondering if it will even be a good solution for the problem Blizzard is trying to solve. If hackers and toxic players can just get a prepaid phone from a provider Blizzard isn't aware of to bypass the security measure, what's the point? Overwatch 2 also requires players using new accounts to play upwards of 100 matches to unlock all of the game's original characters and makes them win 50 Quick Play games after that just to enter Competitive mode, which seem like effective deterrents in their own right.

Ultimately, it's an extremely messy situation, especially since SMS Protect is locking out fans that bought and paid for the original game as well as tons of the additional content in it. Blizzard needs to do right by its fans and make some adjustments to the phone number requirement, because right now, the way Overwatch 2 punishes low-income individuals is anything but welcoming.

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.