Brigitta from Overwatch holding her shield up

Overwatch's Scott Mercer went to the official forums earlier today in order to discuss what Blizzard is doing to make Overwatch a friendlier and more competitive place. Perhaps most importantly, he also announced some rather significant changes to how punishment will be dished out, especially for players with a history of abusive behavior.

"We’ve also made some changes to how we penalize repeat offenders for abusive chat. Repeat offenders used to be penalized with a silence, restricted from communicating with other players in the game, with each subsequent infraction incurring a longer silence duration," explained Mercer. "We’ve changed this so repeat offenders can now be suspended, and therefore unable to play Overwatch, for longer and longer durations. If someone continues to use abusive chat even after being warned, silenced, and suspended enough times, they’ve proven they do not want to be a positive member of the Overwatch community and will be permanently banned from playing Overwatch."

"To further improve these systems, we’re doing a lot of exciting work to develop 'machine learning' systems to assist in accurately identifying abusive chat and gameplay sabotage. These technologies will work together with player reports, empowering the community to quickly bring attention to bad behavior so that the appropriate steps can be taken to discourage or prevent future bad behavior from ruining others’ experiences playing Overwatch. These same systems will also protect players from false reports."

It's certainly going to be interesting to see what Blizzard does with these newly announced 'machine learning' systems. While I doubt they will be able to do much against voice chat abuse, I can definitely see them being incredibly useful at identifying players with a penchant for gameplay sabotage. Chances are a human will still need to verify all of the information as even the smartest machine is by no means perfect, but if it can make the job even a tiny bit more efficient it's going to be all worth it.

Overwatch close-up screenshot of Bastion

If the system isn't themed after Bastion I'll be sorely disappointed

"Going forward, we’re also really excited about some new social features we’ll make available in the summer," added Mercer. "We’ll talk about those more when they’re closer to being ready for testing on the PTR, but they should give players even more ways to control their gameplay experience online."

No actual information has been given just yet, but if I was a betting man I would put all of my chips on either a Guild or Looking-for-Group system. After all, Overwatch is best played with a couple of friends at your side, so what better way to improve the competitive experience than to help facilitate grouping up. This will need some major changes to how matchmaking works as even the current "Stay as Group" button is avoided like the plague, but I'd say the potential benefits greatly outweigh the effort required. Either way, it's good to see Blizzard finally taking the competitive experience just a little bit more seriously.

Once more information gets released I'll make sure to cover it, but you also can keep an eye on any further developments yourself by heading over at the official website.