I'm part of a little group that plays Overwatch on an almost-daily basis, but today we will not play as we're participating in the Blizzard team's walkout action: You can read about that here if you like!

Corporations such as Activision-Blizzard often do a neat trick where one of their arms is constantly trying to embrace the players as MEMBERS OF A COMMUNITY, but the other arm is constantly trying to distance the players as 'customers'.

When they're sharing fanart or otherwise doing something positive that benefits them, they're all "amazed by what this community can accomplish"! But then when it's time for them to address any kind of complaint that any supposed 'community member' might have, suddenly they change faces: Suddenly they're all like "well, if you CUSTOMERS no longer enjoy our INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY then you can stop FREQUENTING our ESTABLISHMENT"

One important consequence of this trick is that players struggle mightily to summon up any 'people power' & to act collectively as a group! Most start believing that the best/only possible response is some kind of 'personal boycott' (basically to cease paying/interacting with this particular corp).

Often the matter of 'personal boycotting' gets framed as the main thing I can choose in response to all this news. I've already had people ask me whether I intend to quit Overwatch, as if doing so might be a politically-necessary act! But the answer for me right now is that I won't yet quit Overwatch, because I harbor some pretty serious doubts about whether 'personal boycotting' is a very good type of collective action. I think that in practice it might benefit the corporation more than it hurts, & that basically the more effective strategies are those that involve engaging more (not less).

You can read all about this in depth if you google something like "boycotting doesn't work", but here I'll give you a basic explanation. The 'boycott' as a practice is great for situations where you already have a large, organizable body of people who make up the majority of a particular customer base (or at least a big enough chunk as to pose an existential threat when suddenly vanishing off the corporate revenue data). Historically these things have been effective at causing acute damage against certain companies' bottom lines that was big enough to disrupt daily operations (a classic example is that if 60% of a bus' ridership collectively boycotts, the bus company simply cannot AFFORD to keep running it for the 40% of remainers; that would bring bankruptcy after only a couple of months, & so the company must negotiate).

In the case of something like Overwatch, it seems to me there are many important reasons why boycotting will not succeed! I'm trying to avoid producing some huge essay on the subject that nobody will read, so in brief I'll say the basic problem is twofold. Problem 1 is that we have no people-powered way to spontaneously organize huge chunks of their playerbase (all we have is corporate-owned social networks on which people are largely individuated). Problem 2 is that Overwatch probably doesn't have as imposing a carrying cost as e.g. operating a bus fleet (I suspect OW's server farm will scale to lower traffic painlessly enough, & in any case that corp has access to MANY alternative revenue streams).

I wouldn't ever fault you, reader, for quitting Blizzard's games; I feel that if you simply can't put up with this corporation's bullshit anymore and you simply feel disgusted by them and you're ready to move on, then it's good to move on! Maybe I'll get there too, as details concerning Overwatch emerge (because that Blizzcon stuff sure is gross).

If however you're trying to engage politically with a corporation like Activision-Blizzard in order to affect positive change, then the 'personal boycott' strategy might not be the thing. To me it seems like our abandoning this particular industry project in favor of some other similar industry project would work out rather decently for the execs at Activision-Blizzard. They might not mind converting you from 'current player who's PISSED and demands justice for what happened x number of years ago' into 'former player who doesn't come around anymore & mostly has ceased being involved'. In some ways the corp was already planning to lose your business at some point anyway (they call it 'churn' and they have a whole technologized 'funnel' continuously snaring newer/less-informed players to replace you).

I don't think Boss Guy cares whether he loses you to boredom or to disgust; it's possible he only cares about the newly-acquired eyeballs who are more likely to pay him than you are, & so frankly I think he'd love for the players who most care about workplace abuses to go off & care about something else. That's why, if you really want to fuck with him, exodus might not be the answer; maybe instead you can hang around as long as it's still bearable, trying your best to make it so all the new players hate Boss Guy too!

The theory of change Blizzard's staff have been using thus far involves finding good 'asks' behind which many other community orgs can all throw their support (specific action items they want the corporation to DO in order to make us stop bothering them). Players' main role within that strategy involves people staying nominally-involved with the games whilst noisily supporting any/all of the asks staff put on the table. (You can actually play the games, or else you can avoid that & simply identify as 'a player of them'; both rhetorics work equally well!) The staff's asks are good, and include such measures as 'an end to mandatory arbitration in game industry labour contracts', which would be awesome & would benefit game workers everywhere.

If you wanna think BOLDLY about the problem, or at least you wanna think about the kinds of bullshit I've been thinking about this week, then here are some wilder ideas to consider working into your life:

  1. Challenge corporations' supposed right to own and speculate upon sport as some type of 'intellectual property'! If Overwatch is indeed a "sport", then no one company can 'own' it; nobody can walk up to me in the park and order me to stop playing basketball because I haven't paid for a license, right? So instead of everybody debating whether to quit/destroy Overwatch as a sport, we might be having a different conversation re: whether Activision-Blizzard deserves to be the sport's main steward (or if it should be someone else).

    I think it should be 100% legal for the community to build and operate any kind of software that lets them play their sport (Overwatch) independently of Activision or Blizzard or Battle.net or any of that stuff. People regularly achieve this with various beloved MMO games, and people could achieve it with eSports games too.

  2. Challenge corporations on their liability for the reams & reams of abuse that occur within games like Overwatch every single day! To me it's no coincidence how players' awful behaviour lines up perfectly with the awful behaviour from executives at Activision-Blizzard; to me this all seems consistent with a culture of tolerating/encouraging abuse.

    Activision-Blizzard was raking in millions of dollars in revenue for the whole time this abuse was ongoing. Its employees experienced workplace abuse & the company raked in millions; its players experienced community abuse & the company raked in more millions. It seems to me that whenever the corp encountered a chance to choose safety over profits, it always chose profits; it thereby profited from abuse, and now it is responsible for giving this money back (we can then pour that $$$ into support systems for lowering abuse/helping people recover).

  3. Organize people around these sports in more ways, so that folks can all work together to bargain against corporations such as Activision-Blizzard! If Overwatch League had a players' association, then that org might have been available to exercise solidarity with Blizzard staff. If by the same token we regular gamers turned towards proper community leagues (instead of relying on Blizzard's abusive matchmaking system) then we could lodge formal protests as members of those leagues too, & those protests would gain more weight the more people became involved. A coalition of ALL the players' leagues could amplify our voices even more; eventually the corp would be faced with either doing what we say or else abandoning the pretense that it 'supports players' (an act of political suicide for any properly-accountable sports org).

    The reason corporations build anonymized/automated matchmaking systems is NOT to make things more convenient for players (though this certainly is a lie they feed to us daily); instead it's to make things convenient for the corp itself, in a huge variety of different ways. The corp enjoys controlling 'where/when/how often/for how long' we play, because all these variables can be tuned to yield maximum engagement + profits (usually by hurting us more and/or restricting our ability to consent to things).

I think that if we actually got together outside the corp's influence, and we actually discussed in-depth about things... y'know, maybe we wouldn't WANT to be paired up with endless screaming assholes who intend never to see us again after they're finished calling us names? Maybe we don't want to be penalized for escaping from a match in which some guy was threatening violence against us?? If we had real community infrastructure like in previous online shooter games (community server hangouts, community maps, community leagues) then the corp would be forced to give us options it would rather not give us: options that might decrease 'profitability' in the short term, but would grant us the tools we need to built actual strong communities.

As a longtime player of Overwatch I choose not to recognize Activision-Blizzard's claim to some totalized legal 'ownership' over this sport. Their authoritarian control over every detail of it is not some natural state of things; that stuff is only just for now, & it's only here to make rich dudes even richer, & it isn't something we should respect or value at all. If Activision-Blizzard wants a real/actual "eSport", rather than just a pile of monetization software, then they do not get to 'own' it (any more than the NHL gets to 'own' hockey as a concept); & since Activision-Blizzard's executive staff has proven itself incapable of good conduct in any situation, my proposal is that they cede all control of eSports such as Overwatch to the sports' authentic keepers (those who want it to actually thrive as an actually-safe & actually-equitable cultural pursuit, rather than some crass 'revenue stream' built to enrich some already-wealthy assholes). Let all the people who worked on it + anybody else who's interested play with some client code & some server code; let's get some real level editing tools going, & some server plugins for allowing custom maps! Make us buy a one-time license or whatever to let us do our own shit, and we'll go patch that McCree guy's name out of there ourselves.

Many things these corps deem "impossible!" are in fact easily possible; the hard part is working together to declare them as possibilities (& then eventually as solutions to the problems we all face). There is not necessarily any reason to abandon things we value as being 'property of Boss Guy', allowing him to do whatever with them as he pleases; we may just as easily seize Boss Guy's things, & improve upon them in ways that'd make Boss Guy cry. It's happened before with lots of other games (earlier eSports within the venerable 'shooter' genre had Boss Guys who went as far as open-sourcing their game code, & it seems to me that worked out great). My first/best UO experiences were all on bootleg servers, & there's lots of bootleg game server softwares out there. Who knows what cool shit we could accomplish with these things, if we had more of them today?

Executives from around this industry have been failing everybody, for decades. We cannot trust them with the things we value, & ideally we shouldn't trust them with anything. Why shouldn't we take all 'their' games, & cut them out of our futures entirely?