Calling All Heroes: Blizzard’s Pernicious Diversity Initiative

Vael Victus
6 min readJan 11, 2023

Blizzard’s Calling All Heroes initiative does more harm than good for the people they’re trying to support, and sows further division among competitors.

The Calling All Heroes website describes their mission as follows:

A joint program of Overwatch and the Overwatch League, Calling All Heroes’ mission is to build an inclusive game and competitive environment for everyone. We are excited to announce a few initiatives this year that pursue that goal by focusing on equity, visibility, and community support for underrepresented genders.

Video here.

I checked the website out to see what they could have meant by underrepresented genders. Lacking a definition, I took to joining their Discord, which I learned was only for people interested in participating. I accepted their server rules and was let into the verification channel, where I was asked to DM a bot, which told me to fill out a Google Forms document:

The Verification Doc
https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeF40UKlo4p6JDcVLFJAYb9Q522MWIUJBYmlG8qtitvzZodmQ/viewform

Screenshot of the form, taken December 26th, 2022.

At this point there was still no definition of what “underrepresented gender” could mean. Women are underrepresented in the competitive gaming scene, but I was curious to see how they define other genders. Well, first they ask for a Self Gender Identity. It’s a flexible input box, so you can put anything: agender, androgynous, third gender; whatever you are. That’s good, but alone, any troll could write that they’re non-binary and get in.

They next ask for your social media.

Social Media account(s) are reviewed to ensure applicants will keep CAH a non-toxic safe space community.

This is their only proof that you are what you say you are. They’ll determine your eligibility based on your bio and the posts you make. As a cisgender person, I had to stop there; I don’t want to hurt the well-intentioned CAH initiative, nor waste anyone’s time, nor lie, but I wonder if my own social profile would have passed as non-binary. It’s a broad term and I could plausibly pull it off without eg. crossdressing.

Legitimacy resting on the content of your social media profile(s) brings with it the following problems:

  • You need to have a social media account. Some people, especially those who feel at risk or are especially privacy-minded, choose to opt out of social media.
  • Competitors could lie about their gender identity in order to compete.
  • Bad actors could contrive a false identity to do harm. Any determined bad actor could easily do this.
  • It seems rather prickly to leave your gender validity up to subjective human review.

Finally, there’s a section for attaching a picture for identification purposes. This is not used to validate your authenticity.

Why is Blizzard doing this?

The answer is given under three headers on the website: “Equity,” “Visibility,” and “Community.” They want things to be fair and to remove any potential impediments to competition. They want everyone to be seen, and they want to form a community of those with underrepresented genders.

Both on the website and in the discord, the language gives a sense of omnipresent danger for those of underrepresented gender. They seem to suggest that gamers would be afraid of participating for being a woman or LGBT+. I won’t deny that these groups are common targets for hate, but I challenge that the CAH initiative is going to do any good for them in aggregate; I think it will just make matters worse.

One could more cynically assume Blizzard is pandering to minorities in order to boost their playerbase. I’ll choose to believe this initiative was started in good faith and that there was probably some underlying interest in repairing Blizzard’s damaged reputation.

Why Is This Pernicious?

CAH is segregating competitors who can be considered minorities on the basis of gender identity. This is the biggest problem with CAH: it claims to be for equity and visibility, but has no interest in bridging the gap between the underrepresented genders and the well-represented genders (which, it seems, is just cisgendered men). It does not help anyone to understand the underrepresented groups better. It reaffirms the notion that qualifying competitors should be protected because the world is an unsafe place for them. This is its raison d’etre.

CAH thereby produces the result of us-and-them, rather than true integration and unity. It is simultaneously inclusive and exclusive. It offers a smaller pool of competitors — albeit with a smaller prize pool — based on merit of how difficult it is to compete as a person of underrepresented gender in the Overwatch community. This all rests on the assumption that notion is true.

CAH also makes no progress on validating gender identity. Ever-changing pronouns is the go-to joke for skeptics of the gender movement, and prominent genderfluid figures like Demi Lovato frequently change their pronouns to give those jokes credence. At no point does CAH put in plain language what an underrepresented gender is. It is all up to subjective review. One can only hope they meet whatever ambiguous guidelines the reviewer is following. CAH fails at proving legitimacy of underrepresented genders.

The Right Solution

Blizzard has already made good progress with their Defense Matrix. I’m a strong supporter of the Defense Matrix because I believe game developers should give more consideration to reducing the occurrence of negative social interactions. Given the technological feat that Defense Matrix is, I think they went above and beyond already in ensuring that their multiplayer environment is safe. The CAH initiative was a misstep, and it’s costing human time and corporate money all in the name of worsening the situation.

In traditional sports leagues, women are separated from men on the basis that men have an unfair advantage: men’s bodies are built for physical labor, women’s for bearing children. With e-sports, there’s a theoretical disparity in motor skills between the two sexes that could affect the outcome of a match, but in practice I believe the difference is not so great that it would warrant a separate league on the basis of skill potential. Counters to this argument claim that you can look at the most successful e-sports athletes and see that they’re majority male, but I think this is more the matter of female interest to compete in e-sports.

I agree that we could see more female participation in e-sports. With other, non-biologically determined genders, I’d certainly like to see some suggestions from gender studies experts on what could specifically be done to bring in those who identify as any flavor of non-binary.

Rather than segregate groups into their own league, the Overwatch League should instead seek to bring them into the main league through the Path to Pro initiative. It’s possible that this is not their intention, however. If the website is to be believed, such competitors will end up right in the same toxic league that CAH was created to protect against. This may be the reason CAH is its own initiative, separate from Path to Pro. Given the technology behind the Defense Matrix, I don’t think this is a valid concern.

I also find their assumption that CAH competitors are inherently non-toxic to be preposterous.

Conclusion

Some detractors will, predictably, say I’m an intolerant bigot who doesn’t want these underrepresented genders to have a safe space. This is the default position many such detractors take when they can provide no counter-argument.

Instead, realize that what I’m seeking is fairness in opportunity for all people. Bitterness and resentment on the side of non-qualifying people (even spectators) will only hurt the public opinion of CAH competitors and the groups they represent. CAH was not only unnecessary, but may well have made the world a worse place. While moderators were quick, at times, to delete hateful or disrespectful comments in the livestreams, a commonly expressed sentiment was “why?” Why do “they” get their own cup, with monetary reward, even? For actual bigots, it’s more fuel for the fire, just another thing to point to: look what “they” get and we don’t. I believe Blizzard’s heart was in the right place, but CAH cannot justify its own existence until it can, at least, strictly define who is eligible to compete.

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Vael Victus

Web game developer focused on player-first game design. Writing about the game industry. Play my games here: https://tinydark.com