Update: Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan has acknowledged the issue in a Battle.net forum post.
"We recently identified a bug that, in extremely rare cases, can cause players to lose their skill rating progress and receive a seasonal ban from Competitive Play without any prior penalties for leaving early or being kicked for inactivity. This bug is a high priority for our team, and we’re working on a fix to prevent further instances of it occurring as we speak," he wrote.
"In the meantime, we’ll be removing the seasonal ban for all players affected by this bug as well as restoring their skill rating. To date, this bug has impacted fewer than 200 accounts, but we’ll continue to monitor for additional occurrences and provide assistance until we can implement a permanent fix. We don’t have an ETA to share right now for when the fix will go live, but we’ll update this thread as soon more information becomes available."
Overwatch players have reportedly encountered a very rare but serious bug that causes their skill rating to be lowered by hundreds of points at once, and worse, hits them with an immediate season ban. As detailed in this Reddit thread, it seems to happen when a player disconnects from a competitive match at a particularly unlucky point while it's loading, which causes it go to into a "waiting for players" state. At that point, the match tries to start, fails, returns to "waiting for players," and remains stuck in that loop.
The rarity of the bug makes it difficult to verify, but the redditor who posted about it, Chromega1231, shared images indicating off-a-cliff SR reductions that, he said, should be impossible. He also linked to a half-dozen posts on the Battle.net forums, going back to early September, all of which describe very similar problems.
"I had been in a loop for about 10-15 minutes of joining games where the first splash screen showed all 12 players but, after joining to the character select screen, there were only 11 (including myself). The match would go into 'Waiting for Players' and, eventually, would close. I would then, immediately, be thrown back into queue despite repeatedly clicking the 'Cancel Queue" button,' a user named wowItsaSquad wrote.
"I had left one game to see if it would fix itself (admittedly, I accidentally hit the rejoin button but the game failed shortly there after), but then I tried to alt-F4 out of the game. I let the game stay closed for a few minutes then loaded it back up, only to be immediately thrown into another competitive match after loading the game. After that match failed, I alt-F4 the game again and took a break. After an hour or two, I loaded up the game to see that I had lost 250SR and received a 20+ hour suspension."
A player named Dave5gun claimed to have lost almost 400 SR because of the bug; redandblack lost roughly 800 SR; Slowky lost about 600 SR; spicyhappy dropped around 600 SR as well. All were also banned for the season.
This is a serious problem not just because a seasonal ban sucks, but because starting tomorrow, anyone who accumulates three seasonal bans will be eligible for a permanent ban from Overwatch competitive play. Permabans are discretionary, but seasonal bans don't decay or reset, so unless Blizzard takes action in an individual case it's always going to be there, hanging over a player's head. And at a bare minimum, people being pushed toward that permaban red line through no fault of their own is a bad look for a major online game, especially one that Blizzard is so anxious to build into a top-tier esport.
Most of the people reporting the bug say that they haven't had any success resolving their problems through conventional support channels, because the affected accounts indicate that the players have been leaving matches and the bans therefore appear justified. However, a rep said Blizzard is aware of the situation and working to address it, and is also investigating individual reports of the bug. I've reached out for more information, and will update when I hear more.