Blizzard announced last week that all Overwatch 2 players will be required to attach a phone number to their Battle.net accounts in order to play the game. The requirement was added as part of Blizzard's effort to combat toxicity and abuse in the game. But there's one major problem: The new 2FA system, called SMS Protect, will not accept certain types of numbers, "including prepaid and VOIP." This understandably caused a stir, because it effectively meant that if you own a prepaid cellphone, you can't play Overwatch.
It's a baffling move. Requiring a phone number for ranked play is nothing new—Dota 2 implemented such a policy way back in 2017 and Rainbow Six Siege has the same requirement—but demanding one to access the game at all, and excluding a large chunk of potential players based solely on their choice of phone plan, is an entirely different level of restrictiveness. The backlash against the policy was strong enough that Blizzard quickly eased the phone number requirement for some Overwatch players.
Yet Overwatch 2 isn't the only game rolling with that rule: It turns out that the upcoming Modern Warfare 2 wants the same thing.
The phone notifications page on the Battle.net support site states that Modern Warfare 2, Overwatch 2, and "newly created" Modern Warfare accounts all require a phone number in order to allow access.
"Adding a phone number will allow Blizzard Entertainment to send you notifications when important changes are made to your account," the page states. "Any mobile phone in a supported country with a data plan, and that is not prepaid or a VOIP number, can be used with this service."
That seems fairly definitive, although the situation is confused somewhat further down the page, where it says that "mobile phones with prepaid plans may not work with the phone notification service." But that's in direct reference to phone notifications from Battle.net and not game access.
Some players are definitely being locked out: One Call of Duty fan from Florida told PC Gamer that after installing the Modern Warfare 2 beta in September, they were asked for a "post-paid phone number" in order to start it. Battle.net refused to accept their prepaid phone number—they're with Cricket Wireless, which has also reportedly failed with Overwatch 2—and so they were unable to play.
"This seems very wrong to require videogame players to enter into a contract with a telecom company before being allowed to play the game they paid for," they said. "Especially when prepaid phone plans like mine are becoming more and more common. It isn’t the gas station special of yesteryear anymore, I have an iPhone and a phone plan that works no different in practice than any other contract plan: Unlimited talk, text, data etc. Yet because I make a monthly payment I am somehow ineligible to play future Activision titles?"
It is definitely strange, and Blizzard's decision to drop the phone requirement for some existing Overwatch accounts does nothing about the restriction on prepaid phones. That leaves newcomers to Overwatch 2, and anyone who wants to play Modern Warfare 2, out of luck if they have a prepaid plan. I've reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment on the phone requirement, and will update if I receive a reply.
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Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.