Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan says 'smurfing' isn't really a problem

When an experienced Overwatch player, for whatever reason, creates a new account for the purpose of being matched up against (and dominating) lower-ranked players, it's called "smurfing." And generally speaking, the practice is frowned upon: After all, it's no fun getting your ass kicked over and over again just because some guy doesn't want to pick on players his own size. But how bad is it, really? According to game director Jeff Kaplan, not that bad at all. 

Kaplan recently shared his thoughts in a Battle.net forum thread entitled "Smurfing is cheating. Stop downplaying it," and unfortunately for anyone expecting quick action from Blizzard, he doesn't see it as a deal-breaker. He started by contrasting smurfing with boosting, which is when a high-ranking Competitive player attempts to "carry" a lower-skilled partner to a higher tier. That's bad, and Blizzard is "actively working on preventing and punishing" it. 

But smurfing, well, that's a different matter. "Smurfing—and I know this isn't what you want to hear—isn't really that big of an issue," Kaplan wrote. "For example, a few weeks ago one of the Pro Overwatch players created a smurf account and was streaming from it. We were able to watch his MMR [matchmaking rating] internally and compare it against his 'main' account. Within 15 games, the MMR's were equal. I know there is a very bad perception of smurfing. But the reality is, skilled players are moved rapidly out of lower skill situations." 

Kaplan also said he's encountered situations where players believed someone was smurfing, when it actually wasn't the case. As an example, he cited a member of Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm team, who is apparently very good at Overwatch but only comes on to play occasionally. "As a result, he is way lower level than we are. Most of us are 3-5 stars... and he is about level 30," Kaplan explained. "Every time we group with him, someone accuses him of being a smurf. But he's not." 

Regardless of how serious you consider the problem of smurfing, that really cuts to the heart of the issue: Before Blizzard can crack down, it has to be able to determine who's actually doing it. Some guys are sandbaggers, but others are just really good and on their way up—or might even just be having a really good night.   

Not everyone in the thread is satisfied with his conclusion, but there's a general sense of appreciation for the response, and in the knowledge that Blizzard is at least aware of the situation. And Kaplan said that the team is staying on top of things. "We will always monitor deviant behavior and if we feel like there is behavior occurring that hurts honest, fair players, we will take action," he wrote. "We are definitely working on the boosting issue." 

The new Overwatch seasonal event Uprising went live today. Read about the changes it brings to the party here, and check out all the new skins right here.

Andy Chalk

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.