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Overwatch League & Deaf Support – Not What It Seems

Audiences following the Overwatch League (OWL) saw an interesting segment on Watchpoint, their preview, recap, and news series. Watchpoint’s Stage 4, Week 3 Recap focused on a Deaf fan, 14-year-old Danik Soudakoff, and a discussion of his experiences with an ASL interpreter.

Most of the piece highlighted how Blizzard provided an interpreter for Deaf fans in the live audience, while another part focused on the obstacles faced when interpreting the English commentary.

Specifically, Soudakoff and the interpreter created new signs to represent the characters names. ASL usually requires fingerspelling of names, but that takes too long; instead, a new sign was invented for each character to allow for easier communication.

Overall, the segment appeared inspiring – Blizzard showed their support to a Deaf fan, new signs were created for ASL users, and the Hearing audience was given insight into Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) Overwatch enthusiasts. This evidence of Blizzard’s inclusiveness is vital given past criticism over their lack of accessibility.

Unfortunately, as far as D/HH players are concerned, this segment was nothing more than virtue-signaling PR that didn’t answer a single complaint.

SoudakoffInterpreter

First, as celebrated as the support for Soudakoff is, Blizzard’s interpreter does nothing for audiences watching online.

Only Deaf fans who had the money and time to be in the live audience received any benefit. The interpreter isn’t included on screen during matches or interviews, which is what most D/HH audiences are seeing.

We’re happy that Blizzard is showing love to those on site, but not including the interpreter as part of every broadcast is a mistake. If you watch government, news, and emergency announcements, you’ll often see the interpreter included in the camera for an important reason – most D/HH viewers are not at the physical location.

Blizzard needs to show some support for D/HH audiences everywhere, not just the rare person who can make it to a live game.

NoSubtitles

Second, although this segment was neat, there was another problem. Other than Soudakoff signing, where were the subtitles?

In fact, like all of Blizzard’s YouTube videos, Watchpoint has no captioning whatsoever. That means D/HH fans wouldn’t be able to understand the very show that included a segment on Blizzard’s support for them!

Blizzard has already been called out on this complete lack of inclusiveness; they not only don’t provide subtitles, but they also block YouTube’s cheap (inaccurate) auto-captioning. For a company advertising how supportive they are of D/HH audiences, they certainly act the opposite regarding their media.

No legitimate reason exists for why Blizzard doesn’t caption or allow auto-captioning, of their videos. Many of their other games provide captioning, and they certainly have the resources to add subtitles.

The complete lack of subtitles on all their videos, including the very Watchpoint show that contained this blurb, flies directly in the face of their claim of supportiveness and accessibility.

OverwatchSigns

One more minor criticism for all the Hearing audiences who think, “Oh, so that’s the official sign for <CHARACTER>!”

That’s not how ASL works; two people creating and using signs doesn’t make anything official. Not unless the slang my household uses deserves to be in the Oxford Dictionary as “official” English.

ASL is an evolving language, and many signs have changed over the past two centuries, whether for ease of use, shifts in culture, political correctness, etc. You’ll even find local variations of signs, like regional dialects or accents, and some signs (like cities or towns) require the context of that location.

For signs to become “official” however requires the general ASL community to accept and use them consistently. A sign for a character in a video game wouldn’t become official unless most D/HH fans liked that sign and used it with other players.

So, while these signs are neat and help the interpreter and Soudakoff communicate, they are mostly personal slang. For now…

SoudakoffOpportunity

Look, I appreciate the core exposure and inspiration of the segment on Soudakoff. I’m also glad that a Deaf fan received all the support and access Blizzard could provide.

Unfortunately, this piece really amounts to nothing more than corporate virtue signaling: “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.”

Blizzard’s inclusiveness for one Deaf person does not counter their continuing failures regarding accessibility. Nor does this mean Hearing players are learning about Deaf language through that person’s experiences and signs.

Blizzard has a long way to go to genuinely support their D/HH players, and this video was not evidence of much (if any) progression on that front.

Hopefully, they’ll listen to our concerns and implement real changes, rather than make more PR segments just to look good.

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About Brook H. (157 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... what hasn't Brook studied. Knowledge is power, which is probably why he ended up with degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology, not to mention majoring in everything from computers to business while working in theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance his children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate (he's HoH himself), lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.

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