As much as it pains some gamers to admit, the battle royale bubble hasn’t burst. Take one look at what most top streamers are playing, and Call of Duty: Warzone sits unnervingly at the top of the mountain (for better or worse). But is that a benefit or a detriment to the community? A growing tension is mounting, and the Warzone community is ready to move on. What was once the most dominant battle royale has soured into a dreadful experience, leaving players to reconsider why they play the game.
In recent months there seems to be a mounting backlash to Activision’s BR (battle royale) money grab. A lack of anti-cheat software has all but made the game unplayable. For the uninitiated, Warzone is rife with players blatantly using software that provides a clear advantage in the competitive last-man-standing free-for-all; comparisons have been made to professional athletes using performance-enhancing drugs. As hyperbolic as it may seem, the comparison is appropriate. Being able to see through walls, aim-assists (snapping that targets opponents instantly), and radar (UAV) that shows all other players in the lobby on your mini-map are a few examples of cheating mechanics typically used in Warzone. The very model the game is built upon becomes fraudulent when nearly every lobby you enter has hackers, all but diminishing the purpose of a battle royale.
Some streamers, like Shroud, have enough clout to draw a line in the sand, now resorting to playing whatever title garners his attention on a given day. Unfortunately, not all streamers have that luxury, feeling obligated to stick to the broken – albeit highly popular – Warzone. But the collective ill-will cannot be denied. Nickmercs, TimTheTatMan, Zlaner, and everybody’s favorite two-time champ, Dr. Disrespect, have openly expressed their concerns with Warzone… to no avail. Several streamers have taken to spectating solos and commenting on the action as a new approach for their videos. The result? Eyewitness accounts of hacking at its finest.
Activision has opted for a reporting system rather than implement anti-cheat software like so many other titles before it. See a hacker, report them in-game, and hope there is enough evidence for Activision to ban them. Does it work? Kind of, sort of… not really. Activision has made several strides to ban hackers on occasion. As recently as Spring of 2021, Activision confirmed issuing more than 475,000 permabans in Call of Duty: Warzone to date. “Some have asked if we issue hardware bans. We do issue hardware bans against repeat, or serial, cheaters. This is an important part of our effort to combat repeat offenders,” Activision said.
In Activision’s defense, the publisher blocked a cross-platform cheat that was deemed “practically undetectable.” Last week, the new cheat – aptly called “Userviz” – garnered attention from a well-known cheat hunter group throughout social media. Swift action was taken, although not clearly stated. Based on the cheat software’s developers’ immediate demise of the cheat, legal action is implied. Raven Software is embroiled in what seems like an uphill battle to negate hacking in Call of Duty: Warzone, but has the battle already been lost?
Another unexpected result stemming from the prevalence of hacking is the paranoia spread throughout the community. Anytime a player dies unexpectedly we get the obligatory “he’s cheating” or “they’re hacking” accusations, often referred to as “Hackusations.” As a result, even the most prolific players in the game have come under the gun, some by a very prominent accuser that has created an exceedingly popular YouTube Channel dedicated entirely to scrutinizing the best players in the world.
While I refrain from giving this YouTuber any more attention, his accusations wouldn’t have clout if the hacking wasn’t as prevalent as it is. Instead, his videos, regularly gaining tens of thousands of views, have stirred the proverbial pot, leading to a community of tin-foil hat accusers and online abusers. Former players once looked upon as the best the game has to offer are now the target of a community at odds with itself. Sadly, conspiracies are part of gaming too. Who would’ve thought?
New Content is King
Hacking is only one problem Activision has on its hands. Like so many other games-as-service titles before it, Warzone finds itself at a fork in the road. How long can it remain on top before fans turn their attention elsewhere? No game is immune to losing its steady player base. PUBG, Apex Legends, and even Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII‘s own battle royale mode, Blackout, have experienced diminishing fanbases. Faithful player bases remain, but the general communities for these game eventually move on. This forces the most renowned games to continuously add content to entice players to stay or, more importantly, spend actual cash on content such as new skins and battle passes. Look no further than Fortnite inundating players with new collaborations and skins to pry their wallets open.
Activision’s potential failure can be shown by Warzone‘s lack of a new map. Gamers are always looking for a new challenge, and, simply put, the repetition of landing in Verdansk has taken its toll. Naturally, fans want something new to sink their teeth into, but once again, Activision has placed a band-aid on a gaping wound.
Rather than present a new full-scale map, Activision has made, what shall we say, minor tweaks? Adjustments? We’ll go with the more official sounding updates to Verdansk. The simple changes to the main map feel more like patches rather than a complete fix. A considerably smaller map, Rebirth Island, was a welcome distraction but not the solution fans are looking for. It feels as if the team behind Warzone is resting on their laurels.
Often, the solution is easy to understand but challenging to execute. Regarding Call of Duty: Warzone, it begins with two steps: Implement anti-cheat software and provide better updates, starting with a new map. Looking to Warzone‘s most significant BR counterpart, Apex Legends, Electronic Arts has been far more fan-friendly with regular updates and several new maps throughout its life cycle. A new Warzone map has been promised for the latter portion of 2021, but is this a case of “too little, too late?”
A new map can give the fans what they want: a new world to explore. Everything from prime advantage points, heavy landing zones, contemporary interiors, and rotation patterns can open new possibilities. But none of this has any value if the hacking continues. It seems like it’s time to move on from Warzone.
With Activision sitting on its hands in acquiescing the fan base, players have turned to what is on the horizon: Halo Infinite. Of course, plenty of other titles have vied for BR dominance, with little success. Still, a potent mix of nostalgia, fan-friendly features, and Activision’s disregard for appealing to gamers makes Halo Infinite the prospective successor to the battle royale crown.
Currently, 343 Industries has no plans for a battle royale mode in the upcoming Infinite, but it only seems like a matter of time before the mode is implemented. Instead, 343 has bolstered a massive multiplayer mode heavy on the wistfulness of the early 2000s and features meant for a more enjoyable experience. The free multiplayer mode includes a battle pass that never expires. Meaning players can purchase old season passes and focus on progressing at their leisure. The current Battle Pass method forces players to grind within a fixed time frame. Rather than random loot or loot boxes, 343 Industries is leaning heavily into customization of everything from armor to weapons and even vehicles. Obviously, 343 is trying to carve a niche within the online community, but will it be enough?
As impressive as these quality-of-life improvements are for 343, Halo Infinite’s multiplayer success feels less like it will be due to 343’s solid development but more towards Activision’s inability to read the room. As a result, 343 doesn’t seem eager to rise to the top of the battle royale landscape. Rather, Activision is vacating the throne. Unfortunately, Activision’s Warzone woes indicate a bigger problem in the gaming community: developers are unable to hear the fans over their cash counters.
As we move ever closer to Holiday 2021, it remains to be seen whether Call of Duty: Warzone can remain king of the battle royale hill. If the past year is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before the gaming zeitgeist moves past Warzone.
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