Warzone & competitive CoD are being killed by Activision’s obsession with money

Theo Salaun. Last updated: Dec 31, 2021
call of duty money
Activision / Pexels

The Call of Duty franchise, especially with the advent of Warzone, is as big as ever. Yet, Activision’s profit tunnel vision is destabilizing the games’ competitive scenes, their foundation, and the future of CoD.

There is no disputing that Call of Duty makes a lot of money. Modern Warfare 2019, Black Ops Cold War, Vanguard, CoD: Mobile, and – above all else – Warzone have all been commercial successes.

While Activision Blizzard shareholders and executives are therefore likely content with the franchise’s model, their prioritization is weakening the FPS title’s foundation. While money is spent on flashy marketing and casual-first content, the game’s most competitive and passionate players are being shoved further aside. 

The company’s stance toward striking Warzone quality testers is emblematic of the wider problem. “Quality” is a nebulous term among CoD’s caretakers and short-term profits have blinded them to long-term, foundational issues that are pushing players away and making the franchise vulnerable to competitors.

Call of Duty and Warzone’s communities reach breaking point

Over the past few days, the competitive CoD scene has essentially imploded. One of Warzone’s biggest all-time players, Aydan, left the game for Apex Legends (just as NICKMERCS did earlier). On Twitter, CDL pros and team owners like Nadeshot spilled their somber souls.

Their main issues are relatively fixable – they want ranked modes, balanced competitive games, and – more than anything else – transparency about these items and fixes for bugs, mechanics, and balancing.

While complaints of some rich streamers, pros, and execs may not feel obviously tied to the casual base, they are. Competitive gamers provide free marketing for a title, as their content promotes the game across platforms like Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok.

Aydan left for Apex, Nadeshot called himself a “fool” for buying into the CDL, and CoD’s GOAT, Crimsix, says developers “are not interested in making a great video game.” The franchise’s most passionate scene is in shambles.

The trickle-down effect of ignoring competitive players

For years, CoD has been the de facto console FPS in the Western world. This, coupled with recent success, has enabled Activision’s executives to falsely rest upon the laurels of their popularity.

The question is: Would the franchise be as popular without the content its gamers provide? In a world where esports, streaming, and gaming content gain more impressions each year, the answer is obvious.

If CoD’s directors keep shelving the pleas of their most passionate players, those players will lose interest or be poached by competitors. Just look at Apex Legends taking Warzone’s viewership crown or Halo Infinite overtaking the CDL’s excitement for clear examples. 

Once CoD gradually loses its top-level gamers, its content will dry up and casuals will grow more curious about rival titles. This is a logically sound expectation and one whose process has already begun.

Activision have the budget, but lack the vision, to fix CoD

At this point, it’s hard to believe Activision have the foresight to build CoD’s future. Top players are outraged on social media, casual players can’t even play on their consoles, and the company doesn’t seem to have made either party’s concerns a priority.

So, enough of the flashy marketing and obsession with short-term profits. Activision need to pay their employees, enable said employees to fix their games, and save the franchise’s future. 

Since Warzone’s March 2020 release, around $9 million has been awarded in prizing – much of it coming from Activision’s pockets. In that time, the company has also marketed its titles with sparkly names like actress Sydney Sweeney and pop culture phenomenon Guy Fieri.

Marketing the game, with tournament support and media collaborations, is swell. Yet those efforts feel like empty gestures when real needs are outright ignored. Instead, the community has practically been gaslit into believing their concerns will be addressed (remember Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games’ promises?). 

Still, we can’t even be upset with the developers, who work under the umbrella of a company alleged to dismiss employee wellbeing and ignore its striking QA team. And we can’t be mad at CDL employees either, with one recently explaining just how little support they felt when trying to nurture the esport.

Call of Duty’s problems are the consequence of a short-term vision that sees dollar signs in microtransactions and popularity but forgets that the game’s foundation is built on passion and competition.

If Warzone and competitive CoD are going to reach their potential, one of two things needs to happen: 1) Every other AAA game developer must promise to never create a competitor, or 2) Activision need to start spending at least some of their money on the right goals.