Warzone 2.0 hasn’t been a universal hit with fans of Call of Duty. Various gameplay and UI changes and frustrations over a slow and sometimes confusing battle pass structure have pushed many players, including pros and popular streamers, off the game, with many migrating to other games or to Warzone: Caldera, where the original Warzone experience lives on.
Read More: One of Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0's Biggest Streamers is Taking a Break
Warzone has always had a cheating problem, which seems to persist across Caldera and 2.0 despite aggressive anti-cheat implementation from Activision. Resilient cheating, however, combined with dissatisfaction over the state of Warzone 2.0, is leading some to suspect that hackers are being paid to chase top streamers off of Caldera. It’s an unlikely theory, but it still speaks to the disappointment many have over the current Warzone offering.
In a March 29 tweet, content creator ModernWarzone alleged that “a company is paying cheaters for ‘bounties’ on famous Warzone streamers like @its_iron.” The reason? ModernWarzone suggests: “This particular company is doing so because they don’t want people on Warzone [Caldera] anymore.” That’s a pretty tall claim, and it’s all based ons streamer its_iron’s repeated instances of getting stream sniped (a form of cheating where a user watches an opposing player’s livestream to effectively see where they are to get the jump on them) by a user with the Activision name Bellgaming13.
But while there seems to be proof that the aforementioned account has managed to get into the same lobby as the snipe target in question, as well as examples of a lingering cheating problem in Caldera, the evidence of some kind of widespread conspiracy simply doesn’t add up. What isn’t as easy to dismiss, however, is that opinions over Warzone 2.0 have definitely soured, leading to dissatisfaction and lower player counts overall.
Claims of paid hackers are paper-thin at best
The tweet speculating that a company is paying hackers contains a video featuring popular CoD streamer its_iron (who did not wish to speak with Kotaku on the record) watching an interview between CoD streamer ComradeGrisha and the “hacker” in question: Bellgaming13. In the video, Bellgaming13 says:
I signed an NDA, basically, if that makes sense? So I can’t really disclose who exactly it is [...] it’s not a specific person. It’s…I can’t really say that much but basically like [...] all I can say is they do not want you on this game anymore basically. It’s like. That’s basically all I can say.
That video, which can be found on its_iron’s Twitch channel, is titled “Activision Hires Cheaters To [Stream Snipe] Caldera Players” and pulls from another video by ComradeGrisha, titled “Calderagate!!! ‘Is someone paying hackers to get people off Caldera???? You decide!!!!” The Twitch channel also features several videos of Bellgaming13 repeatedly appearing in its_iron’s games, clearly killing him via stream sniping.
Speaking with Kotaku, ComradeGrisha said that he had run into this stream sniper on multiple occasions with his crew of regular squadmates. It was suspicious enough behavior for him and his squad to reach out to Bellgaming13. That led to the interview in which Bellgaming13 claims that they “signed an NDA” and are acting on behalf of someone who wishes to chase streamers off Warzone. No proof of the NDA, or anything else, was offered.
It seems highly unlikely that an NDA to protect the identity of those hacking or stream sniping, both of which would arguably break the terms of service any Warzone player would have to agree to to even play in the first place, would ever hold up enough to keep someone quiet. Break out the dismissive Johnathan Frakes memes for this one, folks.
Kotaku has reached out to Activision for comment.
Repeat hacking and gameplay changes speak to Warzone 2.0 pains
Though it’s highly unlikely that there’s a coordinated campaign, specifically in this instance, to pay hackers to intentionally target streamers via stream sniping in order to somehow chase them off of the game, it is clear that Warzone 2.0’s player count has begun to collapse. Sinking below 90,000 active players recently, CoD is falling behind other popular shooters like Apex Legends, PUBG, and even Destiny 2.
A drop in returning players can be attributed to a few factors highlighted by the wider CoD community. Many point to the dramatic changes in the time-to-kill (TTK) rate as one of the most immediate. Others see BR competitors like Fortnite as potentially offering a brighter and more interesting future with the recently released Unreal Editor. There’s also the fact that Warzone 1 grew to significant maturity with its various skins and cosmetics, all of which did not carry over to Warzone 2.0.
Live service games have always had a natural ebb and flow in terms of popularity. But what’s clear is that Warzone is starting to tire out a dedicated fan base, some of whom are jumping back into a previous iteration of the game, while others are searching for answers and clinging to conspiracy theories in the absence of them.