Warzone esports continue to struggle for legitimacy amid controversy

Source: Activision Blizzard

Warzone is one of the biggest games in the world, or ever for that matter. The battle royale shooter is played by millions of players every single day and has a thriving scene of content creators and competitors who make play the game on a daily basis for hundreds of thousands of fans.

 

As with most major online competitive titles, Warzone also has an esports side.

 

However, unlike Apex Legends, Fortnite, or a plethora of non-BR shooters, Warzone’s esports side is barely supported by its publisher Activision Blizzard, with a few exceptions like the World Series of Warzone. Instead, Warzone’s competitive side is made up of a ton of individually organized community tournaments with prize pools ranging from $5,000 to $100,000, depending on the event and who organized it.

 

While there are some upsides to community-driven tournaments like this, Warzone’s tournament scene has quickly developed a poor reputation due primarily to bad organization, with some tournaments allowing individuals to harass other participants, communicating poorly with competitors, and making questionable decisions that they later regret. Even major tournament organizers like Twitch Rivals are not exempt from Warzone's struggle to contain cheaters and rule-breakers who compete in their tournaments.

 

While not every Warzone tournament is a shit show, too many are, and it keeps Warzone from elevating itself as a fair and fun esports to play or watch.

 

How Warzone Esports work

For those who aren't familiar with the Warzone esports scene, here is a quick overview. There is a large breadth of organizations hosting Warzone tournaments, ranging from individual players all the way up to major esports organizations. 

 

There are large organizers like Twitch Rivals and CDL teams such as the NYSL and Florida Mayhem, all of whom have hosted various major tournaments with tons of well-known players and some serious prize pools in some cases. There are also a host of smaller tournaments, hosted by creators or smaller organizations like, most recently, Speedy Possom Tournaments.

 

The various organizers abide by numerous formats as well: 

 

  • There are private server tournaments, where all the competitors play against each other in a battle to win. 
  • There are kill races, where various teams drop into random lobbies and try to rack up the most kills on a leaderboard. 
  • There are 2v2 tournaments, where teams of two drop together into the same game and try to get the most points to advance in a bracketed style competition

 

All of these different formats have their own pros and cons. The private server tournaments are the most "true" to the concept of Warzone as a game since it’s a true survival to the end Battle Royale. At the same time, these tournaments are the easiest for a hacker to ruin, since all it takes is one hacker to ruin the integrity of the entire match. These tournament can also reward some really boring playstyles where some teams will just avoid conflict, which is pretty boring to watch.

 

Kill races are an explosive and interesting alternative to private lobby tournaments. However, they are relatively hard to follow from a spectator perspective, since there are so many participants competing at once. So if you are interested in more than one creator, it can be hard to track what is going on during kill races. That said, multiple kill race tournaments have proven to be highly successful in the past.

 

2v2 tournaments have picked up steam lately, since the bracket-style tournament is easier to follow for viewers, and a head-to-head battle is also more exciting and grounded for players. However, this format doesn't automatically exempt competitors from being toxic to one another, and still pose organizational challenges as we will see in the next section.

 

Regardless of the tournament format, mismanagement from certain Warzone TOs and bad behavior from certain Warzone players can easily undermine the integrity of this esport, which is already struggling to gain recognition among titans like the Call of Duty League, League of Legends, CS:GO, VALORANT, and others.

 

The challenges to the legitimacy of Warzone esports

Challenge 1: Cheaters in Warzone (And what TOs do about them)

Cheating has been a big issue in Warzone since its release. While Raven Software has banned over a half-million cheaters since the release of the game, it hasn’t much to stop the tide of cheaters making free accounts to ruin other people’s experiences. Multiple streamers have been either accused or straight-up caught cheating too, so the problem isn't just a few bad apples, its the whole damn tree.

 

Cheating causes a serious challenge to the integrity of all types of Warzone competition, but when cheating shows up in esport competition it does untold damage to the reputation of Warzone competition since people don't want to watch an unfair esport.

 

In July, Twitch Rivals was forced to reset an entire competitive pro match private lobby during their $75,000 Twitch Rivals Warzone Showdown. They ended up having to scrap the entire first half of the event after it was revealed that Twitch partner Davskar was streaming themselves hacking during the tournament, ruining the competitive integrity of the whole event.

 

Making matters worse, Twitch Rivals refused to take any action when it was first pointed out to them, only taking action after a large backlash from competitors and fans. This didn't exactly instill confidence in Twitch Rivals to ensure they have a fair event, considering someone was literally streaming themselves cheating ON Twitch.

 

 

Even when cheaters don’t show up to private lobby events, the prevalence of cheating can still end up affecting tournaments through false-accusations of cheating, which can also damage the competitive integrity of these tournaments. 

 

In January, 100T Tommey accused Metzy of cheating during a $250,000 tournament. That accusation spiraled out of control, with Metzy being removed from the tournament before it was revealed that he was actually clean. While Tommey apologized for the accusation and attempted to make amends, the damage was already done. 

 

Kill races and 2v2 bracketed kill racses are less influenced by cheating, which in part explains the rising popularity of these formats in recent months (beyond comparative the logistical ease which also plays a factor). But even these tournaments still end up influenced by cheaters through the lobby of random players that the pros are hunting.

 

Just this week, Zlaner and Kalei Renay were removed from a 2v2 bracket kill race, after the team they were playing against claimed a hacker was ruining the game and called for a reset. When Kalei Renay died, to get out of the game and reset, the other team backtracked their claim of hackers and went on to win the match. The TOs offered Zlaner and Renay no time to dispute the ruling, and ultimately refused to reset the match, costing Zlaner and Renay their spot in the $30,000 tournament.

 

 

The TO Speedy Possom Tournaments has since admitted their wrong step, the fact is, their failure to properly handle hacker accusations undermined the credibility of the tournament.

 

So in short, cheaters and hackers from both competitors and randoms can have a huge impact on Warzone’s esport scene, a fact that is made worse by Activision Blizzard inexcusable lack of an effective anti-cheat in the game.

 

The rampant cheating is further exacerbated by the inconsistent, sometimes nonsensical rulings coming down from some tournament organizers. With such uncertainty and lack of integrity in the game and the TOs, it becomes harder to take the results of Warzone tournaments seriously, which in turn is bad for the entire Warzone esports ecosystem.

 

Challenge 2: Harassment of other players in Warzone

Harassment and discrimination have become big issues in the Warzone pro community in the past couple of weeks.

 

READ MORE

Warzone community forced to reckon with its misogynistic culture after streamer harassment

 

With larger esports, like VALORANT, CS:GO, the Call of Duty League, etc., player misconduct can be fined or otherwise punished by the central bodies that regulate the esport, like you would expect in regular sports.  For example, Version1 player Jordan "Zellsis" Montemurro was suspended by Riot, after he made offensive comments toward a tournament official.

 

This is not the case with Warzone, which has no central governing body or even specific major TOs who could take the lead on something like that by prohibiting abusive players from entering their competitions. 

 

Recently, during a tournament, Warzone streamer ClutchBelk harassed and insulted female players NYSL Swish and Florida Mayhem’s Queen Shadows during a $30,000 community tournament on the basis of their gender. He not only aggressively mocked Swish in her own Discord server, but he also continued to double down when called out, using sexist insults and allowing his community to engage in gendered forms of discrimination and harassment against the female streamers.

 

Absolutely no concreate action was taken on the part of the Warzone community or tournament organizers to punish this conduct, though a significant number of Warzone influencers like Zlaner, FaZe Swaag, and others did speak out against sexism and discrimination coming from Belk and other content creators in the Warzone community.

 

The entire situation highlighted the fact that Warzone as an esport, absent accountability, is a place where certain content creators simply aren't safe to compete without fear of reprisal from hateful competitors and fans. It goes without saying that this undermines the fairness and legitimacy of the competition.

 

Without accountability, the esport can’t have competitive integrity either, since not everyone is safe to compete. So long as Warzone remains a space where it is accepted and allowed for competitors to directly harass and demean each other with no consequences, Warzone will not be taken seriously as a mainstream esport.

Challenge 3: Battle Royale broadcast production is hard... really hard 

Beyond the integrity issues listed above, Warzone faces the same viewership challenges as many other battle royale esports. It is hard to follow a game with dozens of teams in it, especially in the early and mid-game, when it is hard to predict where the action is going to be. This is the biggest downside to private lobby tournaments, as mentioned previously.

 

Fortnite and PUBG were on the forefront of these challenges, with many of their early tournaments being widely considered to be failures, because of both logistical challenges and the game being very difficult to watch for spectators, with observers often missing key action. These issues continue today in Warzone, where there is rarely a centralized stream of the action at all, and when there is it is very difficult for observers to get it right.

 

While this problem isn't quite as bad for kill races, it remains a struggle for broadcasts to show the right moments at the right time. There is just a lot of gambling involved.

 

So most people who watch Warzone competitions, whether it's a private lobby, kill race, or 2v2 format, end up watching through the streams of their favorite creator, taking away many of the more entertaining aspects of full-on esports broadcasts.

 

This doesn’t speak to the competition itself being bad, or even the competition failing to be entertaining. However, it does present the biggest challenge to Warzone becoming a more well-known and accepted esport and the scene itself reaching a more mainstream audience. So long as production is limited like this, with no centralized show, it's really hard for the esport as a whole to grow.

 

What does the future of Warzone esports look like?

The future of Warzone as a watchable esport is quite unclear. While all the challenges listed above are harming the reputation and potential of the Warzone esports scene, the popularity of the game and its community are undeniable. But if Warzone esports want to scale, the community needs to figure out how to ensure that everyone in the community is safe from harassment and abuse.

 

And tournament organizers across the board need to step up and create clear rules and processes for running their competitive events, and then faithfully abide by those rules and processes. Far too many Warzone tournaments have had their reputation destroyed by cheaters, false accusations of cheating, player harassment, and general logistical mismanagement.

 

Ideally, TOs and esports broadcasters will also continue to develop the broadcast techniques that will help elevate Warzone into a more watchable and easier-to-digest viewer experience. The solutions to these challenges are not simple, but the reward for solving them will pay dividends for the Warzone community.

 

If Warzone esports wants to play in the big kid's pool, it's going to have to prove that it can swim first.

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