Why Call of Duty Warzone’s Anti-Cheat Updates Remain Controversial

Call of Duty's developers continue to ban thousands of cheaters, so why are Warzone players convinced they're not doing enough?

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Photo: Activision Blizzard

Earlier this week, Activision and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward revealed that they have banned 20,000 more Warzone accounts for cheating. Following that announcement, developer Infinity Ward took to Twitter to share some news about how many Warzone and Modern Warfare accounts have been banned for cheating since Modern Warfare’s launch in August 2019.

Usually, news like this would be met with overwhelming support from the vast majority of gamers who do not cheat or support the use of cheating software in video games. Only the cheaters are really going to complain about being banned for cheating (which is, hilariously, happening as we speak, particularly on a specific cheat distribution website which we won’t promote here).

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Yet, there seem to be more than a few Call of Duty players who feel that they’ve been down this road before and that the recent bans likely won’t amount to much in the long-run. That may sound like a cynical viewpoint, but if you’ve been following the progression of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare since launch, then you’ll probably feel like those worried fans might have a point.

While Call of Duty‘s cheating problem most certainly extends to Modern Warfare‘s multiplayer, Warzone has really become the focal point of this particular discussion. Not only is Warzone a free-to-play game (and thus subject to a greater influx of players) but the battle royale’s popularity amongst streamers has inspired many high-profile gamers to take to social media to share their frustrations with how Activision and Infinity Ward have handled the process of identifying and banning cheaters.

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While I’ll be the first to admit that outraged streamer tweets hardly prove anything beyond streamers being outraged, it’s pretty hard to deny at this point that cheaters in Warzone are not only rampant but have the ability to make matches essentially unwinnable for regular players. Just take a look at this footage of an especially effective cheater in action to see what they’re capable of (*Warning: Video contains some minor language*):

All of this may leave you wondering whether or not Activision and Infinity Ward utilize anti-cheat measures in the first place. Well, they do, but that’s where this story starts to get very complicated.

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Back in April, the Call of Duty team posted a notable update regarding Warzone‘s cheater problem. In the blog post, the team outlined some of the security measures they employ to combat cheaters which largely focused on security teams that monitor the game “24/7” for cheating activity. Those security teams reportedly “review all possible cheats and hacks” in order to not only identify individual cheaters but the software they use to cheat.

At the time that post was published, many Warzone players mocked Activision and Infinity Ward for what they perceived to be an elaborate manual review system that was supposed to secure a game that has reportedly hosted over 75 million players to date. Since then, Infinity Ward has released additional statements that begged players to not even try to cheat because they will eventually be caught. Furthermore, Activision and Infinity Ward revealed some supplementary anti-cheat measures that have been implemented since Warzone‘s launch such as two-factor authentication, a stronger reporting system, and improved software used to help the team identify cheating tools.

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Months after these updates, though, the ban numbers alone make it clear that there are still thousands of cheaters left in Warzone. Of course, we should note that it’s possible that some of those accounts haven’t been cheating at all. While reports of false bans are always subject to a healthy degree of speculation, every ban wave comes with hundreds of claims from players who not only say that they were unfairly banned but that Activision’s nearly zero-tolerance policy on bans makes it very difficult to appeal a suspension.

So what’s the alternative to Warzone‘s anti-cheat measures? Well, many games like Fortnite, Valorant, and Apex Legends utilize built-in anti-cheat software designed to catch cheaters the moment they use banned applications and tools. So, while Activision’s method does allow them to identify and target the most popular cheating software (which they have already done), it’s always possible for cheaters to create new accounts loaded with the latest cheating tools. In theory, anti-cheat software makes that process much more difficult.

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The problem is that most anti-cheat programs utilize some degree of what’s known as kernel-level software. Basically, this software is installed on your computer and runs as a separate program nestled inside your operating system when you play games. Not only does that mean that these programs can hinder a multiplayer game’s technical performance, but it means that you must grant them what some consider to be an uncomfortable level of security access. In fact, the Valorant team had to release an update to their Vanguard anti-cheat software when it was discovered that the software was running all of the time (regardless of whether you were playing the game) and couldn’t be easily deactivated.

While there is arguably no foolproof solution to video game cheaters, the consensus amongst many Warzone players is that they want Activision to use their considerable resources to develop a new anti-cheat software program that can automatically identify and ban cheaters but doesn’t hinder performance and doesn’t raise significant security red flags.

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Recent rumors suggest Activision may be developing such a system with the intention of using it to protect Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War‘s multiplayer, but until we learn more about those security measures, it seems safe to say this isn’t the last story you’ll hear about thousands of Warzone cheaters being banned.