Activision Sues and Unmasks Alleged 'Call of Duty: Warzone' Cheat Sellers

Activision took the unusual step of naming alleged members of the cheat development organization.
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Image: Activision

Activision, the publishing giant behind Call of Duty, has filed a lawsuit against one of the biggest firms that creates and sells Call of Duty: Warzone cheats called EngineOwning, as well as individuals who allegedly work for the organization, according to court records filed on Tuesday.

The news marks an escalation in Activision’s tactics against Call of Duty, and specifically Call of Duty: Warzone, cheat developers. The company has previously sent legal threats to cheat creators, such as one company called CxCheat.net in 2020. This time Activision has filed a formal complaint against the company in court.

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“The COD [Call of Duty] Games are designed to be enjoyed by and fair for all players. When players use exploits like the Cheating Software [EngineOwning], such conduct disturbs game balance and in many cases leads non-cheating players to quit matches in frustration,” the lawsuit, filed in the Central District of California, reads. “Widespread cheating also can lead to negative social media posts and headlines in the press, which can impact consumer confidence. Accordingly, Activision has spent and continues to spend an enormous amount of resources to combat cheating in its games. Notwithstanding those efforts, Defendants’ sale and distribution of the Cheating Software has caused Activision to suffer massive and irreparable damage to its goodwill and reputation and to lose substantial revenue.”

The Verge first reported the lawsuit on Tuesday.

“They are the biggest COD cheat provider of all time,” Zebleer, the administrator of a competing Warzone cheat provider called Phantom Overlay, told Motherboard referring to EngineOwning.

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Were you one of the people named in this lawsuit? Do you know anything else about EngineOwning? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

EngineOwning offers Warzone cheats at various different prices, such as 4.49 Euro for three days of access, up to 39.99 Euro for 90 days, the lawsuit says. The cheats can include aimbots, which automatically snap cheaters’ reticles to enemies making killing them trivial; extra-sensory perception (ESP) which lets cheaters look through walls, and triggerbots which automatically fire the cheaters’ weapons for them.

The lawsuit names specific people Activision says are involved with EngineOwning, including Valentin Rick, also known as Skyfail, who is the alleged leader of the organization. Activision says it contacted Rick in 2018 and 2020 to discuss EngineOwning, and Rick claimed at the time to have sold the cheating developer website to someone else.

“Rick has never provided any evidence that such a sale took place, and Activision is informed and believes, and on that basis alleges, that Rick has continued to manage and operate EO and the EO Website at all times relevant to this lawsuit,” the lawsuit reads.

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The lawsuit also names Leonard Bygla, also known as Reganmian and Noodleman, an alleged administrator; Leon Frisch, also known as Kraisie, an alleged lead moderator; Ignacio Gayduchenko, also known as Weather and Kokole, an alleged coder and developer for EngineOwning; Marc-Alexander Richts, also known as x0000x and Twenty, who is allegedly involved in selling the software; and Alexander Kleeman, also known as A200k, an alleged distributor who also performed some administrative functions for the organization. The lawsuit claims at least some of the individuals are spread across Germany and Spain.

Activision believes that EngineOwning Software UG itself and co-defendant CMM Holdings S.A. are German businesses based in Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Bavaria.

The lawsuit also targets a series of people under their pseudonyms, as their real identities are not yet known. These include alleged coders, high level members, and staffers.

Specifically, Activision believes the defendants are fully aware that EngineOwning’s cheats violate Call of Duty’s terms of use. Activision alleges the defendants have trafficked in circumvention devices, performed international interference with contractual relations, and conducted unfair competition.

Activision’s lawsuit asks a court to force the defendants to shut down EngineOwning’s cheating software, to provide Activision with the source code for the cheats, provide Activision with accounting of any and all sales of products in the United States, as well as damages for violating copyright law, and providing Activision restitution of the unlawful proceeds.

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Zebleer, the administrator of Phantom Overlay, told Motherboard in an email that “The only winners today are the lawyers who keep getting paid in this endless failure of an effort to sue cheaters out of existence. Activision isn't going to stop cheaters this way. They need to do it via the anti-cheat route or they will continue to fail. These cheat providers dodge legal threats and allegations often, and if they can't, they just rebrand.”

Zebleer said they are not worried about Activision coming for them next, claiming that Phantom Overlay members have protected their identities.

“I'm not sure why [EngineOwning] did not protect their identities. Maybe they felt invincible because they are German. I'm a very private person so I've never let the country I live in determine how private I am going to be,” they added.

Activision did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cheat developers have always targeted the Call of Duty franchise, but hacking and cheating seemingly reached new levels of popularity in its free-to-play spin-off mode Warzone which launched in March 2020. The cheating became so rampant that high profile streamers quit the game, and Activision and Warzone developer Raven hyped the promise of a new anti-cheat system, called Ricochet, in the build-up to an update for the game.

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Anecdotally, cheaters are much less frequent in Warzone after the launch of Ricochet. But the reputational damage against Activision remains.

“Defendants’ conduct has resulted in damage to Activision in an amount to be proven at trial. By Activision’s estimation, such damage may amount to millions of dollars. Unless and until Defendants are preliminarily or permanently enjoined, Activision will continue to suffer severe harm from the Cheating Software,” the lawsuit adds.

In December, workers at Warzone developer Raven walked off the job to protest the treatment of QA team members who were let go from the company.

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