Just as millions of players of Call of Duty: Warzone were gearing up for a new season of the popular online multiplayer game, thousands of them were banned because they were allegedly using an app to help them cheat.
On Monday, Activision de-activated the accounts of around 20,000 Warzone players after the company detected a popular cheat, according to people familiar with the matter.
Nick Wagner, a player who streams on Twitch with the name Wagnificent was banned in the middle of a Warzone game on Monday. After getting his first kill in the game, with 111 players still left in the match, Wagner's computer froze and displayed an error message.
After Wagner restarted the game, the game displayed the message: "Account permanently banned."
"Dude. Yo, Mason. I just got banned," Wagner said during the stream. "The day before the update too they gotta pull some shit like this. […] I can’t tell if this is like a sick—like a joke that somebody is playing on me, because it’s not fucking funny. Like at all.”
On Tuesday, Wagner logged back on Warzone playing with a friends' account, not his original banned account. He did not respond to requests for comment on his email address and on Twitter. Wagner's ban coincided with a series of bans associated with cheating. People familiar with the matter told Motherboard that Wagner was a user of a specific cheat, called EngineOwning, that was detected by Activision. That's what prompted his ban.
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A former Activision employee, who asked not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the press about his former company, said that these waves of bans are relatively frequent.
"It’s rare that any one particular cheat will last long term without getting detected at some point," the former employee said. "It’s always a game of cat and mouse, people that actively use cheats should understand it’s highly likely you’ll be banned at some point and you’ll just have yourself to blame."
"I've cheated games for as long as i can remember, first time being banned…"
On Tuesday, the makers of the popular cheat called EngineOwning, which players have to subscribe and pay for to use, said on their website that the cheat is now "detected," meaning players who use it will get caught by Activision for using it.
It's unclear if this is the cheat that all the banned players were using, but several users inside the EngineOwning forum also complained of being banned on Monday.
In a thread titled "Awesome, Until Banned," a customer wrote that "this hack was an amazing tool for getting to learn the game in and the maps. And after having stopped using it a little over a month ago, I woke up today to see this. I've noticed the bans going around, and the fact that the software was detected, but seriously?"
"I've cheated games for as long as i can remember," another user replied. "First time being banned…"
An Activision spokesperson confirmed that the company started issuing bans on Monday.
Just like every other popular online game, there are some players who use cheats to get an upper hand in Warzone. Activision has been actively working to detect and ban these cheaters for months. In March, the company announced on Twitter that they had banned more than 70,000 accounts.
“We are watching. We have zero tolerance for cheaters,” the official account of Infinity Ward, the game's developer, tweeted at the time.
The company has also tried novel solutions to prevent cheaters from just creating a new account after being banned. In May, it forced gamers to use an active cellphone number to log in and play online. This measure inadvertently created a market where people sell accounts that are already linked to numbers in an attempt to help cheaters back in the game.