Borisov Alexey Borisov
Feb 11, 2021 10 min read

Warzone as a phenomenon of 2020: How to make the perfect battle royale game

Warzone as a phenomenon of 2020: How to make the perfect battle royale game

Streaming phenomena of 2020 are not only streamers, but games as well: and Call of Duty: Warzone is a perfect example. The game revived the competition in the battle royale genre and helped Call of Duty enter the top 10 Twitch categories of the year. But what is the secret of its success? Does it successfully compete with Fortnite, PUBG and Apex Legends? More about this in the new Streams Charts article.

What’s so special about Warzone?

The battle royale genre continues to develop. Infinity Ward and Raven Software successfully combined all the best from the genre and all the best from Call of Duty series. The result is an excellent product that’s not only interesting to CoD fans, but also to those who got tired of Fortnite, Apex Legends and PUBG. 

Call of Duty had previously experimented with the battle royale genre, but did it too cautiously. Black Ops 4 had a similar mode called Blackout, but it did not really interest the audience. Warzone offers up to 150 players on one server, a more simplified inventory system (compared to other games in the genre), and a lot of action: the latter is what makes the game especially valuable.

Warzone has put a lot of emphasis on dynamic gameplay with health recovery and reviving of allies. In addition, the game has a special mini-mode The Gulag. This is the place where the dead players fight in 1v1 format with the winner returning to the battlefield.

Note that the system requirements for Call of Duty: Warzone are higher than for many popular titles (for example, CS:GO). However, the developers have done an excellent job of optimizing the game on a PC, so problems with the game will only arise on very weak systems.

All this made the game extremely popular right after the release; and the excitement about it yet to subside. Five days after the release in March 2020, Activision reported 15 million players in Warzone: this number had grown to 85 million by early February 2021.

The success of Modern Warfare on Twitch is the success of Warzone

Despite the fact that Call of Duty: Warzone was released in March 2020, it received a dedicated section on Twitch only towards mid-November. For almost nine months the game had been streaming in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare section, which is why this game had such a high spot in the top Twitch categories in 2020.

The original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered was released in August 2019 and by the end of the same year had brought its creators a billion dollars. However, viewers got tired of the game on Twitch rather quickly. But that changed on the day Warzone was released.

On the day Warzone was released, the Modern Warfare section set a new record for the game on Twitch by Peak Viewers: over 519,000 simultaneous viewers. The second time record was broken in August, when the game was simultaneously watched by 947,000 people: it happened on the day of the announcement of the new part of the series, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Warzone got its own Twitch category in November. After that Modern Warfare's Hours Watched dropped to late-2019 level, and Warzone started to rise. In November, MW's Hours Watched fell 1.76 times, and in December it dropped 4.31 times compared to November.

Warzone, on the other hand, started with 5,600,000 Hours Watched in its first week after the category hit Twitch. In mid-December, this figure was 3.4 times larger. The game still performs very well at the beginning of 2021. In January, Call of Duty: Warzone became the seventh most popular Twitch category, and was ranked sixth in the first week of February.

Warzone beat majority of its competitors

In the first reviews of Call of Duty: Warzone, press feared that the game's addictive gameplay alone would not be enough for the game to be long-term successful, and only constant content updates will allow Warzone to compete with other games in the genre. However, Warzone is doing fine without huge collaborations and updates that Fortnite has.

Call of Duty: Warzone regularly hosts competitive seasons with new weapons and operators, but for the most part the developers are dealing with bugs and cheaters. For example, the second map in Warzone appeared only in December 2020, and the release of the third one is expected in March, when the game celebrates its anniversary.

Warzone is not (yet) ready to compete with Fortnite in terms of content, just like no other battle royale can either. But Call of Duty is doing well compared to other main competitors, such as Apex Legends and PUBG. 

Considering that until mid-November, the Modern Warfare section consisted almost entirely of Warzone streams, the game was ahead of its main competitors on Twitch in key metrics throughout 2020. For example, the game was 1.5-2 times ahead of its competitors by Peak Viewers almost every month.

A similar proportion is observed when comparing games by the average number of concurrent viewers by month. Modern Warfare regularly outpaced Apex Legends and PUBG from March to November, and then Warzone started doing it on its own. 

At the same time one can’t say that Apex Legends and PUBG audience changed its favourite game for Warzone. The performance of all three games was approximately at the same level throughout the year, and only from mid-November viewers of Modern Warfare transferred to Warzone.

It is noteworthy that all three games continue to grow by average number of channels, including Modern Warfare. Surprisingly, MW is ahead of Apex, PUBG, and Warzone by this metric.

Does the game have an esports future?

When battle royale games started entering esports, the main question was how to stream them in a proper way. In Counter-Strike POVs of players are very important, but there are way more players in battle royale that are spread around the map: one can wait a long time for the action.

But now production teams have lots of experience, so organizing battle royale esports broadcasts is not a bit a problem; the main thing is that the audience is interested in the game itself. And Call of Duty: Warzone is very popular not just in streaming, but also in esports.

All-time top 5 events in Call of Duty esports history by Peak Viewers includes three Warzone tournaments. #1 and #2 sports were taken by World Championships in “classic” CoD, but #3 is taken by the Code Green Warzone tournament. Moreover, the difference between #3 and #2 is only 6,500 people. 

It should also be noted that just like in any other battle royale game Warzone tournaments are broadcasted by participants themselves, and it also affects the overall viewership statistics of events.

The developers have not yet announced any major Warzone event. For now championships are being held by third parties (for example, as part of Twitch Rivals), and they don’t match the scale of Call of Duty League.

However, Activision is actively thinking about the development of Warzone esports. At the end of January, CDL Commissioner Johanna Faries announced that they plan to integrate Warzone competition into the league. Last season, the CDL hosted showmatches in Warzone, but something bigger is planned for the new season.

Activision's direct involvement in the development of Warzone esports is very important, but what’s even more important is that streamers really like the game. Warzone's esports history is similar to Fortnite: tournaments are full of popular streamers who bring viewers to broadcasts. And who exactly helps in popularization of the game?

The most popular streamer of Warzone is Nicholas Nickmercs Kolcheff from FaZe Clan who has millions of fans. Since the Warzone category hit Twitch, his streams of the game collected over 5.2 million Hours Watched. That's 1.24 times more than Colcheff's teammate Swagg has (4.19 million Hours Watched).

Nickmercs also contributed to the development of the Call of Duty: Warzone esports scene. In the spring-summer of 2020, he held more than ten championships of MFAM Gauntlet Warzone series with prize pools from $4,300 to $50,000. However, now he will no longer participate in tournaments: as Nickmercs claims, he’s “tired of hacks”.

The top 10 Warzone streamers are mostly English-speaking content creators. The list includes TimTheTatman, Symfuhny, HusKerrs, Tfue and former esports player TeePee. Chowh1 is the only French-speaking streamer on the list.

Considering the popularity of the game on Twitch, a large loyal fanbase and many popular streamers interested in the game, we can confidently say that a bright esports future is ahead of Warzone. Moreover, the game does not even need LANs: the main interest in the game is concentrated in North America, where it is quite possible to organize online competitions that will collect hundreds of thousands of spectators.


Call of Duty: Warzone is a new chapter in the battle royale genre. The game attracted the attention of a huge audience, and the interest in the title still there. At the same time, the game has great potential (at least in terms of esports) and space to grow further.

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Author / a.borisov@escharts.com
Alexey Borisov

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