gaming, activision, steam, call of duty, mw2

What's a Shadow Ban?

I was playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 earlier this week, and noticed all the lobbies I was getting placed into had exceptionally high latencies, and were filled with people who were very obviously cheating using wall hacks and aimbots.

I figured "oh boy, looks like some new cheats came out and Activision hasn't caught them yet", but after a couple days of this continuing, I got became suspicious because the high latency wasn't going away, despite literally spending many hours troubleshooting network cabling, network cards, TCP/IP settings,  DNS settings, NAT (network address translation) and port forwarding, firewalls, routers configs, traceroutes, VPNs, wireless access points, and so forth.  I couldn't find the source of the problem, and it was driving me crazy, because I was sure this high ping was putting me in horrible Call of Duty lobbies.

In my search for this absurdly high ping problem, I ran across a post that suggested if you're getting high pings and lobbies with obvious cheaters in MW2, your Activision account may have been "shadow banned", and you should try to appeal the ban on their website.

So what's a "shadow ban"?  I had no idea and had to look it up.  Basically, it's where they decide you've violated some of their terms of service some how, and they deliberately degrade your gaming experience by putting you in high-latency lobbies with cheaters.  Other violations of the TOS include things like excessive trash talking (considering I don't play with chat enabled, that's unlikely) and offensive user names (mine is "JaySea").  So that leaves something like cheating.

I don't cheat, have never cheated (and in fact despise online multi-player cheating), so I figured this couldn't possibly apply to me, but what the heck, I'll try it.  So I logged into the Activision site through Steam, and checked my profile and account, and everything looked good.  No mention of bans or anything negative, just my standard account information.  Imagine my surprise when I navigated to the "ban appeal" page, and instead of saying "what ban?",  it came back with a result telling me that my account was under review, and the ban cannot be appealed!  Oh, and no timeline for the review process to complete, nor any information about the supposed violation.

So to recap, I was banned, but had no way of knowing I was banned until I logged into their website to appeal the ban that I had no idea about, and then it told me:  "You've been banned and there's nothing you can do about it".  Oh, and your account/profile details don't say anything about a ban.  Make sense?

Maybe Activision was stunned by my magnificent 1.02 K/D ratio and my 0.91 Win/Loss ratio and figured I was so good it had to be cheats! (Yes, that was sarcasm)

I can still play the game, but I can't join a lobby with less than 200ms ping, and every lobby has cheaters in it.  Yay, what a great experience, Activision!  Way to really build some customer loyalty.  Of course, they don't actually care, they've already got my money.  And speaking of money ...

I paid $107 for the "Vault Edition" of the game on Steam, along with $43 for points to purchase a couple types of weapons that I wanted.  So I've spent a total of $150 just so I can get totally destroyed in matches with folks who are obviously wall hacking and using aimbots.

It's not really about the money, to be honest.  It's the fact that I've paid for something and they've turned around and handed me a complete pile of crap after the purchase without any warning, notice, notification, or discussion.  And after many hours of personal time (and additional money on networking gear) spent trying to troubleshoot why Call of Duty suddenly become a steaming pile of crap, I stumbled across a post that suggested appealing a ban I was never informed of, and never considered would actually apply to me to begin with.

Regardless of the outcome of their "account review", this will be the last purchase I make of an Activision product.

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About James Conner

Scuba dive master, wildlife photographer, anthropologist, programmer, electronics tinkerer and big data expert.
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