Black Ops 4: The Zero Specialist Controversy

by in Call of Duty | Dec, 25th 2018

On December 11, a huge Call of Duty: Blacks Op 4 update dropped for the PlayStation 4 (update will come to Xbox One and PC December 18) — and its biggest change is the addition of a new specialist named Zero. Usually, a fresh character is an exciting addition to any game, but this new specialist and her unique hacking abilities have not been well received by the Call of Duty (CoD) community.

Anybody can head over to the CoD: Black Ops 4 subreddit to see a barrage of threads bashing the new character. Expect to see plenty of thread titles like, “Zero is broken” and, “Zero was a terrible idea.” Why is this?

The Anti-Fun Specialist

The Zero specialist controversy began due to the character’s ability to take away a scorestreaks (formerly known as killstreaks). Did you just call in a hard-earned chopper after stringing together ten kills in a row without dying? No you didn’t.

Zero new can instantly remove your prized scorestreak with her “Ice Pick” ability. What does Zero have to do to earn this extremely strong ability? Nothing. Like other specialist abilities, it unlocks after a minute.

Some say every specialist ability is overpowered. Some say giving every player power spikes and tying those abilities to a timer is poor game design. The problem is that regular weapons with FMJ II were already capable of shredding scorestreak bonuses. With anti-scorestreak options already available, why is Treyarch’s multiplayer development team presenting yet another way to undo a player’s hard work? Treyarch’s handling of this Zero specialist controversy suggests they are out of touch with their player base.

A Closer Look at Zero

Zero’s Ice Pick ability not only allows her to obliterate scorestreaks, but she can also hack them and turn them against their rightful owners. This must be especially infuriating to the player that obtained a Drone Squad, only to suddenly have his air support wrecking squad turned against him.

Ice Pick also allows Zero to turn an enemy player’s screen into a chaotic mess — if she hacks you, your radar will say you are surrounded by enemies, your health bar keeps adjusting (as if you are taking damage) and you cannot use any abilities, equipment or scorestreaks.

Zero’s specialist equipment is the EMP Disruptor grenade, which counters nearly every other piece of equipment. If it lands correctly, her EMP grenade completely wipes out Torque’s barbed wire, Nomad’s mesh mine, and the Prophet’s seeker shock mine.

It can also be used to completely take away the microwave effect of Torque’s Barricade and Firebreak’s burn from his Reactor Core. Perhaps Zero “the anti-specialist” specialist is perhaps a better name for her?

Zero in Competitive Play

The ruleset for the 2019 Call of Duty World League (CWL) games was announced in November, and some scorestreaks are allowed — notable options include the Drone Squad and Sniper’s Nest. In her current state, I do not think Zero should be enabled in competitive play. A Drone Squad can easily turn the tide of any competitive CWL Hardpoint or Control game. It would be a shame to see a pro player earn one, only to have it taken away by a Zero with a lucky EMP grenade.

It appears Treyarch did not have their game’s competitive landscape in mind when they created Zero. The tactical mask perk allows players to minimize the effect of the EMP disruptor (it will not scramble your HUD), but Zero brings too much utility to the table, and tactical mask as the only counter-play option is not enough.

Gameplay balance is especially important at the highest level since two Zero specialists are allowed on each team, that means we’ll see a lot of Ice Pick and EMP throughout a round. Expect to see professional players abuse Zero’s abilities.

Zero and the Future of COD

The Zero specialist controversy arguably signifies Treyarch is taking the COD franchise in a new direction, but as right now, it has not been well received by hardcore fans. It is almost as if scorestreaks will be removed entirely from the future CoD games.

Just look at the Twitter feed of Treyarch Studios design director David Vonderhaar (@DavidVonderhaar), and you’ll see constant feedback from the community criticizing Zero. CoD gamers everywhere have their pitchforks out.

This all goes back to that famous cliché, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Call of Duty has a formula that works and has worked for 15 games. Changing that tried-and-true method now would be ridiculous.

Why change this now? Unless Zero receives a nerf in an upcoming patch, she might signify the end of the Call of Duty franchise. Treyarch, please nerf this character.


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