severed relationships —

Call of Duty removes “NickMercs” skin following FaZe Clan star’s LGBTQ tweet

Move highlights reputational risk of in-game promos linked to real-world players.

The Spartan-themed "NickMercs" skin that was recently removed from <em>Call of Duty</em>.
Enlarge / The Spartan-themed "NickMercs" skin that was recently removed from Call of Duty.

Call of Duty has removed a skin based on popular Warzone streamer and FaZe Clan co-owner Nicholas "NickMercs" Kolcheff after controversy over a tweet surrounding an LGBTQ protest.

"Due to recent events, we have removed the 'NickMercs Operator' bundle from the Modern Warfare II and Warzone store," publisher Activision wrote in a tweet after Call of Duty news site Charlie Intel noticed the unannounced removal. "We are focused on celebrating PRIDE with our employees and our community."

Nicholas "NickMercs" Kolcheff
Enlarge / Nicholas "NickMercs" Kolcheff
Activision's mention of "recent events" is an apparent reference to a tweet Kolcheff made Wednesday morning. In response to a report of a clash between pro- and anti-LGBTQ protestors outside a Glendale School Board meeting in California, Kolcheff wrote, "They should leave little children alone. That's the real issue."

Kolcheff's statement drew quick condemnation from other esports developers, players, coaches, and commentators. "I’m disappointed in you Nick," commentator and streamer Goldenboy wrote in one representative response. "Teaching acceptance and tolerance for EVERYONE is a valuable life skill for all ages."

In a livestream following the controversy surrounding his tweet, NickMercs said his statement was focused on his belief that school is "no place to speak about things like that" and was not intended to disparage anyone's personal sexuality or gender identity. "It wasn't an anti-gay tweet. That's not what it was," he said. "If you think that I hate you because you're a certain way, you just couldn't be any more wrong."

"I didn't mean to upset anybody," he added during the stream. "I know that I did. I'm not apologizing about the tweets. I don't feel like it's wrong. I'm going to stand by what I said. I'm not going to delete the tweet."

Reputational risk

Activision's relationship with NickMercs is just the latest example of the reputational risk gaming companies can face when running promotions based on real-life gaming personalities. In 2021, Twitch removed the popular PogChamp emote from its service after it said Ryan "Gootecks" Gutierrez (on whom the emote was based) "encourag[ed] further violence after what took place in the Capitol" during the January 6 riots.

In 2020, Blizzard quietly removed World of Warcraft NPC John Swifty, who was named after popular streamer Swifty. While Blizzard never officially commented on that removal, the move came shortly after detailed allegations of harassment came out against Swifty.

And in 2021, the Overwatch League made significant changes to an "MVP Zayra" skin and offered refunds to players after 2019 League MVP Jay "Sinatraa" Won was accused of assault. Shortly after that controversy, the Overwatch League announced it would no longer create custom skins based on the annual league MVP.

This isn't the first time a member of the publicly traded FaZe Clan esports team has faced controversy for public statements, either. Clan member Evan "Cented" Barron was kicked out for "his use of hate speech" last year, according to a clan statement. And member Talal ‘Virus’ Almalki drew controversy last year for publicly disavowing any support for the clan's Pride Month activities.

Channel Ars Technica