Tech & Gaming

Activision Blizzard’s big Blizzcon event has left some analysts disappointed and ‘hoping for more.’ Here’s why – CNBC

Visitors wait to try out the latest version of Call of Duty Modern Warfare during the press day at the 2019 Gamescom gaming trade fair on August 20, 2019 in Cologne, Germany.

Lukas Schulze | Getty Images

Despite announcing sequels and expansions to some of their biggest franchises this weekend, Activision Blizzard left analysts wanting.

While gamers are buzzing about Diablo 4, a new expansion to World of Warcraft and Overwatch 2, this weekend’s highly anticipated Blizzcon has analysts like Wedbush’s Joel Kulina pointing out that it fell in line with predictions and failed to deliver more than expected.

“I think people were hoping for more,” Kulina told CNBC. “We were going to get something that wasn’t just Diablo 4 or Overwatch 2, namely. There were hopes for a Warcraft mobile game, a Hearthstone expansion, and a new Starcraft game, but it [ended up] being as advertised.”

Essentially, Kulina believes that Blizzcon had already been priced in going into Activision’s big event. The stock remained unchanged on Friday following the opening ceremony, where the big announcements were revealed.

The rest of the weekend didn’t yield any updates that changed their minds. Going into Blizzcon, 76% of analysts had an overweight or buy rating on the stock while 21% had a “Hold” on Activision. Only one analyst had a “Sell” rating on the stock.

Much of the bullishness around Activision Blizzard has centered on their new releases, most recently with the publisher’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” game. Following its release on October 25, the game managed to make more than $600 million worldwide in its first three days and also became Activision Blizzard’s biggest digital sales opening ever. The $600 million made in its first three days of release meant that at the time, Modern Warfare had effectively more than doubled Joker’s opening weekend at the box office.

But so far this year, the publisher’s highly-anticipated releases like Call of Duty: Mobile and Modern Warfare have failed to significantly move its stock despite positive reactions to both games. And recently, the company has faced criticism for its response to backlash related to the Hong Kong protests. In October, many gamers boycotted Blizzard after the publisher banned a professional Hearthstone player and suspended a college Hearthstone esports team from American University for pro-Hong Kong statements.

Protestors were present at Blizzcon even ahead of the event’s opening ceremony, where Blizzard President J. Allen Brack apologized for the company’s actions. He did so, however, without explicitly mentioning Hong Kong in his statement.

The lack of details surrounding this latest slate of announced releases has Oppenheimer’s Andrew Uerkwitz reiterating his “Hold” rating on the stock. Oppenheimer had previously indicated that two of the big catalysts for Activision this year would be the release of Modern Warfare and Blizzcon. Now that both are out of the way, Uerkwitz is left waiting for clarity on how the new releases will play out.

“For investors, there are still open questions that hopefully management will answer,” he said. “The lack of launch times, pricing, [and monetization details has left Activision] open for some disappointment.”

But Kulina stresses that he is still bullish on the stock. From a technical standpoint, Activision broke above $50 in August after being stuck between $40 and $50 for most of the year, which Kulina views as a positive sign for the stock. Additionally, Kulina is looking ahead to a “refresh cycle” for the group in 2020.

Uerkwitz also thought that Overwatch 2 “more than lived up to expectations” specifically and showed that Activision is willing to be “a little experimental” to evolve with the games industry.

“We felt like what they should do was launch [Overwatch 2] connected to the original Overwatch, change the game’s monetization and really go deep on lore,” he said. “I wasn’t sure they would actually do all three in the game, but it sounds like they are in fact addressing all three.”

Both analysts expect the announcements at Blizzcon to be discussed on Activision Blizzard’s earnings call on Thursday. Despite rallying over 19% this year, shares of Activision are still down 20% from the stock’s all-time high that it hit back in October of 2018.

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