After a year of uncertainty, Activision Blizzard (ATVI) may be getting its mojo back. After the company reached all-time highs late last year, the emergence of free-to-play mobile games like Fortnite: Battle Royale and declining player engagement had Activision investors fearing the worst. This sent its shares plummeting to levels not seen in more than two years, wiping out half the company's market cap in the process -- though it's currently only down about 35%, placing it squarely in value stock territory.
However, recent developments and a robust release schedule are giving Activision shareholders confidence that the worst may be over.
An oldie but goodie
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of Blizzard cash cow World of Warcraft, Activision released a faithful re-creation of the fan-favorite 2006 version of the game as World of Warcraft: Classic. The move was an overnight sensation, as tens of thousands of players -- both veterans and newcomers alike -- waited in online queues for hours to experience the earliest iteration of the game.
Widely read gaming news site Kotaku proclaimed, "Everybody's going bonkers for World of Warcraft: Classic right now," resulting in "hours-long queue times on high-population servers." Activision said that more than 2 million players created characters in anticipation of the release, and the game achieved the record for highest launch-day concurrent viewership on Twitch, with more than 1.1 million live-streaming viewers watching gameplay at one time, and more than 6.1 million fans tuning in during the first 24 hours of release.
The buzz created by World of Warcraft: Classic will likely do wonders to boost player engagement in the wake of its release.
Is the Fortnite fad fading?
One of the key concerns among Activision investors over the past year was the massive success of free-to-play game Fortnite: Battle Royale, and many believed the mobile wunderkind was leeching users from industry mainstays like Activision's Call of Duty.
Success can be fleeting, however, and Fortnite's day in the sun may be over. Activision scored an upgrade on Wednesday to outperform (buy) from market perform (hold) by BMO Capital Markets analyst Gerrick Johnson, who also raised the stock's price target to $60, up from $43. One of the factors cited in the bullish move was the waning competition from the once-formidable rival.
Recent reports indicate that Fortnite revenue declined 38% year over year in May, signaling that the fad had peaked. "With Fortnite mania subsiding, we are starting to see better metrics out of Call of Duty," Johnson said.
A "catalyst-heavy" fall
Fall will be a busy season for Activision, as the publisher will be releasing updates to some of its core titles in the coming months. The Spyro Reignited Trilogy debuted earlier this week, with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on deck for October.
It's also worth noting that the company's annual fan convention, BlizzCon, will take place in November, and there are whispers that Activision could announce long-rumored updates to flagship titles, including Overwatch or Diablo, at the event.
This "catalyst-heavy" fall was the reason behind another positive move, this one from Stephens analyst Jeff Cohen, who upgraded Activision shares to overweight (buy) from equal weight (hold) and raised his price target to $65 from $52 -- among the highest on Wall Street. He noted the successful launch of World of Warcraft: Classic and the heavy year-end slate as reasons for the bullish call. "Further, we are encouraged by Activision's commitment to reinvigorating core franchises through an increasing pace of content updates, which is already showing signs of early success," Cohen said.
Has the tide turned?
It wasn't that long ago that negative sentiment weighed heavily on Activision shares, so having two analyst upgrades in as many days could be a signal that the worst may be over. We won't know for sure until Activision shares its financial results, but the company is making all the right moves to reinvigorate its fan base.