I still believe it's ranks and visual perks that come with them that makes quite a few people do anything to get up there with the best, plus it also makes others feel looked-down upon for playing casual with a lower rank / visual perk. I liked how old fps games did it; unreal, quake and many more in the old days just had a kill-counter for the round / mission and that was it. Did people still cheat? Sure. Did people care? Hardly. The next battle / instance / server would be fine again and it didn't impact anyone really, except from that previous round.
Gameplay like that doesn't tempt people to get that nicer visual perk, every dog can have a amazing kill-count round and nothing changes. If you talk about cheaters back then, those people really wanted to cheat to annoy people for a couple rounds, not to earn a nice visual token reserved for the best of players. Like that, for most cheaters, the cheating became more boring over time instead of giving back some feeling of being special. It also made cheats not to be really valuable, or even sell well. Most people didn't get the point of cheating in those extremely popular and crowed fps games.
The more games tend to reward better players with visual perks the more the average / legit players start crying / cheating. Now they try to fix that with skill-based matchmaking and anti-cheat that acts more like spyware than protection. I often asked the question if some mayor developers struck gold after starting to sell cheats for games that give you a visual perks for "being better". The same goes for levels and progress and giving "better" players a faster progress. All of this is sold to us as making a game more "competetive" while in fact sitting alone in a room on a Windows-crap computer these new games being more "competitive" than the old ones couldn't be much further from the truth because of cheating.
Thanks for reading my blogpost rant. And enjoy the games you like