The question has always been asked "who killed WCW," but it's "what killed WCW." I agree that some wrestlers wouldn't pass the torch and that hurt WCW in the end, but it wasn't WHO it was WHAT killed it.
The company was done long before Russo arrived. The last Monday night war they won was September 98 when Flair came back, one full year before Russo arrived. Russo tried to help the company.
What killed the company was that they never made new stars. People loved Hogan, Goldberg, Nash and all of them at first but they got tired of it.
People loved Austin, Rock and Foley too. But they added people to the list as they went on to give the product a fresh look and keep people interested. WCW never did that. They brought in new faces, but they stayed at the bottom.
Now, that is what killed WCW's popularity. What really killed WCW altogether was that Turner Broadcasting terminated the Nitro and Thunder broadcasts.
Eric Bischoff was set to buy the company but he had no place to air television and could not find a network to air it on either. (I personally think he didn't shop around enough.)
Many people think McMahon killed it by buying it off, but the truth is if he had not done that, WCW would just be sitting in a safe somewhere.
At least Vince gave the majority of the wrestlers jobs and puts the WCW film library to good use on DVD's.
I agree with the comment on using the same stars helped to kill WCW. I recently watched the Monday Night War DVD and I have watched several shoot interviews on YouTube.
The merger of AOL/Time Warner was the biggest factor in killing WCW. The WWF was on USA and TNN (now Spike), they could get away with being racy and crude.
On TNT, you couldn't do the same things with Time-Warner (think Bugs Bunny) as the parent company. When the AOL merger happened, Ted Turner was no longer in charge of his TV companies anymore. Eric Bischoff admits that he thought he would always have Ted Turner as his back-up.
When he didn't, he was in major trouble because AOL/Time-Warner was looking at ratings and the bottom line. They didn't care about what had been done, they only cared how much money they were going to make.
They were losing money. Big companies don't keep losing factions around. Gene Okerlund takes virtually the same thing on a youtube video. Type in WCW shoot interviews and "the death of WCW" will appear.
Now, why is WCW just a memory and now an actual company or brand extension? As stated by the second respondent, WCW programming was cancelled by AOL/Time-Warner.
Eric Bischoff lost his financial backing when it was cancelled. He was prepared to pay a lot more for WCW than Vince McMahon did.
AOL/Time-Warner just wanted to get rid of WCW and the quickest way was to cancel the TV programming. Vince McMahon bought it with the plan to run it as a separate company. However, he was locked into his Viacom deal.
He couldn't go to USA, he was on Spike at the time, and get a time slot for WCW on a rival network. He had to get something on a Viacom network. MTV had WWF Heat at the time and they received decent ratings so Viacom didn't want it changed. They did have a late night slot on Saturday night on Spike.
They had the show that Mean Gene hosted which showed a lot of old matches. They planned to put WCW on at that time until they could get a better slot.
Viacom wanted WWF products so the Mean Gene show stayed until cancelled. Their final option was to make Smackdown into a WCW show and UPN said no.
By this time, the Invasion angle was getting ruined because, like the NWO angle in WCW, the WCW wrestlers were glorified jobbers as they were to the nWo when WCW still existed.
The WCW and WWF angle eventually became the brand extension which is a watered down version of the original plan.