It’s far from outrageous to say that Call of Duty isn’t the most popular esports title out there, though it may just get a boost from a franchised league if Activision Blizzard follow through with potential plans.
The first-person shooter franchise has been around for 15 years and has had an active competitive scene for ten – so why isn’t it one of the titles at the forefront of esports? Well, there are many factors that could lead into this, and one of those is believed to be a lack of developer support.
Despite running the Call of Duty World League, Activision Blizzard hasn’t been anywhere near as involved as it has been with Overwatch, nor has it been as involved as Riot Games is with League of Legends. Those two examples, however, are games in which their competitive initiatives are entirely controlled by the developers behind them. Call of Duty could have the same fate soon, and some people believe the title may have somewhat of a resurgence if it happens.
Reports and rumours
Last month, it was reported that Activision Blizzard was attempting to figure out how it could integrate the owners of the twelve Overwatch League franchises into existing Call of Duty teams. At this time, only OpTic Gaming and Team Envy are a part of both the Call of Duty World League and the Overwatch League (owning Houston Outlaws and Dallas Fuel, respectively).
According to unnamed sources, ESPN revealed in the report that within the contracts that the Overwatch League owners signed, they were given the “first right of negotiation” for slots in the Call of Duty World League. This means Activision Blizzard is contracted to approach these owners first if it does indeed start to explore franchising opportunities.
While it’s hard for us on the outside to say just how big of a success the inaugural season of the Overwatch League has been, with the price of expansion slots for the second season being anywhere up to $60m (£45.9m) – Blizzard obviously has faith that organisations and investors will still get involved.
So, what is a franchised league?
Riot Games’ North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) and Blizzard’s Overwatch League are the two most prominent and popular examples of franchised leagues in esports as it stands.
What this actually means is investors and organisations are investing in permanent spots in leagues – they’re closed to those on the outside. You have to have the funds and intentions that the tournament organiser believes in to even be in with a shout of joining the venture.
Franchised leagues are meant to be a more solidified and safe alternative that can give potential investors a bit of reassurance – something that is important when buy-in slots are rising to astronomical prices.
Should Call of Duty make the leap?
It’s hard to imagine how Overwatch League franchise owners will be able to get involved with teams that already participate in the Call of Duty World League. Unless they all enter partnerships or somehow agree upon further investments – which is ludicrous – then we fail to see every party involved being happy. Either willing Overwatch League investors don’t get a spot in the Call of Duty franchised league or some World League teams get kicked out. It’ll be messy either way by the sounds of things.
Another potential issue with creating a franchised league for Call of Duty is that it further separates the top teams – or more accurately, those who have the money to get involved – from aspiring professional players and teams who want to make it to the top. One way to accommodate for the teams that are left out is for Call of Duty to have an equivalent competition to Overwatch Contenders: a series of tournaments held around the world which acts as proving grounds for aspiring professional players who are (mostly) looking to reach the Overwatch League.
Ultimately, franchising Call of Duty seems like a huge risk – but that’s part and parcel when it comes to esports in general. The viewership has been better and players have grown angry and tired of Activision’s esports efforts – has the ship sailed for Call of Duty? Well, the Overwatch League is ahead of its revenue schedule so it’s hard to imagine that Activision won’t want to give it a try with its best-selling gaming franchise.
One of the 15+ sessions at ESI London (18-20th September) will be a live debate on the industry wide value of franchised leagues in esports. You can find out more about this and ESI London right here.