The Call of Duty League is the next big attempt at producing a geolocated, franchised competition that stands to benefit both the developer Activision Blizzard and the 12 ownership groups that have each invested a reported amount of $25 million (£19 million) into owning a team.
Slated to begin on January 24th at the home of Minnesota RØKKR – the Minneapolis Armory – players are coming into the weekend on a patch they’ve hardly had time to practice on, following a string of disappointments and ludicrous missteps from the league.
Considering the high buy-in and the longstanding history of Call of Duty as both a casual franchise and a competitive enterprise, it’s reasonable to expect a polished product that’s an improvement upon what came before it: namely, the Call of Duty World League.
While the CWL wasn’t perfect and didn’t draw in an inspiring amount of viewers, especially if OpTic Gaming was knocked out of an event, what’s happened with the Call of Duty League is nothing short of a mess.
Let’s take a look at what’s happened on the lead up to the Launch Weekend in Minneapolis.
As mentioned earlier, it cost a pretty penny for the likes of Envy Gaming, Immortals Gaming Club, and OverActive Media to secure a spot in the league. So, when the branding for each of the 12 franchises was easily uncoverable in the website’s code upon launch – they can’t have been too happy. Fans were still weeks out from when they were supposed to be greeted with fancy, well-produced announcement videos uncovering the franchises’ branding one by by.
Instead, the names were leaked on Twitter and not much could be done. It was simply an oversight from those working on the website, one quick scan of the code would have made it clear that such information was about to made readily available for eager and excited fans to uncover.
That’s nothing when you consider the current state of the game, however. Professional players and casual gamers alike had been very vocal since the Alpha for Modern Warfare was released about major changes to the title, as well as a number of bugs such as ‘slide cancelling.’ This feature wasn’t intentional, it was an exploit in the game and completely changed how it played. While this isn’t explicitly a fault of the league, Activision Blizzard is in charge of the game as well as the competition and you’d want your title to be fun to both play and spectate when launching a high-profile league around it.
Sticking with the game, fans are still waiting to play league play – a ranked mode that gives them a taste of competition and better advertises Call of Duty’s presence in esports. Being able to play in a skillful environment against other budding competitors is a vital element in both producing the next wave of talent and opening the eyes of potential spectators. At the time of writing, there’s no word on when such game mode will be introduced.
There aren’t even in-game skins implemented yet, either. Having team-branded equipment and outfits is one of the best ways to advertise your supposedly-valued business partners and raising awareness for the impending league. A blog post was published announcing the arrival of such items on January 20th, but was soon deleted with no explanation to follow. This is yet another oversight from the developer and a huge missed opportunity to advertise the league to the most promising demographic: Call of Duty players.
Then again, Activision Blizzard showed that it actually had ears by responding to some pressure it had received – seemingly from team owners themselves. The travelling format of the league is a new venture in esports, an unproven model no less, and that caused concerns. Having to travel across the country (or even to another country) to play a single series isn’t the most exciting prospect for players and teams.
The league surprisingly announced a format change on on December 24th, just a month before it was to start and a suspicious date to unveil such a major alteration. The competition would now utilise a tournament-based format and implement a points-based system to decide the rankings of the franchises. This last minute change could have been avoided altogether if those with a decade of competitive Call of Duty experience were listened to from the jump.
Consider the fact that talent for the Launch Weekend hosted by Minnesota RØKKR hadn’t even announced their role in the event until just days prior. Some may say this is to build suspense but sources have told Esports Insider that the decision came last minute, with some finding out just a couple of days before announcements started to surface.
Then there’s the matter of where the Call of Duty League can be watched by fans who aren’t travelling to a brisk Minneapolis. As of writing, on January 23rd, no media deal has been announced. Again, speculation is all we have to go on here and some think this is to drive up hype for the event but that doesn’t make much sense to us. Wouldn’t you want potential viewers to know where they can catch the action in advance? Leaving it until the last minute doesn’t cause anything but confusion, speculation, and debate.
A tweet from Call of Duty veteran Patrick “ACHES” Price – somebody who has been outspoken despite the wishes of Activision Blizzard throughout his tenure as a professional player – explains that there are no working setups for players at the Launch Weekend event. So not only are teams playing on an unfamiliar patch that changed plenty, but they can’t even practice on it until it’s match time.
This isn’t directly a lack of planning from Activision Blizzard considering Minnesota RØKKR is in charge of event operations, but it all adds up and paints an ugly picture of the league before it even gets underway.
Overall, it’s fair to say that the league has been rushed from the get go and it’d be better off starting at a later date. The players aren’t happy, team owners are worried about the schedule, and fans are both tired of being left in the blue and annoyed at the constant stream of errors.
Activision Blizzard stands to earn a lot more money and high-regard from a league that’s fully operational and ready to go, not going ahead with an half-arsed attempt. That being said, the Call of Duty League isn’t doomed just yet. There will be plenty of opportunities throughout 2020 for the developer to fix the shortcomings of both the league and the game to create what could be a fun, competitive experience for players and fans alike.