Call of Duty League has had to adapt quickly. While the coronavirus has caused every esports league to change in some way, CDL was making changes before the coronavirus took over. With less than a month before the first Home Series in Minnesota, the league announced that it would be changing the format into a bi-weekly tournament structure more familiar to Call of Duty fans.
The goal was to have each team in the league host mini-tournaments with placements awarding points on a season-long leaderboard. In August, eight teams would be seeded based on the leaderboard and compete in the season-ending championship. Due to the coronavirus, Activision Blizzard made a revision that would see all 12 franchises taking part.
“The process has been really collaborative,” said Brett Diamond, COO of Minnesota RØKKR. “We’ve seen that collaboration from the CDL when we went to the tournament format before the season and the communication has continued when it relates to how the season was impacted by the coronavirus. As an organization, we feel really positive about the format for the playoffs and how we will crown a champion.”
To make sure the regular season still had some weight, the league adopted a complicated double-elimination format that will give the top two seeds two byes in the winner’s bracket. The bottom four seeds, originally slated to miss the playoffs entirely, now will start in the loser’s bracket and need to win six games to win the community-dubbed “Champs.” For the top seeds, they will only need to win three matches.
“I think it’s a good compromise,” said Diamond, whose RØKKR sits in fifth place at the time of publishing. “If you have success in the regular season, you start in a favourable position in the playoffs. If you don’t, you’ll have to win a few more games. If you look at what the other traditional sports leagues are doing right now, most of them are looking at some form of expanded playoffs for a lot of the same reasons.”
Even if other leagues are doing it, that hasn’t stopped the Call of Duty community from voicing plenty of complaints. Issues ranged from the top seeds needing just three wins to be champs to there not being amateur teams included to the last place finishers not receiving prize money.
Three wins for a ring certainly exists in sports. An NFL team with a bye only needs three wins for a Super Bowl. Considering Johanna Faries, Commissioner of Call of Duty League, spent 11 years at the NFL before taking over Call of Duty esports, this format isn’t entirely surprising. In addition, any Call of Duty fan still expecting amateur teams when slots for the league reportedly cost $25 million (£19.9 million) was not paying close enough attention.
While Call of Duty fans shared their outrage over one half of the announcement, another half was celebrated. The league announced Warzone Weekend, a CDL match ahead of the final day of the Seattle Home Series. The match is a custom lobby Warzone event with all twelve teams participating. While the results will not change the league standings, there was a $10,000 (£7,961.35) prize pool and major sponsor in T-Mobile.
“Clearly Warzone is incredibly popular and has some real staying power,” Diamond said. “You’re certainly going to look for opportunities to take the lead and make sure our teams are a part of Warzone.”
Warzone poses a unique situation for Call of Duty League. In almost every esport, the mode the league competes in is also the same one that most people are playing and watching on Twitch. Hearthstone is one of the only examples of an esport where more people watched Twitch streamers playing a different mode than the one that crowned a world champion.
But even Hearthstone had close to a 50-50 split between streamers playing ranked and playing arena or Battlegrounds. Right now, Call of Duty is incredibly popular on Twitch, but almost every streamer is playing Warzone. As of writing, it’s not until the 28th channel, in terms of viewers, that someone is playing the main Call of Duty game.
“The format of a battle royale is very conducive to a streamer environment,” Diamond said. “It’s easier for a streamer to be conversational with an audience when they are playing a battle royale versus a multiplayer. From a streaming perspective, it’s not at all a surprise that we have seen a great deal of success and interest in it.”
But, to truly capitalise on that popularity, Call of Duty League needs to build bridges with Warzone. The recurring Warzone Weekend event is certainly a good start but only a small part of the competition throughout the weekend. Even in competitive formats, Warzone is driving insane viewership.
“Yeah, [I think there’s a chance the CDL embraces Warzone esports in the future]. Any time you have success with something where fans are watching it and engaging with it, you want to find a way to make that a part of your product,” Diamond said. “What format that will take long term, that’s probably not for me to say. But everyone involved wants to create synergies between the success of Warzone and our teams.”
In the future, some Home Series could theoretically be replaced with Warzone competitions with an impact on the league standings. The league has already changed the format of events once this year, making another change is not out of the realm of possibility. Right now, the Warzone event will be used as a promotional tool ahead of the final day of the Home Series. If the viewership jumps up, Warzone could become a bigger part of the league going forward.