Call of Duty esports has never felt more fragile. Now as a fully recognized franchised league under Activision’s umbrella, you’d think the league would be thriving. Unfortunately, we’re several months after the launch of Call of Duty: Vanguard and there’s nothing to be said about the Call of Duty League (CDL). With the season not starting until February, and with players trapped in the midst of a growing list of issues, the state of the CDL is questionable.
One of the main debates: Does the success of Call of Duty esports depend on player-created content? This was a subject I personally covered back in 2019 when I stated that pro players were wasting brand potential. While I don’t think the league is crumbling just because of a lack of content, Call of Duty as an esports title just doesn’t have the luxury of competitive tunnel vision yet. The foundation is still being built.
Unfortunately, not many professional gamers in the CDL know how to create a brand, and even more surprisingly, not many care to.
“Call of Duty is built off of entertainment. Esports is entertainment,” Matt “Nadeshot” Haag, Founder and CEO of 100 Thieves, stated. “If people don’t care about the game where it is right now, and they also don’t care about the players, and the players aren’t giving anybody anything to care about… last year we had 15,000 people watching a regular season league match. If you don’t see that as a problem, I don’t know, what are we talking about then?”
Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez, CEO of OpTic Gaming, added: “We have to create those storylines. We have to take care of ourselves. At the end of the day, if you don’t want to do it for the league and if you don’t want to do it to benefit other people, then do it for yourself. Focus on your content, focus on your brand, and then the orgs are going to benefit from your growth, and then the league is going to benefit from your growth, but you get paid first.”
As of now, not many players are embracing that mindset. For those that have made it onto a CDL team, they’re receiving stable salaries and benefits. In a perfect world, that alone should provide the freedom to focus on the competition instead of content. Instead, we’re seeing more players lose league spots, succumb to the stress of competing in a crumbling league, and inevitably retire at early ages. What happens after retirement? That’s entirely up to them. If these personal brands aren’t continuously growing, eventually players are going to hit a bottleneck.
It’ll further harm the entire state of Call of Duty esports.
However, the state of the league shouldn’t rest solely on the shoulders of players. To say that Activision has dropped the ball would be a massive understatement, and with players feeling disenchanted by Activision’s lack of passion, I understand both sides. As a professional player, I wouldn’t feel motivated to create any sort of Call of Duty content. As of this writing, the CDL kick off is in two weeks and there’s no third game mode, no Ranked Play, no double elimination, no team skins, and no content.
As Nadeshot stated in the video, competitive Call of Duty used to be filled with online tournaments to create storylines and bridges between LAN events. Even players streaming Gamebattles was suitable content to retain hype around the current title, but Activision has offered no support.
“Call of Duty arguably has the most entertaining, outspoken, and personable players out of any esports community,” Nadeshot posted on Twitter. “Storylines and rivalries that literally span across a DECADE. Vanguard releases and the league says, ‘you’re not allowed to compete on stream together until February.’”
The infrastructure just doesn’t exist.
Call of Duty used to be a world of open opportunity. Anyone could work up the ranks, make a name for themself, and potentially go pro. Even with the Challengers division, there’s nearly no chance of battling in tournaments to achieve any sort of substantial winnings and exposure.
“The [Call of Duty World League] was fantastic and the old school Major League Gaming events were fantastic because there was actually the clear road to being on stage playing against somebody like Scump or playing against LA Thieves,” Nadeshot added. “If you made it through Open Bracket, you would go into Pool Play and then you have an opportunity to make a name for yourself.”
Unfortunately, the lack of structure for amateur players means that the path to pro feels unattainable.
Nadeshot continued, “Now with the lack of structure around the Challengers and the route that you can take as an amateur player, if you don’t feel like there’s an opportunity to have an actual fair shot and you’re not getting paid the same way that these professional players are, there’s really no opportunity for you to continue to play the game that you love.”
In addition to the issues plaguing Call of Duty, a lot of fury has stemmed from the return of Halo, which included features like Ranked Play on launch.
OpTic Dallas player Seth “Scump” Abner spoke out about it on The OpTic Podcast: “Everything Halo did correctly are the exact same things that we have been just trying to preach and get for our community for years. Everyone’s talking to a brick wall.”
He added: “It was a lot easier to make content back then. It just was. Like in Black Ops 2 and Black Ops 3, all of those games [had] amazing pubs, great League Plays, fun League Plays. Everyone was intertwined in the community, it felt like. I feel like it’s so much harder to make content around Call of Duty unless you’re playing Warzone.”
It’s become a nasty cycle with no change, and with tensions rising, many players are falling into senseless arguments and debates with each other. Everyone involved in Call of Duty esports are involved because they’re passionate about the game. If Activision can’t meet the players and fans half way and offer suitable support, then maybe it’s time to pull the plug and return to the formats of MLG and the CWL, if things can be salvaged.